Category: Books

*Oceans of Grain*

A good book, think of it as a more general (non-technical) economic history of wheat, authored by Scott Reynolds Nelson.  The sad thing is the book’s subtitle: “How American Wheat Made the World” — yes it covers America, but a lot of the book, and I would say its best parts, focus on Russia and Ukraine.

I guess the publisher figured American readers don’t care that much about Ukraine?  Here is one excerpt:

Before Odessa [which had just been described as a major grain port], the Russian Empire had expanded slowly and defensively, one line of forts at a time.  After Odessa, Russia — just like the United States — possessed foreign exchange and could expand dramatically.  Wheat exports allowed the Russian Empire to fund its foreign wars, and so it surged into Poland, across the Caspian Sea, and toward China.  Nothing seemed capable of stopping the yeasty, kvassy expansion of the Russian Empire.  In fact, the spread of a different invisible creature, an invisible water mold, would further entrench Odessa as Europe’s city of wheat.

And this:

Fish sandwiches emerged as a regular meal for workers in Britain around 1870 once American grain arrived; a decade later this became fish and chips.

A fun book for me.

My Conversation with Chuck Klosterman

Excellent stuff, we had so much fun we kept on going for an extra half hour, as he decided to ask me a bunch of questions about economics and personal finance.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is the CWT summary:

Chuck joined Tyler to discuss the challenges of writing about recent history, the “slow cancellation of the future” that began in the aughts, how the internet widened cultural knowledge but removed its depth, why the context of Seinfeld was in some ways more important than its content, what Jurassic Park illustrates about public feelings around scientific progress in the ’90s, why the ’90s was the last era of physical mass subcultures, why it’s uncommon to be shocked by modern music, how his limited access to art when growing up made him a better critic, why Spin Magazine became irrelevant with the advent of online streaming, what made Grantland so special, what he learned from teaching in East Germany, the impact of politics on the legacies of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison, how sports often rewards obnoxious personalities, why Wilt Chamberlain is still underrated, how the self-awareness of the Portland Trail Blazers undermined them, how the design of the NFL makes sports rivalries nearly impossible, how pro-level compensation prevents sports gambling from corrupting players, why so many people are interested in e-sports, the unteachable element of writing, why he didn’t make a great editor on his school paper, what he’d say to a room filled with ex-lovers, the question he’d most like to ask his parents, his impressions of cryptocurrency, why he’s trying to focus on what he has in the current moment rather than think too much about future plans, the power of charisma, and more.

Whew!  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: I see the world as follows. Every decade, to me, is super weird, but the 1980s and ’90s pretended they weren’t weird. The ’80s pretended to be good versus evil. The ’90s pretended that good won. But when crypto comes and persists, you have to drop all pretense that the age you’re living in isn’t totally weird.

You have internet crypto, and everyone admits, right now, everything’s weird. And that, to me, is the fundamental break with the 1990s because everyone pretended most things were normal and that Seinfeld was your dose of weird, right? Jason Alexander — that’s a very manageable weird.

KLOSTERMAN: Oh, absolutely.

COWEN: Some guy in an apartment in New York City cracking sarcastic jokes — like, whoop-de-do.

And:

KLOSTERMAN: …this guy, Mark Fisher, who’s dead now, had this idea about the slow cancellation of the future. I feel like that’s one of the most profound ideas that I’ve come across in the last 10 years of my life, and it seems so palpable that this is occurring.

An example I will often use is, if you take, say, 10 minutes from an obscure film in 1965 with no major actors, and then you take 10 minutes from an obscure film from 1980 where nobody became famous, and you show anyone these 10-minute clips, they will have no problem whatsoever figuring out which one came first. Even a little kid can look at a movie from 1965 and a movie from 1980 and instantly understand that one predates the other.

But if you do that with a film from 2005 and a film from 2020 — again, an obscure film where you don’t recognize the actors — you’re just looking at it aesthetically and trying to deduce which one came first and which one came second. It’s almost impossible.

This phenomenon just seems to almost be infiltrating every aspect of the culture…

And:

KLOSTERMAN: Before I did this podcast, I listened to your podcast with Žižek.

COWEN: Oh yeah, that was hilarious.

KLOSTERMAN: Are you friends with him? It sure seemed like it. And if you are, what is it like to be with him when he is not in a performative scenario?

Recommended.  And again, here is Chuck’s new book The Nineties.

Tabarrok on the Ezra Klein Podcast

Late last year I responded to an excellent tweet storm from Ezra Klein by in effect saying he should read Mancur Olson’s The Rise and Decline of Nations. And you know what? He did! Ezra then kindly invited me on to his New York Times podcast to discuss public choice, liberalism, and the rise and decline of nations.

A few good quotes from me:

Japan has caught up to us in slowing down.

And

Let me put it in a way that progressives can understand, there is an inequality of voice and that inequality of voice also goes to the rich and the powerful and the people who can hire lawyers and the people who can use these so-called equitable institutions to their advantage—even the people in the marginalized communities have not benefited.

Ezra asked challenging questions and had lots of interesting things to say. I was especially struck by his argument that people want to tell heroic stories about themselves and so rent seeking comes to be redefined as something heroic. I think that’s an important insight which public choice scholars are likely to overlook–it becomes harder and harder to break out of a rent-seeking equilibrium not just because of transitional gains traps and the like but because the equilibrium comes to be seen as virtuous.

You also get to hear me rant about new hiring procedures at GMU and my HOA.

Ezra asks a good question about why developer interest groups don’t dominate the planning process.

We also talk about crypto and decentralized consensus as well as other topics.

Whether you call it state capacity libertarianism, creating the innovation nation, or supply side progressivism, I think this movement, which Ezra is leading from the left, is one of the most important movements today.

Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. Transcript here.

*The Invention of Power*

The author is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and the subtitle is Popes, Kings, and the Birth of the West.  Here is the main thesis:

Why Europe became distinct after the year 1000 and not before can be reduced to this surprisingly simple reason: in Europe, the head of religion and the head(s) of state were different people who faced off against one another in long-standing, long-lasting, intense competition for political control.  Certainly, the rulers of China and Japan were thought to be gods.

I consider this broadly consistent with my own views, although I see many other significant factors in the broader history, including natural geography and political fragmentation.  Nor can you dismiss the role of imperialism entirely, plus that the growth of the West came “at the right time” (for the West at least).  I like this book, but I don’t think it quite has the knockdown proof of its thesis that it pretends to.  And the book is oddly silent about Christianity as a general phenomenon.  There is talk of popes and churches on almost every page, and yet Christianity as an intellectual innovation, helping to make liberalism more likely, does not play much of a role in the narrative.  And given how general and deeply rooted some of the mechanisms are, I don’t quite understand why so much stress is placed on the 1122 Concordat of Worms — surely that is endogenous too?  It is an odd philosophy of history in which so much hinges on a single event and then for almost a thousand years the rest that follows is locked in.

No one cared about Bryan’s spreadsheets

From Bryan:

The most painful part of writing The Case Against Education was calculating the return to education.  I spent fifteen months working on the spreadsheets.  I came up with the baseline case, did scores of “variations on a theme,”  noticed a small mistake or blind alley, then started over.  Several programmer friends advised me to learn a new programming language like Python to do everything automatically, but I’m 98% sure that would have taken even longer – and introduced numerous additional errors into the results.  I did plenty of programming in my youth, and I know my limitations.

I took quality control very seriously.  About half a dozen friends gave up whole days of their lives to sit next to me while I gave them a guided tour of the reasoning behind my number-crunching.  Four years before the book’s publication, I publicly released the spreadsheets, and asked the world to “embarrass me now” by finding errors in my work.  If memory serves, one EconLog reader did find a minor mistake.  When the book finally came out, I published final versions of all the spreadsheets underlying the book’s return to education calculations.  A one-to-one correspondence between what’s in the book and what I shared with the world.  Full transparency.

Now guess what?  Since the 2018 publication of The Case Against Education, precisely zero people have emailed me about those spreadsheets.  The book enjoyed massive media attention.  My results were ultra-contrarian: my preferred estimate of the Social Return to Education is negative for almost every demographic.  I loudly used these results to call for massive cuts in education spending.  Yet since the book’s publication, no one has bothered to challenge my math.  Not publicly.  Not privately.  No one cared about my spreadsheets.

Here is more from Bryan Caplan.  I would make a few points:

1. Work is hardly ever checked, unless a particular paper becomes politically focal in some kind of partisan dispute.  You can take this as a sign that Bryan has not dented the political consensus so much, a point I think he would agree with.

2. Researchers discuss and consider your work in a particular area far, far more if you are an insider in that area, making the seminar circuit at top schools.  To be clear, Bryan’s work is discussed far more by intelligent humans who are not education researchers, compared to what virtually all of the education researchers have produced.  Bryan writes in internet space, where the barriers to entry are much lower.  Good for him, I say (duh), but of course not everyone wishes to lower the entry barriers in this manner.  And internet writing does have entry barriers of its own.  For instance, Bryan has been blogging steadily for many years, which many researchers simply do not wish to do or maybe cannot do well at all.

3. Overall I think we are entering a world where “research” and “idea production” are increasingly separate endeavors.  And the latter is moving to the internet, even when it is supplemented by non-internet crystallizations such as books.  Bryan’s ideas, of course, have been germinating on EconLog for some time before his education book came out.  Do you like this new world?  What are its promises and dangers?

Bram Stoker, Dracula, and Progress Studies

The Dracula novel is of course very famous, but it is less well known that it was, among other things, a salvo in the direction of what we now call Progress Studies.  Here are a few points of relevance for understanding Bram Stoker and his writings and views:

1. Stoker was Anglo-Irish and favored the late 19th century industrialization of Belfast as a model for Ireland more generally.  He also was enamored with the course of progress in the United States, and he wrote a pamphlet about his visit.

2. From Wikipedia:

He was a strong supporter of the Liberal Party and took a keen interest in Irish affairs. As a “philosophical home ruler”, he supported Home Rule for Ireland brought about by peaceful means. He remained an ardent monarchist who believed that Ireland should remain within the British Empire, an entity that he saw as a force for good. He was an admirer of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, whom he knew personally, and supported his plans for Ireland.Stoker believed in progress and took a keen interest in science and science-based medicine.

3. The novel Dracula contrasts the backward world of Transylvania with the advanced world of London, and it shows the vampire cannot survive in the latter.  The Count is beaten back by Dr. Van Helsing, who uses science to defeat him and who serves as a stand-in for Stoker and is the de facto hero of the story.

4. One core message of the novel is “Ireland had better develop economically, otherwise we will end up like a bunch of feudal peasants, holding up crosses to fend off evil, rapacious landowners.”  At the time, the prominent uses of crosses was associated with Irish Catholicism.  And is there a more Irish villain than the absentee landlord, namely Dracula?  Dracula is also the kind of warrior nobleman who, coming from England, took over Ireland.

5. In the novel, science and commerce have the potential to defeat underdevelopment.  Stoker’s portrait of Transylvania, most prominent in the opening sections of the novel, also suggests that “underdevelopment is a state of mind.”  And it is correlated with feuding sects and clans, again a reference to the Ireland of his time, at least as he understood Catholic Ireland.  Here is more on Stoker’s views on economic development and modernization for both Ireland and the Balkans.

6. Stoker was obsessed with “rationalizing” (in the Weberian sense) the employment relation and also the bureaucracy  His first non-fiction work was “The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions.”  Progress was more generally a recurring theme in his non-fiction writings, for instance “The Necessity of Political Honesty.”  He called for an Ireland of commerce, education, and without “warring feuds.”

7. For Stoker, sexual repression is needed to further societal progress and economic development, and in this regard Stoker anticipates Freud.  Dracula abides by most laws and norms, except the sexual/cannibalistic ones.  Dracula and Lucy, who give in to their individual desires, end up as the big losers.  For the others, societal order is restored, and the lurid sexuality that pervades the book is dampened by the restoration of order.

8. Christ and Dracula are mirror opposites (the stake, the cross, resurrection at dawn rather than sunset, the role of blood drinking reversed, the preaching of immortality in opposite ways, the inversion of who sacrifices for whom, and more).  A proper societal outcome is obtained when these two opposites end up neutralizing each other.  Stoker’s vision of progress is fundamentally secular.  (See Clyde Leatherdale on all this.)

9. From Hollis Robbins: “Britain’s economic prosperity in the nineteenth century was largely dependent on the adoption of international standards such as Greenwich Mean Time and the universal day, which ensured smooth coordination for trade, legal transactions, railroad travel, and mail delivery. Dracula, whose powers are governed by the sun and the moon rather than clocks and calendars, works to destabilize social coordination. His objective is not only literally to “fatten on the blood of the living,”6 but also more broadly to suck the lifeblood of a thriving commercial economy at the dawn of a global age. Under Dracula’s spell, humans forget the time, becoming listless, unproductive, and indifferent to social convention. At heart, the fundamental battle in Stoker’s Dracula is a death struggle between standard time as an institutional basis for world markets and planetary time governing a primitive, superstitious existence.”

10. In an interview Stoker once said: “I suppose that every book of the kind must contain some lesson, but I prefer that readers should find it out for themselves.”  There are numerous ways to take that remark, not just what I am suggesting.

What should I ask Chris Blattman?

I will be having a Conversation with him, rooted in his forthcoming book Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace.  Though not only!

Chris is a political scientist at University of Chicago, but with training in other fields as well and indeed he is also an economist.  He has done extensive fieldwork in Colombia and East Africa, both on conflict and also on cash transfers.  He is active blogging and tweeting, and is a Canadian too.

Here is my previous Conversation with Chris.  So what should I ask him this time around?

My Conversation with the excellent Sebastian Mallaby

Venture capital most of all, hedge funds as well with the Fed tossed in.  Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is one excerpt from the Conversation:

COWEN: What do you think of the view that in recent years, there’s been a huge consumer retail tech boom? Basically FAANG stocks, right? And when that is over — it might be over now — the excess returns to VC will go away. If you look at venture capital for biotech, which has been hammered lately, as we’re speaking here, late January 2022 — and maybe venture capital is a limited model for one period of time, and otherwise, it just does okay. True or false?

MALLABY: False. I say that because, in a cyclical sense, you might be right, but I think there’s a deep structural shift, which is really important. That is that intangible capital has become more and more important in our economy. The nature of intangible capital is that it’s hard to measure it in financial reports.

To understand whether a particular software investment, for example, is worth a huge amount or, really, nothing, you need to understand what that software development within the company is doing. You need to be hands-on. You need to have the technical skills to evaluate that software project. The more that intangible capital rises as a share of new GDP creation, the more this venture-style hands-on expert investing is going to be valuable.

COWEN: Your explanation — if I understand it — to me seems to suggest that venture capital for biotech won’t work very well. You’re portraying it as something that’s very, very hard to do, a very limited skill, so you’re going to be wrong a lot of times. That means the times you’re right, the product has to be scalable very rapidly.

But in biotech, there are regulators. You often need a sales force. It’s not scalable in the way that, say, LinkedIn or Netflix are scalable. Doesn’t that mean VC will just stay limited to a very small area of those things that are super rapidly scalable? Or if you think it’s pretty easy to pick winners, then you have to think the rents get exhausted.

MALLABY: [laughs] Yeah, this is a version of, actually, a wider debate which goes beyond biotech, which is the claim that venture capital is really only good for software projects, that software can be scaled very, very fast; there are network effects once you get product-market fit, and you don’t need much capital.

And this:

COWEN: I have some questions about other topics. You have some highly regarded books about hedge funds and about the Fed. In the late ’90s, the bailout of Long-Term Capital Management — was that a kind of original sin that just set us on a path of bailing more things out at higher and higher price tags? Should we have just let LTCM fall?

MALLABY: No, I think the original sin was Continental Illinois, much earlier in 1986, I believe, when the Fed bailed out this bank which it thought was too big to fail. I’m not sure it really was too big to fail, but it was a moment when the Latin American debt crisis was still casting a shadow, when the banking system was perceived to be fragile, and the Fed just wasn’t willing to let it go. That was the original sin because taxpayer money was used to bail it out.

There is much more at the link, and I am very happy to recommend Sebastian’s new and very good book The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future.

Ireland fact of the day

…one statistic stands out from a census comparison from the first decade of the twenty-first century.  Just 2.1 percent of the population in Northern Ireland were born in the South, and just 1.3 percent living in the South were born in the North.

And that is with rights of free migration.  That is from Brendan O’Leary, A Treatise on Northern Ireland, volume 3, Consociation and Confederation, a very good series of books I might add.

Samuel Brenner reads *Stubborn Attachments*

An excellent review and interpretation, here is one summary part:

…the fundamental idea of the book is not “economic growth is good” but rather “here’s how to reason under extreme uncertainty”, and that once you adopt Tyler’s view about how to reason under extreme uncertainty, both principles (growth and rights) fall out as the only two important considerations…

My preferred view of the book’s overall argumentative structure is more like the following:

G. Good things are better than bad things
H. We need to act in order to achieve good things
I. But there’s a huge froth of uncertainty, and our actions might be counterproductive
J. So we should have faith
K. And also we should only pursue the actions with really high expected value and which are likeliest to rise above the froth of uncertainty
L. The actions that pass this test best are growth and rights, so we have to pursue both

I would stress this is a complement to other interpretations rather than a substitute for them, in any case an excellent short essay.  And here is “About Samuel Brenner.

What I’ve been reading

David Dickson, Dublin: The Making of a Capital City.  Yes this is Dublin only, but still one of the best books on Irish history I know.

Jing Tsu, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern.  A little slow to start, but a good book on how China used technological innovation to adapt Chinese characters to the advent of the typewriter and the telegraph.  The danger to the Chinese language seems entirely to be past.

Useful is Philip Keefer and Carlos Scartascini, Trust: The Key to Social Cohesion and Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean.  You can download it for free.

Tom G. Palmer and Matt Warner, Development with Dignity: Self-Determination, Localization, and the End to Poverty is a good classical liberal short book on economic development.

My colleague lives his words, here is Todd B. Kashdan The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent & Defy Effectively.

I agree very much with Tim Kane’s new pro-immigration book The Immigrant Superpower: How Brains, Brawn, and Bravery Make America Stronger.

I have not had a chance to read Bruce Clark, Athens: City of Wisdom, a history of the city through the ages, but it looks good.

Most of all, I have been reading about the history of Ireland to prep for my forthcoming Conversation with Roy Foster.

Where I differ from Bryan Caplan’s *Labor Econ Versus the World*

One thing I liked about reading this book is I was able to narrow down my disagreements with Bryan to a smaller number of dimensions.  And to be clear, I agree with a great deal of what is in this book, but that does not make for an interesting blog post.  So let’s focus on where we differ.  One point of disagreement surfaces when Bryan writes:

Tenet #6: Racial and gender discrimination remains a serious problem, and without government regulation, would still be rampant.

Critique: Unless government requires discrimination, market forces make it a marginal issue at most.  Large group differences persist because groups differ largely in productivity.

I would instead stress that most of the inequity occurs upstream of labor markets, through the medium of culture.  It is simply much harder to be born in the ghetto!  I am fine with not calling this “discrimination,” and indeed I do not myself use the word that way.  Still, it is a significant inequity, and it is at least an important a lesson about labor markets as what Bryan presents to you.

But you won’t find much consideration of it in Bryan’s book.  The real problems in labor markets arise when “the cultural upstream” intersects with other social institutions in problematic ways.  To give a simple example, Princeton kept Jews out for a long time, and that was not because of the government.  Or Princeton voted to admit women only in 1969, again not the government.  What about Major League Baseball before Jackie Robinson or even for a long while after?  Much of Jim Crow was governmental, but so much of it wasn’t.  There are many such examples, and I don’t see that Bryan deals with them.  And they have materially affected both people’s lives and their labor market histories, covering many millions of lives, arguably billions.

Or, the Indian government takes some steps to remedy caste inequalities, but fundamentally the caste system remains, for whatever reasons.  Again, this kind of cultural upstream isn’t much on Bryan’s radar screen.  (I have another theory that this neglect of culture is because of Bryan’s unusual theory of free will, through which moral blame has to be assigned to individual choosers, but that will have to wait for another day!)

We can go beyond the discrimination topic and still see that Bryan is not paying enough attention to what is upstream of labor markets, or to how culture shapes human decisions.

Bryan for instance advocates open borders (for all countries?).  I think that would be cultural and political suicide, most of all for smaller countries, but for the United States too.  You would get fascism first, if anything.  I do however favor boosting (pre-Covid) immigration flows into the United States by something like 3x.  So in the broader scheme of things I am very pro-immigration.  I just think there are cultural limits to what a polity can absorb at what speed.

If you consider Bryan on education, he believes most of higher education is signaling.  In contrast, I see higher education as giving its recipients the proper cultural background to participate in labor markets at higher productivity levels.  I once wrote an extensive blog post on this.  That is how higher education can be productive, while most of your classes seem like a waste of time.

On poverty, Bryan puts forward a formula of a) finish high school, b) get a full time job, and c) get married before you have children.  All good advice!  But I find that to be nearly tautologous as an explanation of poverty.  To me, the deeper and more important is why so many cultures have evolved to make those apparent “no brainer” choices so difficult for so many individuals.  Again, I think Bryan is neglecting the cultural factors upstream of labor markets and in this case also marriage markets.  One simple question is why some cultures don’t produce enough men worth marrying, but that is hardly the only issue on the table here.

More generally, I believe that once you incorporate these messy “cultural upstream” issues, much of labor economics becomes more complicated than Bryan wishes to acknowledge.  Much more complicated.

I should stress that Bryan’s book is nonetheless a very good way to learn economic reasoning, and a wonderful tonic against a lot of the self-righteous, thoughtless mood affiliation you will see on labor markets, even coming from professional economists.

I will remind that you can buy Bryan’s book here, and at a very favorable price point.

Who’s Watching You?

John List has been chief economist for UBER and for Lyft. He’s also run experiments for United, the United Way, and the Chicago schools. In his new book, The Voltage Effect, he talks about a number of these experiments but what really comes through is how much fun he is having.

Several years ago, a company that provided loans to small business owners approached me and my friend and colleague Steven Levitt to help them try to do something intriguing: accurately evaluate the character of people who had applied for loans.

Now, I can imagine a lot of ways of doing this–a traditional approach, for example, would be to look at spending decisions, credit card reports, criminal records, marriage lengths, number of children. One can imagine a lot of potential correlations to be found using big data. That would be pretty clever but here’s what List and Levitt did:

Over the course of several weeks, a research assistant walked by each establishment whose owner had applied for a loan and “accidentally” dropped his wallet on the sidewalk out front. Seconds later, a different member of my research team would pick up the wallet (in which we had placed a slip of with a name and phone number) walk into the establishment, and turn in the wallet to the owner, saying that they had found it outside on the sidewalk and weren’t sure what to do.

Then we waited.

Our first metric coded how long it took for the loan applicant to call to tell us that they had our wallet–that is, if they called at all..[Next] we looked at how much money remained inside: the original $60 (in the form of 3 $20 bills), $40, $20 or no money at all….we were invariably treated to a declaration to the effect of ‘this is how I found it.’ I thanked each person who called; then once we had the data we needed, my team and I generated character/integrity scores for each business owner and sent our reports to the company that had hire us.

Moral of the story: if you ever find a wallet in Chicago, return it. You never know who is watching.

My Israel-only Conversation with the excellent Russ Roberts

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, here is the CWT summary:

In this special crossover special with EconTalk, Tyler interviews Russ Roberts about his new life in Israel as president of Shalem College. They discuss why there are so few new universities, managing teams in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers, how Israeli society could adapt to the loss of universal military service, why Israeli TV is so good, what American Jews don’t understand about life in Israel, what his next leadership challenge will be, and much more.

We didn’t shy away from the tough stuff, here is one question:

COWEN: Let me ask you another super easy question. Let’s say we think that under current circumstances, a two-state solution would not lead to security either for Israel or for the resulting Palestinian state. Many people believe that. Let’s say also, as I think you believe, that a one-state solution where everyone votes would not lead to security for a current version of Israel or even a modified version of it.

Let’s say also that the current reliance of the Palestinian territories on the state of Israel for protection, security, intelligence, water — many important features of life — prevent those governing bodies from ever attaining sufficient autonomy to be a credible peace partner, guaranteer of its own security, and so on. From that point of view, what do we do? We’re not utilitarians. We’re thinking about what’s right and wrong. What’s the right thing to do?

Do read Russ’s answer!  (Too long to excerpt.)  And:

COWEN: Now, the United States has about 330 million people, yet there are more Israeli TV shows I want to watch than American TV shows. There’s Srugim, there’s Shtisel, there’s Prisoners of War, there’s In Judgment, there’s Tehran. There’s more. Why is Israeli TV so good?

ROBERTS: I’m glad you mentioned Prisoners of War, which doesn’t get enough — Prisoners of War is in my top five. If I had to list my top five, I’d pick Shtisel, Prisoners of WarThe Americans, probably The Wire, and The Crown. Do you have a top five that you could reel off?

COWEN: The Sopranos would be my number one. Srugim and Prisoners of War plausibly would be in my top five.

We then consider the Israeli topic at hand.  Interesting throughout, a very good dialogue.