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Conversations with Tyler

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

229
Followers
1.5K
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Conversations with Tyler

Conversations with Tyler

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

229
Followers
1.5K
Plays
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About Us

Tyler Cowen engages today’s deepest thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between. New conversations every other Wednesday. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Latest Episodes

Alex Ross on Music, Culture, and Criticism

To Alex Ross, good music critics must be well-rounded and have command of neighboring cultural areas. “When you're writing about opera, you're writing about literature as well as music, you're writing about staging, theater ideas, as well as music,” says the veteran music journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker. His most recent book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, explores the complicated legacy of Wagner, as well as how music shapes and is shaped by its cultural context. Alex joined Tyler to discuss the book, what gets lost in the training of modern opera singers, the effect of recording technology on orchestras, why he doesn’t have “guilty pleasures,” how we should approach Wagner today, the irony behind most uses of “Ride of the Valkyries” in cinema, his favorite Orson Welles film, his predictions for concert attendance after COVID-19, why artistic life in Europe will likely recover faster than in America, Rothko’s influence on composer Morton Feldman, his contender for the greatest pop album ever made, how his Harvard dissertation on James Joyce prepared him for a career writing about music, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Alex on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

61 min6 d ago
Comments
Alex Ross on Music, Culture, and Criticism

Matt Yglesias on Why the Population is Too Damn Low

EMatt Yglesias joined Tyler for a wide-ranging conversation on his vision for a bigger, less politically polarized America outlined in his new book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. They discussed why it’s easier to grow Tokyo than New York City, the governance issues of increasing urban populations, what Tyler got right about pro-immigration arguments, how to respond to declining fertility rates, why he’d be happy to see more people going to church (even though he’s not religious), why liberals and conservatives should take marriage incentive programs more seriously, what larger families would mean for feminism, why people should read Robert Nozick, whether the YIMBY movement will be weakened by COVID-19, how New York City will bounce back, why he’s long on Minneapolis, how to address constitutional ruptures, how to attract more competent people to state and local governments, what he’s learned growing up in a family full of economists, his mother’s wisdom a...

66 min2 w ago
Comments
Matt Yglesias on Why the Population is Too Damn Low

Jason Furman on Productivity, Competition, and Growth

Note: This conversation was recorded in January 2020. Tyler credits Jason Furman’s intellectual breadth, real-world experience, and emphasis on policy for making him the best economist in the world. Furman, despite not initially being interested in public policy, ultimately served as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama thanks to a call from Joe Stiglitz while still in grad school. His perspective is as idiosyncratic as his career trajectory, seeing the world of economic policy as a series of complex tradeoffs rather than something reducible to oversimplified political slogans. Jason joined Tyler for a wide-ranging conversation on how monopolies affect investment patterns, his top three recommendations to improve American productivity, why he’s skeptical of place-based development policies, what some pro-immigration arguments get wrong, why he’s more concerned about companies like Facebook and Google than he is Walmart and Amazon, the merits of a hu...

61 minAUG 26
Comments
Jason Furman on Productivity, Competition, and Growth

Nicholas Bloom on Management, Productivity, and Scientific Progress

What might the electrification of factories teach us about how quickly we’ll adapt to remote work? What gives American companies an edge over their competitors on the international stage? What value do management consultants really provide? Stanford professor Nick Bloom’s research studies how management practices, productivity techniques, and uncertainty shape outcomes across companies and countries. He joined Tyler for a conversation about which areas of science are making progress, the factors that have made research more expensive, why government should invest more in R&D, how lean management transformed manufacturing, how India’s congested legal system inhibits economic development, the effects of technology on Scottish football hooliganism, why firms thrive in China, how weak legal systems incentivize nepotism, why he’s not worried about the effects of remote work on American productivity (in the short-term), the drawbacks of elite graduate programs, how his first “academic love” shapes his work today, the benefits of working with co-authors, why he prefers periodicals and podcasts to reading books, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

63 minAUG 12
Comments
Nicholas Bloom on Management, Productivity, and Scientific Progress

Nathan Nunn on the Paths to Development

Nathan Nunn’s work history includes automotive stores, a freight company, a paint factory, a ski hill, photography, book publishing, private tutoring, and more. Having grown up in a lower-income Canadian family, he recognizes the importance of having multiple pathways to climb the socioeconomic ladder. Now, as a development economist at Harvard, his research investigates how things like history, culture and contract enforcement shape the development paths of nations. Nathan joined Tyler for a conversation about which African countries a theory of persistence would lead him to bet on, why so many Africans live in harder to settle areas, his predictions for the effects of Chinese development on East Africa, why genetic distance is a strong predictor of bilateral income differences and trade, the pleasant surprises of visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo, the role of the Catholic Church in the development of the West, why Canadian football is underrated, the unique commutes of Ottawans, the lack of Canadian brands, what’s missing from most economic graduate programs, the benefits of studying economics outside of the United States, how the plow shaped gender roles in the societies that used it, the cultural values behind South Korea’s success, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Nathan on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

61 minJUL 29
Comments
Nathan Nunn on the Paths to Development

Melissa Dell on the Significance of Persistence

Explaining 10 percent of something is not usually cause for celebration. And yet when it comes to economic development, where so many factors are in play—institutions, culture, geography, to name a few—it’s impressive indeed. And that’s just what Melissa Dell has accomplished in her pathbreaking work. From the impact of the Mexican Revolution to the different development paths of northern and southern Vietnam, her work exploits what are often accidents of history—whether a Peruvian village was just inside or outside a mine’s catchment area, for example—to explain persistent differences in outcomes. Her work has earned numerous plaudits, including the John Bates Clark Medal earlier this year. On the 100th episode of Conversations with Tyler, Melissa joined Tyler to discuss what’s behind Vietnam’s economic performance, why persistence isn’t predictive, the benefits and drawbacks of state capacity, the differing economic legacies of forced labor in Indonesia and Peru, whether...

63 minJUL 15
Comments
Melissa Dell on the Significance of Persistence

Annie Duke on Poker, Probabilities, and How We Make Decisions

For Annie Duke, the poker table is a perfect laboratory to study human decision-making — including her own. “It really exposes you to the way that you’re thinking,” she says, “how hard it is to avoid decision traps, even when you’re perfectly well aware that those decision traps exist. And how easy it is for like your mind to slip into those traps.” She’s spent a lot of time studying human cognition at the poker table and off it — her best-known academic article is about psycholinguistics and her forthcoming book is titled How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices. Annie joined Tyler to explore how payoffs aren’t always monetary, the benefits and costs of probabilistic thinking, the “magical thinking” behind why people buy fire insurance but usually don’t get prenups, the psychology behind betting on shark migrations, how her most famous linguistics paper took on Steven Pinker, how public policy would change if only the top 500 poker players voted, why she wasn’t surprised to lose Celebrity Apprentice to Joan Rivers, whether Trump has a tell, the number one trait of top poker players, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Annie on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

54 minJUL 1
Comments
Annie Duke on Poker, Probabilities, and How We Make Decisions

Rachel Harmon on Policing

Long before becoming a legal scholar focused on police reform, Rachel Harmon studied engineering at MIT and graduate philosophy at LSE. “You could call it a random walk,” she says, “or you could say that I’m really interested in the structure of things.” But despite her experience and training, even she can’t identify a single point of leverage that can radically reform the complicated system of policing in America. “We have been struggling with balancing the harms and benefits of policing since we started contemporary departments, so I don’t think that we’re going to suddenly fix this by flipping one lever.” She joined Tyler to discuss the best ideas for improving policing, including why good data on policing is so hard to come by, why body cams are not a panacea, the benefits and costs of consolidating police departments, why more female cops won’t necessarily reduce the use of force, how federal programs can sometimes misfire, where changing police selection criteria would and wouldn’t help, whether some policing could be replaced by social workers, the sobering frequency of sexual assaults by police, how a national accreditation system might improve police conduct, what reformers can learn from Camden and elsewhere, and more. They close by discussing the future of law schools, what she learned clerking under Guido Calabresi and Stephen Breyer, why she’s drawn to kickboxing and triathlons, and what two things she looks for in a young legal scholar. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

57 minJUN 17
Comments
Rachel Harmon on Policing

Ashley Mears on Status and Beauty

Ashley Mears is a former fashion model turned academic sociologist, and her book Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit is one of Tyler’s favorites of the year. The book, the result of eighteen months of field research, describes how young women exchange “bodily capital” for free drinks and access to glamorous events, boosting the status of the big-spending men they accompany. Ashley joined Tyler to discuss her book and experience as a model, including the economics of bottle service, which kinds of men seek the club experience (and which can’t get in), why Tyler is right to be suspicious of restaurants filled with beautiful women, why club music is so loud, the surprising reason party girls don’t want to be paid, what it’s like to be scouted, why fashion models don’t smile, the truths contained in Zoolander, how her own beauty and glamour have influenced her academic career, how Barbara Ehrenreich inspired her work, her unique tip for staying fo...

61 minJUN 3
Comments
Ashley Mears on Status and Beauty

Paul Romer on a Culture of Science and Working Hard

Paul Romer makes his second appearance to discuss the failings of economics, how his mass testing plan for COVID-19 would work, what aspects of epidemiology concern him, how the FDA is slowing a better response, his ideas for reopening schools and Major League Baseball, where he agrees with Weyl’s test plan, why charter cities need a new name, what went wrong with Honduras, the development trajectory for sub-Saharan Africa, how he’d reform the World Bank, the underrated benefits of a culture of science, his heartening takeaway about human nature from his experience at Burning Man, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Paul on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

59 minMAY 20
Comments
Paul Romer on a Culture of Science and Working Hard

Latest Episodes

Alex Ross on Music, Culture, and Criticism

To Alex Ross, good music critics must be well-rounded and have command of neighboring cultural areas. “When you're writing about opera, you're writing about literature as well as music, you're writing about staging, theater ideas, as well as music,” says the veteran music journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker. His most recent book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, explores the complicated legacy of Wagner, as well as how music shapes and is shaped by its cultural context. Alex joined Tyler to discuss the book, what gets lost in the training of modern opera singers, the effect of recording technology on orchestras, why he doesn’t have “guilty pleasures,” how we should approach Wagner today, the irony behind most uses of “Ride of the Valkyries” in cinema, his favorite Orson Welles film, his predictions for concert attendance after COVID-19, why artistic life in Europe will likely recover faster than in America, Rothko’s influence on composer Morton Feldman, his contender for the greatest pop album ever made, how his Harvard dissertation on James Joyce prepared him for a career writing about music, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Alex on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

61 min6 d ago
Comments
Alex Ross on Music, Culture, and Criticism

Matt Yglesias on Why the Population is Too Damn Low

EMatt Yglesias joined Tyler for a wide-ranging conversation on his vision for a bigger, less politically polarized America outlined in his new book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. They discussed why it’s easier to grow Tokyo than New York City, the governance issues of increasing urban populations, what Tyler got right about pro-immigration arguments, how to respond to declining fertility rates, why he’d be happy to see more people going to church (even though he’s not religious), why liberals and conservatives should take marriage incentive programs more seriously, what larger families would mean for feminism, why people should read Robert Nozick, whether the YIMBY movement will be weakened by COVID-19, how New York City will bounce back, why he’s long on Minneapolis, how to address constitutional ruptures, how to attract more competent people to state and local governments, what he’s learned growing up in a family full of economists, his mother’s wisdom a...

66 min2 w ago
Comments
Matt Yglesias on Why the Population is Too Damn Low

Jason Furman on Productivity, Competition, and Growth

Note: This conversation was recorded in January 2020. Tyler credits Jason Furman’s intellectual breadth, real-world experience, and emphasis on policy for making him the best economist in the world. Furman, despite not initially being interested in public policy, ultimately served as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama thanks to a call from Joe Stiglitz while still in grad school. His perspective is as idiosyncratic as his career trajectory, seeing the world of economic policy as a series of complex tradeoffs rather than something reducible to oversimplified political slogans. Jason joined Tyler for a wide-ranging conversation on how monopolies affect investment patterns, his top three recommendations to improve American productivity, why he’s skeptical of place-based development policies, what some pro-immigration arguments get wrong, why he’s more concerned about companies like Facebook and Google than he is Walmart and Amazon, the merits of a hu...

61 minAUG 26
Comments
Jason Furman on Productivity, Competition, and Growth

Nicholas Bloom on Management, Productivity, and Scientific Progress

What might the electrification of factories teach us about how quickly we’ll adapt to remote work? What gives American companies an edge over their competitors on the international stage? What value do management consultants really provide? Stanford professor Nick Bloom’s research studies how management practices, productivity techniques, and uncertainty shape outcomes across companies and countries. He joined Tyler for a conversation about which areas of science are making progress, the factors that have made research more expensive, why government should invest more in R&D, how lean management transformed manufacturing, how India’s congested legal system inhibits economic development, the effects of technology on Scottish football hooliganism, why firms thrive in China, how weak legal systems incentivize nepotism, why he’s not worried about the effects of remote work on American productivity (in the short-term), the drawbacks of elite graduate programs, how his first “academic love” shapes his work today, the benefits of working with co-authors, why he prefers periodicals and podcasts to reading books, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

63 minAUG 12
Comments
Nicholas Bloom on Management, Productivity, and Scientific Progress

Nathan Nunn on the Paths to Development

Nathan Nunn’s work history includes automotive stores, a freight company, a paint factory, a ski hill, photography, book publishing, private tutoring, and more. Having grown up in a lower-income Canadian family, he recognizes the importance of having multiple pathways to climb the socioeconomic ladder. Now, as a development economist at Harvard, his research investigates how things like history, culture and contract enforcement shape the development paths of nations. Nathan joined Tyler for a conversation about which African countries a theory of persistence would lead him to bet on, why so many Africans live in harder to settle areas, his predictions for the effects of Chinese development on East Africa, why genetic distance is a strong predictor of bilateral income differences and trade, the pleasant surprises of visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo, the role of the Catholic Church in the development of the West, why Canadian football is underrated, the unique commutes of Ottawans, the lack of Canadian brands, what’s missing from most economic graduate programs, the benefits of studying economics outside of the United States, how the plow shaped gender roles in the societies that used it, the cultural values behind South Korea’s success, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Nathan on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

61 minJUL 29
Comments
Nathan Nunn on the Paths to Development

Melissa Dell on the Significance of Persistence

Explaining 10 percent of something is not usually cause for celebration. And yet when it comes to economic development, where so many factors are in play—institutions, culture, geography, to name a few—it’s impressive indeed. And that’s just what Melissa Dell has accomplished in her pathbreaking work. From the impact of the Mexican Revolution to the different development paths of northern and southern Vietnam, her work exploits what are often accidents of history—whether a Peruvian village was just inside or outside a mine’s catchment area, for example—to explain persistent differences in outcomes. Her work has earned numerous plaudits, including the John Bates Clark Medal earlier this year. On the 100th episode of Conversations with Tyler, Melissa joined Tyler to discuss what’s behind Vietnam’s economic performance, why persistence isn’t predictive, the benefits and drawbacks of state capacity, the differing economic legacies of forced labor in Indonesia and Peru, whether...

63 minJUL 15
Comments
Melissa Dell on the Significance of Persistence

Annie Duke on Poker, Probabilities, and How We Make Decisions

For Annie Duke, the poker table is a perfect laboratory to study human decision-making — including her own. “It really exposes you to the way that you’re thinking,” she says, “how hard it is to avoid decision traps, even when you’re perfectly well aware that those decision traps exist. And how easy it is for like your mind to slip into those traps.” She’s spent a lot of time studying human cognition at the poker table and off it — her best-known academic article is about psycholinguistics and her forthcoming book is titled How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices. Annie joined Tyler to explore how payoffs aren’t always monetary, the benefits and costs of probabilistic thinking, the “magical thinking” behind why people buy fire insurance but usually don’t get prenups, the psychology behind betting on shark migrations, how her most famous linguistics paper took on Steven Pinker, how public policy would change if only the top 500 poker players voted, why she wasn’t surprised to lose Celebrity Apprentice to Joan Rivers, whether Trump has a tell, the number one trait of top poker players, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Annie on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

54 minJUL 1
Comments
Annie Duke on Poker, Probabilities, and How We Make Decisions

Rachel Harmon on Policing

Long before becoming a legal scholar focused on police reform, Rachel Harmon studied engineering at MIT and graduate philosophy at LSE. “You could call it a random walk,” she says, “or you could say that I’m really interested in the structure of things.” But despite her experience and training, even she can’t identify a single point of leverage that can radically reform the complicated system of policing in America. “We have been struggling with balancing the harms and benefits of policing since we started contemporary departments, so I don’t think that we’re going to suddenly fix this by flipping one lever.” She joined Tyler to discuss the best ideas for improving policing, including why good data on policing is so hard to come by, why body cams are not a panacea, the benefits and costs of consolidating police departments, why more female cops won’t necessarily reduce the use of force, how federal programs can sometimes misfire, where changing police selection criteria would and wouldn’t help, whether some policing could be replaced by social workers, the sobering frequency of sexual assaults by police, how a national accreditation system might improve police conduct, what reformers can learn from Camden and elsewhere, and more. They close by discussing the future of law schools, what she learned clerking under Guido Calabresi and Stephen Breyer, why she’s drawn to kickboxing and triathlons, and what two things she looks for in a young legal scholar. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

57 minJUN 17
Comments
Rachel Harmon on Policing

Ashley Mears on Status and Beauty

Ashley Mears is a former fashion model turned academic sociologist, and her book Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit is one of Tyler’s favorites of the year. The book, the result of eighteen months of field research, describes how young women exchange “bodily capital” for free drinks and access to glamorous events, boosting the status of the big-spending men they accompany. Ashley joined Tyler to discuss her book and experience as a model, including the economics of bottle service, which kinds of men seek the club experience (and which can’t get in), why Tyler is right to be suspicious of restaurants filled with beautiful women, why club music is so loud, the surprising reason party girls don’t want to be paid, what it’s like to be scouted, why fashion models don’t smile, the truths contained in Zoolander, how her own beauty and glamour have influenced her academic career, how Barbara Ehrenreich inspired her work, her unique tip for staying fo...

61 minJUN 3
Comments
Ashley Mears on Status and Beauty

Paul Romer on a Culture of Science and Working Hard

Paul Romer makes his second appearance to discuss the failings of economics, how his mass testing plan for COVID-19 would work, what aspects of epidemiology concern him, how the FDA is slowing a better response, his ideas for reopening schools and Major League Baseball, where he agrees with Weyl’s test plan, why charter cities need a new name, what went wrong with Honduras, the development trajectory for sub-Saharan Africa, how he’d reform the World Bank, the underrated benefits of a culture of science, his heartening takeaway about human nature from his experience at Burning Man, and more. Follow us on Twitter and IG: @cowenconvos Email: cowenconvos@mercatus.gmu.edu Follow Paul on Twitter Follow Tyler on Twitter Facebook Newsletter

59 minMAY 20
Comments
Paul Romer on a Culture of Science and Working Hard

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