My podcast with David Perell on “the Tyler Cowen production function”

Here goes, it is not for me to judge the quality of the result, but I can say that David is a very good interviewer.  Here are his summary notes:

Tyler ends every episode of his podcast asking about other people’s production function. How do you get so much done? What’s the secret sauce of all that you’ve accomplished? This episode is entirely devoted to that question. But this time, I’m asking Tyler. We started by talking about why there aren’t more Tyler Cowens in the world. Then, we moved to Tyler’s process for writing, such as choosing article topics and editing his work. Later in the podcast, we discussed Tyler’s process for choosing friends, why he would travel across the world to visit a new country for just ten hours, and what he’s learned from high-powered people like Peter Thiel and Patrick Collison.

I also tried to give a few deliberately “low status boasting answers,” as I call them (rather than high status airy detachment — e.g., “it is not for me to judge the quality of the result”), label it countersignaling if you wish.

Here is David on Twitter, and you can take his on-line writing classes here.

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Let us know when there's a transcript!

+1

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At least there is a detailed list of timestamps. I can get behind someone doing that rather than paying the money for a transcript.

Also, will our vehement distaste for audio/video content go down now that we work from home forever?!?!?

No thank you. Video and audio versions are not only time consuming but also shallow; I would rather read the transcript carefully and be able to take notes.

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>why he would travel across the world to visit a new country for just ten hours

He doesn't care at all about Earth, obviously.

Think about how often you would do that if there were cost-free travel in time and energy, like a magic transporter beam. I'm in.

The cost of removing a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it long term may be $50. That's enough to be annoying, but not enough to stop people from flying. (May have to sequester extra CO2 than just what's produced by the flight to allow for other warming effects though.)

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This is great; I have always wanted a guest to ask you this question on CWT.

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I might produce as much as Tyler if I could cast off all my early programming. You know, the kind of thing where your French teacher demands that you not read ahead in the text, and where using a name of a color you saw on your colored pencils gets you a lecture about not trying to "show off". I was taught to be unproductive at a very early age, and the lesson stuck.

On the plus side, it's not all THAT bad putting in an eight hour workweek. (sigh)

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I had assumed there are clones involved.

Keep in mind that Cowen has admitted to cheating: he doesn't drink alcohol.

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Clarity: when it comes to writing, has anyone said more than Strunk and White? Let's be clear. Cowen is a disciple of Leo Strauss, who taught his disciples to avoid clarity in communication, or more accurately, how to avoid anybody from understanding the meaning of the words that are written. If one wishes to write in a style that is concise and clear, copy the style of Hemingway. If one wishes hide the meaning of what one is writing, copy Strauss. It all depends on one's objective.

Is Cowen a "disciple" of Leo Strauss or did he learn a neat trick in grad school by reading something about Strauss?

This is going to sound harsh, but can anyone point to a single interesting or important idea associated with Cowen? I've been reading this blog for 15 years or so, but it hard to think of any. So many words, about what?

No. Literally no one can do that.

Nor can anyone point out the part where he is a "libertarian."

The same part where the Lew Rockwell's troupe is.

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Tyler calls it state capacity libertarianism. Read it straight from the man's own writing:

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2020/01/what-libertarianism-has-become-and-will-become-state-capacity-libertarianism.html

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I think you have to think of TC as someone with a very broad ( and deep) knowledge, not necessarily the very best in any field but not that far from it either.
He is an excellent early promoter and disseminator of new ideas, in a wide range of domains which helps understands their importance and connects them to the broader field of knowledge. It’s not at all easy to do. The background knowledge required is enormous. His publications are influential and the readership of MR is (maybe ?) in the millions from many countries.
So he is not discovering quantum mechanics, continental drift or the theory of evolution. His contributions may not be enshrined in posterity in the pantheon of the Greats, the exceptional contributors to knowledge. Generalists of his kind are highly useful in a word of hyper specialization.

@Catinthehat - I second that opinion. And actually, you'll note in the history of technology, by analogy, 'generalists' have often done more to move a field than specialists. John Smeaton (father of civil engineering in England) emperical debunking of various math theories and specialized knowledge including but not limited to Parent's math rule on undershot water wheels and the Papin-->Savery-->Neucomin trilogy of steam engines, culminating in the Watts improvement, is another example of small steps towards a much better world.

I wish TC would do a book on patents and/or the history of invention, which the "Love Letter to Big Business" is a step in the right direction. Recall the Solow model of exogenous growth only has technology as the wild card from which all growth depends (cutting taxes, saving more, less government, etc only temporarily raise GDP to a new higher level but growth from that level depends on technology alone, read: patentable inventions)

Bonus trivia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobb%E2%80%93Douglas_production_function - The Cobb-Douglas production function of diminishing returns was partly chosen for the 'street lamp effect' in that it's easy to differentiate in abstract math models of the economy. It doesn't necessary equate to what happens in the real world, though arguably at the margin everything is diminishing returns ( with real world black swan 'jumps' which the C-D PF does not account for)

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What does he have broad and deep knowledge in? He says he doesn't actually read the books that he cites. You can't really have knowledge without extensive and intensive reading.

Extensive and fast reading is his strength. That's in this interview. He does read the books he cites almost always.He is an hyperlexic fast reader. Only occasionally, he will say he did not finish a book because the book didn't hold his interest

It's not just "occassionally". He has admitted before that he often just skims or reads a handful of pages of books he likes. He's not reading enough to have knowledge of the subjects.

That’s not my recollection. If you can provide a link it would be helpful.

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+1 for Strunk and White. Clear and concise writing is an easy thing to accomplish and only requires a bit of discipline.

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Clarity is important but some writers manage both clarity and beauty in such a way that you enjoy reading the writing and perhaps remember it verbatim. ( He gave the example of Keynes)

Regarding Strauss, I think it's not that the writing is unclear but that it has an hidden meaning. The hidden meaning is a device to hint at a deeper understanding or to cloak a dangerous, "forbidden" viewpoint as if perhaps you're living in a totalitarian regime where genuine views cannot be fully expressed.
It is an act of voluntary dissimulation, a convenient device if you need later to repudiate these views as you can always argue later that you never had them.

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Just listened to Tyler's comments about art. I agree! But...he talks about learning about art from artists, curators, etc. I work at an art museum, and it is an exhausting echo chamber of woke-ism. I wonder what Tyler's thoughts are on this. Why is the art world so WOKE? I could understand Museum mgmt simply adjusting to their demographic. But the artists and curators themselves aren't faking it. They are the tip of the woke spear. Why?

Because artists are and have always lived at the margin of society. It seems only natural that they would develop empathy for other marginalized groups.

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Tyler Straussian writing is merely his attempt to be more clever than a typical blog or column writer.
Learned long time ago from a man who was a very successful commercial real estate developer, writer and sculptor that the a successful production function requires one to compartmentalize daily activities a challenge for most who seem to suffer from periods of devoted concentration to one activity

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Am I missing something? I enjoy Cowen's blog but it's basically a news aggregator type blog without much content. Most of the posts are daily link roundups, and links to articles with a paragraph or two copy pasted.

If you deleted everything but the writings and recordings of Tyler himself, this would still be a prolific blog. I, for one, enjoy reading/hearing what he has to say. I find a lot of value in his unique thought process and the way he communicates it. That’s his innovation. He is the single best interviewer I have ever heard, and a very good writer (and yes, also an elite news aggregator).

Conversations With Tyler is unusually good, but I'm not buying that he reads 5 to 10 times faster than his peers like Bryan Caplan and Robin Hanson. Maybe Alex T...

I thought the interviewer might ask him whether he ever slows down his reading on purpose simply to savor the contents. Not to digest complex content better, but just to cruise or pause to contemplate. I am reading "The Complacent Class" right now and would not enjoy reading it with the pedal to the floor, nor would I do the same with a solid mystery novel. Maybe my brain is flawed.

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Anyone else think this Perell guy is a bit of a hacky self promoter?

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Definitely "self-recommending"!!!!

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Regardless of whether that is low status boasting or high status airy detachment.

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Tyler,

You are up there, but John List is still more productive than you are. But some of us suspect he may have a Mephistophelean bargain to pull it off, :-).

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I like Tyler's comments about laying out the arguments of views he disagrees with.

To paraphrase:
You understand the views better.
You sympathize with those people more.
You realize they might be right and you might be wrong.
It makes your own arguments better.
Sometimes you'll change your mind.

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“The first five minutes are prepared, then it’s improvised… but it’s very substantive and actually quite well-ordered. Kind of a blitzkrieg at you in all directions; and it’s super fun.”
A little after the one hour mark, Tyler narrates the (unfulfilled) promises I make to women via Tinder messages.

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aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

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I appreciated the part about not having a normal childhood. Maybe that will help some of us parents who are struggling to create a normal childhood for our kids in pandemic times.

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Enjoyable enough but I only listened to maybe a quarter of it. The passage at 12:10 where he said that most colleges hide their completion rates and speculates that they are around 38-40% is bizarre.

Is he talking about PhD completion rates? It is indeed hard to get them for any one university or program, although there has been plenty of research on what the aggregate statistics are.

But at the undergraduate level, the US government has for about two decades required colleges not only to calculate their graduation rates, but to report them and make them available to the public. Many will put them on a page of "HEA" or "HEOA" stats (Higher Education Act, one of the recent renewals of that act required colleges to make their stats available, although you can also simply go to the Educ Dept's website to get graduation rates for any and all colleges).

IIRC about 55% of the students who enter college get a degree within 6 years, something like that.

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Extra money for students.

[email protected]

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