What should Robert Wiblin ask Tyler Cowen?

Robert will be interviewing me later this week, as an installment of Conversations with Tyler, just as Patrick Collison once interviewed me a while back.  At least part of the interview will focus on my forthcoming book Stubborn Attachments: A Vision of a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.  (And we will do 2.5 hours, a Robert specialty!)  Here is part of Robert’s bio:

I studied both genetics and economics at the Australian National University (ANU), graduated top of my class and was named Young Alumnus of the Year in 2015.

I worked as a research economist in various Australian Government agencies including the Treasury and Productivity Commission.

I then moved to Oxford in the UK to work at the Centre for Effective Altruism, first as Research Director and then Executive Director.

I then became Research Director for 80,000 Hours. In 2015 the project went through Y Combinator, and in 2016 we moved from Oxford to Berkeley, California in order to grow more quickly.

He is renowned for his thorough preparation and he runs a very good podcast of his own.  So what should he ask me?


Overrated or Underrated and explain why: DSGE type macro, pintxos, and GMU econ.

It can to deliver you a lot of unique visitors almost every day.
A third example was right throughout my hometown not that long ago when an attempted home invasion happened
in. These are the basic features that everybody needs to app.

Effective altruism: underrated / overrated?

I believe Tyler answered this on a previous interview. Maybe it was with Ezra Klein. Something along the lines of: underrated by society at large (due to lack of awareness) but overrated by its practitioners.

There are simple objections to "effective altruism". The biggest one is that it presupposes global collectivism. Any activism aimed at extracting value from tax payers and voters for the sake of entities other than those tax payers and voters harms their interests. Which means you either have to deceive them, or convince them to join the effort to harm their own compatriots who are expected to pay for it.

There's also the problem that they don't have a coherent moral philosophy, don't care about the astronomical numbers of future victims they are actively causing, and they can't handle basic disagreement and criticism in a productive manner.

Who are you talking about in the second paragraph?

Ask 10 random people in the "effective altruism community" what exactly it is they're trying to optimize and who should bear the implicit and explicit costs. Then try to combine that into a coherent goal system. Good luck!

In which the sociopath struggles to understand the point of trying to help others. This dude is textbook.

It is the nature of social parasites like you to reframe forced extraction, destruction of liberty and moralistic status grabs as though they were altruism. Indeed, many a social pasite has built an entire career on it. Wiblin is just one of them.

Andaro I don't understand your position.

Is your objection to effective alruism that is global in its aims instead of being focused on a local or national goals?

Are you opposed to it because you believe it will lead to higher taxation?

Or are you against the concept of altruism like Ayn Rand?

Originally, I was under the impression that it's a good idea. Later I became convinced the ideology has blind spots and causes moral harm. I found their way to handle disagreement negative and their assumptions about long-term consequences ill-calibrated.

My current criticism is that they are trying to reallocate public resources and create opportunity costs for us to benefit non-reciprocators. I also find them utterly unlikeable, but I'm sure that's mutual. They've also tried to push more paternalistic policies than I tlerate.

"...they are trying to reallocate public resources and create opportunity costs for us to benefit non-reciprocators."

Does this means money going to tax deductible donations instead of income tax represent an opportunity cost?

Tax deductible donations have a long history (1894 in the US) and charitable giving existed way before the tax exempt status. A custom that became a law.

Charities and charitable giving seem to be Christians acting as Christians. Blind spots, too paternalistic? Yes, but this is what we got. If you want to work with different foundational blocks of society: a) another country with different foundational beliefs , b) fund your new society.

Donations certainly shouldn't be deductible. But of course that's not the only extraction they're promoting.

What does "not the only extraction they're promoting" specifically means? Which are the others?

More tax-funded development aid and scientific research that doesn't benefit tax payers, more costly animal welfare standards, more costly immigration/refugee policy, less time discounting than is optimal for present people, more climate prevention costs than is optimal for present Westerners, paternalistic drug and anti-suicide ideology, and no compensation for any of this.

What research topics currently seem to be yielding the highest benefit/cost ratio and which the lowest? Answer for economics in particular and then for research in sciences and social science in general

How important is it to eventually get a reliable measure of "wealth plus", and is that even possible? At the margin, should we dedicate more resources to getting that right?

"I then became Research Director for 80,000 Hours. "

What does that even mean? Does that mean he had 2,500 hours on the clock for 32 years? Or is that some weird metric that would include the time he was sleeping on Christmas morning?


Tyler Cowen: underrated or very underrated?


Is blogging really an effective use of your time? Are there positive spillovers from blogging or is it mostly mental masturbation or a safety valve for the disturbed?

'How has the Economics Profession directly & significantly improved the lives of the world's people over past 75 years ?'

How has the Tyler production function evolved? Which medium (blog/article/book/pod/syllabus) is Tyler’s “favorite”? What will be the next big cuisine in the US? Underrated economics departments? Will NBA displace NFL in US in Tyler’s lifetime? Do we understand what happened in 2008? Best small city/village in the world for food outside of Mexico?

"Do we understand what happened in 2008?"

This is a great question.

Which social science disciplines are underrated, and which are overrated? By whom, and why?

Tyler uses superlatives rather freely, for instance his use of "most important" with respect to individuals, books, ideas. His Conversations introductions often use superlatives to describe his guests as well. Is this a conscious choice, an affect, cynical, a glimpse into Tyler's psyche, naive, or something else?

Effective altruism vs. virtue ethics/arete: Which is the better way to think about the value of a human life?

Effective altruism: Does anyone do it better than the Mormons?

Obviously he should ask you about religion and Rene Girard.

Robert Wiblin should ask Tyler Cowen to go into more detail regarding his opposition or aversion to betting, with emphasis on clarifying points of disagreement with Robin Hanson and Bryan Caplan and explaining where they have gone wrong.


If the answer is "behavior preference", ask what other rational behaviors he believes to be overrated.

If the answer is "irrational timesuck", ask how it differs from other personal interactions.

"This is the conversation with Tyler that Roger wants to have, not the one that you want to have."

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our keyboards, and so bear ourselves that, if the Internet and its web sites last for a thousand years, men will still say: ‘This was this comment section's finest hour.'

If Tyler could follow just three rules for travel, what would they be?

A Vision of a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.

Isn't the revealed preference of most people that they don't really care that much about any of those things? Is this book going to convince them that they should?

Harambe vs Dat Boi

You (Tyler) have said in the past you worry that switching to EA on a society-wide level may lower the overall level of charitable giving. Could you elaborate on the mechanism you think would cause this?

How can traditional philanthropy complement EA rather than substitute for it?

1. On Emerging Markets

Economists generally agree that capital investment should be flowing from developed nations into developing nations due to high growth potential. However, what we see instead is that capital from developing/low productivity markets essentially emerging markets flows into the safety, stability and growth of U.S. assets.

Why is this happening? Corruption in terms of LIBOR scandal, or are developing nations themselves too corrupt/unstable for developed investors to tolerate? Does the exchange rate eat potential profits? Is this a consequence of the Dollar's might over a Unipolar world?

2. Inflation + Econ Growth

"Economic growth is becoming dominated by rents and services, rather than creating, building, and investing. Instead of building new factories, the same GDP growth can be achieved by Microsoft selling more licenses of Windows and Office, by Amazon selling more stuff, and by Google and Facebook displaying more ads.

The transition from a tangibles-based economy to an economy dominated by intangibles, is possibly also deflationary, but this is offset to some extent by services and rents. So although computers and TVs are getting cheaper relative to the CPI, the cable, internet, and phone bill are more expensive."

Does Tyler agree with the above sentiment? It seems like network effects are starting to rule everything. Have they always done so and we didn't notice or is the world much more centralized now? It seems like economic growth would be slower in a highly networked economy since to some extent growth is a product of connecting new nodes, new sectors to each other. This is harder to do if you must pay the network gatekeeper his due.

3. Something he's changed his mind about recently (Last 5 years)

Overrated or underrated: marginal revolution commenters.

The Straussian answer is the commenters are apparently indispensable. As noted by the Emergent Venture announcement mix up.

Neatly sidestepping the question entirely, of course.

...in which prior reveals his alarm at the closure of MR commenting, followed by triumphant vindication of his existence!

'in which prior reveals his alarm at the closure of MR commenting'

Alarm? So little respect for boundless cynicism. Basically, the comments are SEO fodder (mine as much as anyone's, of course), and the reason they were switched back on is to further the PR goals of those behind this web site. Which made the circumstances of comments being turned off for Prof. Cowen's major announcement deeply amusing, to put it mildly.

This web site is a diversion - the hours spent today at the local lake with a friend who I've known for 25 years (upper 80s, water in the upper 60s) is a much more pleasant diversion than this place could ever hope to be. And a more enjoyable vindication of existence than sitting in front of a screen could ever hope to be.

LOL no. If this place shut down you'd never stop crying.

If this place shut down tomorrow, I would be thrilled.

It is as if my scorn of the massive PR effort that this web site is only a part is somehow unseen. Prof. Cowen and Prof. Tabarrok are mere cogs in it. Naming a GMU econ dept colleague, one that returned to the private sector, who had a major impact on Prof. Cowen's life (and someone who I actually have met in connection with Center for Market Processes PR) is not allowed here however, even if he is a towering figure bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world corporate lobbying arms.

Of course, over the years, the limits of what facts, links, and names can be posted here has become more or less clear, but the SEO game is not played by web site owners alone.

You lie more than a Volkswagen executive.

Can you confirm or deny the existence of Ray Lopez's fiancee?

He stopped calling her that when she told him she didn't want his ring, she could make more money with multiple johns.

"It has been said of you that you are a knee-jerk contrarian. (Of course, I now expect you to disagree with that.) Do you think you are indeed more likely to disagree with 'accepted wisdom' than most, and if so, why? Do you generally think AW is more often wrong than right, do you think a skeptical stance is just a sensible stance to take when evaluating information, or are you just plain cranky?" (grin)

1) Is there a robust monetary model that explains how a currency moves not only in response to supply and demand of goods and services (which should fluctuate with productivity, investment, interest rates etc.) but also in response to external (outside the currency zone) changes in demand for a liquid store of value (such as during times of political or economic stress in other countries)? How does this theory (if there is one) incorporate and measure the attractiveness of one currency as a liquid store of value relative to other currencies? Will the existence of Bitcoin or the eventual convertibility of the yuan change how the dollar behaves and how interest rate policy should be made?

2) If you were starting a new economics department at a new university, what approach would you take to building a staff? How would you allocate funding and hiring to build your departments reputation? How would you allocate funding and hiring to build a team that contributes to the profession, the student body and the corpus of economic thought and knowledge? Is this different from how existing universities allocate funding and hiring?

If thirty universities in Africa are all trying to build economics departments what approach(es) should they take? Should they coordinate or compete to attract top researchers, research projects, and/or to build reputations in particular sub-fields?

If you were the Billy Beane of Treasury Secretaries, determined to identify superior performance metrics so that you could make better policy than rival Treasury Secretaries, what reports would you instruct the national statistics and economics research agencies to give you each month, each year etc.?
Have you seen a reliable set of national economic activity/productivity statistics that relies on better base measurements than GDP, GNP etc.?
Do you think that hedge fund managers with enough scale to invest in their own research departments track the same core figures that reporters and Senators do (unemployment rate, GDP, housing starts, auto sales, % of auto loans past due etc.)? Or do they use other observations and measurements entirely to create their models?

Should Treasury Secretaries consult regularly with high-performing macro hedge funds to obtain superior, proprietary economic data and analysis? Would doing so give hedge funds an incentive to lie (to maintain their differentiated knowledge base) or tell the truth (to improve overall economic policy and performance)?

Kubrick or Tarkovsky

"in 2016 we moved from Oxford to Berkeley, California in order to grow more quickly." Or because that's where the money is.

1. How does Tyler recognize talent? In the final analysis, his greatest contribution might be his nurturing of talent like Hanson and Caplan. How does he spot diamonds in the rough?

2. What are some under-theorized questions in philosophy? And not just in ethics.

3. He co-authored a paper with the late great Derek Parfit. How did that come about? What was the process of interacting with Parfit like?

4. Tyler has often said that he prefers Plato to Aristotle. Why? Aristotle seems much more like an economist. He was perhaps the first systematic model builder. Which is why he has been soundly refuted on everything. Because he had the guts to put forward clear, falsifiable models. Unlike Plato.

5. Tyler said that approaches learning in a Quinean way. Explain.

6. Tyler has often talked about an Internet way of thinking. It's clear that he practices something like that. Elaborate.

These are excellent questions. Especially 4.


By the way, for folks who're interested, here's a link to the paper Cowen+Parfit paper: http://www.stafforini.com/docs/Cowen%20&%20Parfit%20-%20Against%20the%20social%20discount%20rate.pdf

Why does "greek" food taste so bland in the U.S.? Is it the tomatoes?

John Bowlby, the British pioneer of attachment theory, posited that full time maternal employment in the first three years of a child's life constituted a form of maternal deprivation. Long term impact on the affected children ranged from no obvious injury to severe injuries in terms of those children being able to form attachments as adults.

The percentage of children being raised in day care in the first three years of life is at an all-time high in the U.S., and that self-reported anxieties are high among today's teens who were raised in day care in the first three years of life, reinforcing Bowlby's findings, which he originally presented to the World Health Organization back in the 1960s.

My question: Does the lack of attention to this issue, which seems to be both topical and of enormous potential relevance to a variety of American problems warrant discussion? Is there a way to discuss this issue without being seen as sexist against women generally?

How much do you actually think wealthier individuals should redistribute to poorer ones? Do you see a difference between donations to the most effective charities (like the Against Malaria Foundation) and taxes used to implement welfare programs within the US? Do you think a donation to the Against Malaria Foundation is more likely to hurt or help the long-run future?

What is the use of speculative thought? What about thinking using ambiguous, or loosely defined, terms (ex. "interesting" life) before moving on to more specific ones? Are these laziness, or are they like aspiration, a sort of preliminary stage?

How calculated was the move to Straussian readings, and the encouraging of your readers to look for Straussian readings?

Given that "Stubborn Attachments" has been described as a sort of unedited, or unfiltered, view, can we interpret this also as a sort of impatience on the author's part--sort of a "I've tried to dress it up and to make it palatable, but now I'm telling you what to do."

Under what circumstances would you consider having repeat guests on Conversations With Tyler?

Does the artificial cap on NBA teams spending, and the luxury tax, make the league more interesting/ successful?

Anything on literature and film would be welcome. I also feel game theory, wasn't TC's mentor an important figure in that field, has been underrepresented in the interviews I've read with TC. I think food has been done, but maybe I'm missing a new angle.

(1) Tyler has said, in interview, that deathbed regrets are not a sign of a badly lived life—but only because he is inclined to dismiss the value of the deathbed perspective. (“That guy will say anything.”) That leaves one wondering what Tyler thinks about the place of regrets in life. Is the fact that someone has regrets a sign that she is living her life well, or badly? Or is this a matter of what kind of person one is—what facts about a person would be correlated with regret having a positive value for her?

(2) What does Tyler see as the place and value of irony and indirect communication? Presumably the answer will differ across different media, but the more general question is: why not just always say what you mean, as clearly and explicitly as possible?

One answer is that irony serves as protection: protecting the speaker from ill-intentions of his audience, and protecting audience from content they are not ready to hear. Is there is more to it than that? I suspect there is. Let me put forward a hypothesis that Tyler can agree or disagree with:

Irony allows for a less didactic, more collaborative approach to communication. It allows other people to fill out what the speaker might mean, giving them a role in the communicative act.

Irony use to for bonding speaker-listener? That's interesting.

How did the internet go from the illusion of a flat world to winner-takes-all? Will this happen with Fintech? Can we avoid it?

In *Stubborn Attachments,* Tyler makes the following two claims:

(1) Economic growth is extremely valuabe.
(2) We ought to try to bring about (1).

It is not obvious that (2) follows from (1). This is related to Mill’s paradox of hedonism: sometimes you don’t do the best job bringing something about by trying to bring it about.

In particular, in the case of economic growth the largest gains are often precisely from undertakings that do not promise growth, because they are discontinuous with prior modes of growing. If you follow (2), what you will in fact be doing is maximizing *forseeable* economic growth. This could produce a lot of growth in cases where a path had already been, in some significant ways, charted by others—perhaps what happened with the “East Asian Miracles” cited in chapter 3—but anytime we have a truly large-scale innovative move, it, by definition, lies around a blind corner. And so if we had followed (2), we would never have peered around the corner—(2) is, perhaps, a recipe for (mild) growth-complacency.

Perhaps ‘growth-complacency’ is precisely what is meant by Tyler’s injunction to pursue *sustainable* growth: we should (only) aim to produce growth that we can antecedently vouchsafe as stable, even if that may not be the best way to get large gains in growth?
If earlier societies/civilizations had pursued this maxim, would we have gotten some of the largest gains in growth that humanity has enjoyed?
Is Tyler pessimistic that any really large, truly ‘blind-corner’ gains are still possible for human beings?

This type of interviewer might well BEGIN with:

What topics do you most prefer to avoid discussing - and why?

Could you select a particular one and enlarge on your reasons?

What Federal policies would Tyler recommend to produce more jobs in the USA? Where does he disagree with, or agree with, Trump's past policies enacted?

Check your biases? Follow up: do you think you have any bias relating to being from the US?

Overrated or Underrated: Government
Overrated or Underrated: Homeownership
Overrated or Underrated: Rule of Law
Overrated or Underrated: Corporations
Overrated or Underrated: Churches
Overrated or Underrated: Social Security
Overrated or Underrated: Medicare
Overrated or Underrated: National Defense
Overrated or Underrated: Unemployment Insurance
Overrated or Underrated: Public Education (k-12)
Overrated or Underrated: post-secondary education
Overrated or Underrated: Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, Dominoes

Is ineffective altruism a net substitute or compliment for effective altruism?

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