My personal moonshot

That is a short piece I wrote for the inauguration of a new Mercatus website The Bridge.  The focus of the piece is how I think about my own career and “moat”, excerpt:

My view, or at least hope, is that these diverse outputs [listed at the link] exploit two synergies.  First, my work in any one of these areas publicizes what I am doing in the others.  Second, what I learn from each task boosts my productivity in the others.  Overall, I think of these activities as a kind of collective intellectual blitzkrieg.

I will step out of my modest demeanor for a moment and suggest that relatively few people can construct and manage such a broad portfolio, and so this gives me some kind of competitive advantage or “moat” in the world of ideas.  My moonshoot, in essence, is trying to push as hard as possible on that advantage with this blitzkrieg.


By the way, I love it when people describe writing a blog, or writing on the internet, as “popularizing” economics or something similar.  That is a sign they don’t understand what is going on, that they don’t understand there is such a thing as “internet economics,” and also a sign they will not be effective competition.  It’s really about “the internet way of writing and communicating” vs. non-internet methods.  The internet methods may or may not be popular, and may or may not be geared toward a wide audience, so they are not the same as popularizing.  One point of the internet is to find an outlet for super-unpopular material.  What’s important right now is to develop internet methods of thinking and communicating, and not to obsess over reaching the largest possible numbers of people.

I would note that fits into the picture too, although this essay was too short to explain the larger schema with that one.


First! (A popular internet method of communication)

Truly worthy of the heading 'Expert Commentary'

But considering that The Bridge is is proudly associated with the Mercatus Center, would it not be more fitting to replace the 'Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics' with 'Chairman and general director of the Mercatus Center'?

Though seriously, even 10 seconds of thought should have have yielded something better than 'collective intellectual blitzkrieg.'

And for last few months I had been wondering about the best way to point out a certain growing grandiosity - now, it is on public display for anyone to judge.

It's true; I lol'd at the line "I will step out of my modest demeanor for a moment" . . . and yet I have to admit to being completely hooked on this blog and Cowen's ideas/method of communicating.

So, like Mr. Walt-Disney-in-the-flesh himself - Kanye West - if Tyler's ego is somewhat inflated I think it is well deserved. Just please don't let it impact the quality of the thought!

"So, like Mr. Walt-Disney-in-the-flesh himself – Kanye West – if Tyler’s ego is somewhat inflated I think it is well deserved. Just please don’t let it impact the quality of the thought!"

You don't even see your own tautology embedded in this very sentence.

Tyler's an interesting guy. I'm glad I stumbled across him. My thoughts are nothing compared to the outsized, bizarre, unhealthy obsession you have with the guy, but I find him interesting.

I agree with you on all counts. And I do find Tyler to have a modest demeanor for what he has accomplished. I've never met him, but I'd bet he's very approachable.

And for last few months I had been wondering about the best way to point out a certain growing grandiosity – now, it is on public display for anyone to judge.

Lulz. Self Awareness: you can't buy it, people!

The internet methods may or may not be popular, and may or may not be geared toward a wide audience, so they are not the same as popularizing.

Actually, posting links and short, largely substance free blog posts is popular. People would rather read that than try to slog through monographs and journal articles. Pretending that it isn't is and that it's rather something deeper is BS, and you know it. Apparently you don't want to admit to yourself or to other people that Virginia taxpayers basically pay you to surf the internet for a living.

"Virginia taxpayers basically pay you to surf the internet for a living." Pretty good gig, that.

It's different. It may be deeper or it may not be. Every month or two TC makes an effort-post, which is great. Sites like Slate Star Codex also offer a uniquely internet, and uniquely valuable, form of writing.

My goal is to be the economist who has most successfuly used the internet as a platform to foment broad enlightenment.

How ironic then that you have clearly failed at it while so handsomely profiting from the self-advertisement in the process.

Now now, Tyler's certainly pompous and everything, but he said it was his goal, not that he'd already attained it.

If that is your opinion, then how much more pathetic to be reduced to merely posting comments on such a failed enterprise.

I am here only for the links. Tyler is great in providing all kind of interesting links. Not something I'd call "fomenting broad enlightenment" nor is something I think VA taxpayers should subsidize, but the service is much appreciated.

It is a perfectly cromulent word.

It's obvs a self-refuting boast, presumably intended as a joke. If only by God.

I like all of the TC work I know. As a consumer, I appreciate TC's products and recommendations, and I would like to imitate TC by working in several media (self-published rap, movies, and novels, because I am less talented)

I've always been impressed by Tyler's modesty and constraint. He's smart and educated, but has enough self-awareness and humility to REALLY wield those attributes for best effect.

I wonder if he realises that those characteristics are also part of his moat. There is, after all, no shortage of clever and educated fools.

I meant "restraint". Maybe Tyler can have as his moonshot an edit feature on these comments.

I recall him posting that he prefers no edit feature so commenters take their time and proofread before they post. It makes sense to me.

Then why not have a review button. One that would show HTML formatting and spacing accurately.

Also, Human's work better through a multistep interface. Reviewing is different than writing. This is why newspapers have traditionally spend vast sums of money on people to proof articles. If it was easy, they would just tell all of their writers to proofread their articles before they submit them.

I might buy that when he stops himself from doing it on his own posts

(Economic) moat: the competitive advantage that one company has over other companies in the same industry, a term coined by Warren Buffett; the wider the moat, the larger and more sustainable the competitive advantage of a firm. I wanted to make sure readers didn't think Cowen meant this kind of moat: a deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle, fort, or town, typically filled with water and intended as a defense against attack. Being part of an ideological mission with fellow travelers might cause one to assume Cowen meant the latter. The wide variety of ethnic restaurants Cowen recommends is similar to his reading lists. My view is that the preference for variety is just one manifestation of the American inability to focus, whether the subject is food or public policy (e.g., war, bubbles, trade). If one looks closely (i.e., if one can focus), one can see the irony of Cowen's preference for variety in restaurants and reading lists: His "moonshot" is to accomplish one big thing, which is to persuade others of the value of his views, not by building a moat to keep the enemy out but by building a bridge to allow them in.

Archaeological study of British moats has revealed that only a few can have been seriously intended for defence. Mostly, it appears, they must have been status symbols.

Aside from perhaps calculus and whatnot, I think internet economics is top of the game.

Tyler's blogs are wonderful, as are others,

Try to remember when you read The Economist or Businessweek for your weekly economics fix. People and op-ed writers could get away with murder. Much less accountability, fact-checking, feedback.

Still, the economics profession is blindered, and the internet seems to have only dented that.

The topics are always free trade and the minimum wage, and maybe rent control, and rarely property zoning and the routine criminalization of street-vending.

The fallout from chronic and large trade deficits is debatable, but rarely is debated. House prices explode in nations with trade deficits. Oh, that?

That the Fed targets 4.75% unemployment, which is the same as 1.5 people unemployed and looking for every job opening, is never a topic. Really? How about just once a year?

On the way to the moon, I hope Tyler Cowen gains a broader perspective.

TC has tenure, so as much as he introspects about his moonshot and his moats, he does not have to face the realiies that most "normal" people have to face ....

In today's economy knowledge and knowledge workers are a commodity, and thus there is noone who can't be replaced by someone younger and cheaper.

Whereas entrepreneurial skill and management skill are still scarce - though people who fake having these skills are abundant.

The comment about many efforts working together to multiply opportunity and results is right out of Scott Adams' playbook. The Dilbert creator has talked for years about acquiring a variety of skills and the combination makes you more valuable.

Here is a moonshot by the NYT's Farhad Manjoo: "Internet economics" is all about manipulation: "The central problem of disinformation corrupting American political culture is not Russian spies or a particular social media platform,” two researchers, Dipayan Ghosh and Ben Scott, wrote in the report, titled “Digital Deceit.” “The central problem is that the entire industry is built to leverage sophisticated technology to aggregate user attention and sell advertising.”

Given that you are probably the biggest source of disinformation that regular readers of this blog encounter, kindly shut up

Blogs (and that internet in general) are a mile wide and an inch deep. Hard to take the opposing view seriously. No one can seriously believe that an economics blog post on the FDA is anything but popularizing compared to a monograph on the FDA that was painstakingly researched for 12 months and published in a medical journal. This was probably the most bizarre marginal revolution post I've seen in the past two years I've been coming here.

I've enjoyed reading this blog for many years, but the idea that Tyler views these efforts as part of some master plan to secure mindshare or speaking fees or citations--actually I have no idea what he thinks he's defending with his "moat"-- left me feeling sad. What a small, empty man.

What I have always admired most about TC is that he is doing all this "work" for us on the Internet (especially this eclectic blog) for free! I suppose his (intangible) compensation is the personal influence he exerts on so many souls. I, for one, have learned so much him ...

I'm curious about whether you think that reading comments helps you think through issues better. How much of commenting is just popularization vs. getting feedback on trial balloons or varying perspectives?

I enjoy internet resources like Tyler's work because they assume your intelligence and that you're willing to put in work to learn.

A similar example in a completely different arena is Nate Duncan's ridiculously detailed NBA podcast.

Perhaps it is a bit surprising that so many people are hungry for this info but also makes you wonder how far it can go.

Tyler often strikes me as more about establishing his brand than actually contributing intellectually to the world. Worse, I think he recognizes that *and thinks that's OK*. Sad!

la clase media cogitates que tal vez una de las cualidades
del Dr. Cowens que está bajo rated1 es su sentido del humor.
Al final del día-una cosa útil para tener a lo largo
de la larga y peligroso viaje a la luna

1 especialmente en la sección de comentarios

"Blitzkrieg"? Seriously?

Let's see if you can work "Kristallnacht" into your next article about your career.

Dear God.

Surely, in the contexts of moats, Festung and Bodenstandige are more appropriate ....

Sometimes, remembering life back in the Northeastern United States in the 70s, when one was vaguely aware that in each state there was a chance that some teenager might be the chess champion of that state, and remembering the vague way one wondered what they would do with their lives, since they were not likely to proceed to world champion status: sometimes, one wonders how rich one might be if one - without leaving the world of 1977 - could have a copy of the Tabarrok/Cowen textbook provided to one (the 2018 version, in 1977) or how rich one might be if one could read a week's worth of 2017 Marginal Revolution posts (again, in 1977): or one simply thinks, what if this were 1977, and I wondered what it would it be like if there were things called "computers with websites" and some people advanced their opinions, and other people criticized those opinions? and one knew that one of those kids who was good at chess described lots of the insights he had about the world on a "computer with websites"? Of course, all of us saw something similar in the future....

Almost everybody with a major internet presence is repeatedly wrong on at least five contested issues.

Imagine that sentence in 1978.

Academic articles, particularly ones built on rigorous investigations by intelligent people, are often interesting. Promoting communication among people who are not lazy is also interesting. Socrates was no less productive than Newton.

Nobody - at the margins - cares what I think are the five things Cowen usually gets wrong, because if they agree with me that he is wrong they already know, if they don't agree, they don't want to hear it. (For the record, to limit oneself to 5 issues involving one or more proper nouns - Roe v Wade, Brecht's famous quote, underestimated New Jersey, Finnegans Wake, and the percentage (5- just 5) given to the likelihood of Newman, of all people, being right - no, not that the first Newman you thought of, probably).

The problem with chess was that there were too many tricks. You could focus like a laser on the subtle variations among the opening movements. You could practice, like a tennis fanatic, on various versions of the midgame, or you could practice with even more focus, like a surfer with access to only one, sad, lonely beach, with the wind always from the same direction, on endgames. Or you could devote your whole entire life to chess, as if you hoped you were the only idiot in the world who thought that the worlds of music and art and friendship were worth the sacrifice, and nobody else would fight with you for your position on that lonely eminence. And, after you won, nobody really was able to talk with you about why you won, at any level of fun detail. That was no fun, was it, Bobby? And the next week, somebody tried to play a series of concerts on solo keyboard, covering every key that Bach wrote in on solo keyboard, and nobody cared about your chess games, except the anthologists and the aficionados, none of whom could have played the game in real time.

The funniest thing about this comment, to someone reading it in 1978, would be the fact that

revised: "no, not the first Newman, you thought of, probably"

"as if you were the only idiot in the world who thought that abandoning the worlds of music and art and friendship were worth the sacrifice"

"the fact that it was all free. In 1978 lots of things were free but only if you knew someone ...." (someone worth knowing because they got you things free). Well. yeah, there was the pubic library, and if you stayed up until 10 there were good shows on public TV, shows that did not talk down to you the way the 8 o'clock shows did.

I remember, maybe not New Jersey, but I remember. Cor ad cor loquitur.

and yes in my world that was a short comment.

Love this post. Everyone should make one like it.

Thank you to Tyler for all the great work he's done over the years.

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