We live in a world of scarce resources. In such a world, unfortunately, not everyone can have the pleasure of knowing Tyler Cowen personally. That is pity, for talking to Tyler is a rare treat.
That is why I was so surprised to hear a friend say he was disappointed by Tyler Cowen's new book, Discover your Inner Economist. My friend, it turns out, had been hoping for something more along the lines of Freakonomics, or The Armchair Economist. Both are very good, very enjoyable reads, but Tyler's book is something a little different: it is a guide to living like an economist. It is also eerily similar to the experience of being Tyler's friend. If you have not had this experience, but want to, I urge you to go to the store and buy a copy.
Or as a post on my old Economist blog (though not by me) put it:
An earlier generation of these books, like Steven Landsburg's The Armchair Economist and David Friedman's Hidden Order, tackle the economic puzzles of everyday life by applying good old-fashioned price theory to novel situations. Many of the new spate of pop-econ page-turners reflect the maturation of economics as an increasingly empirical science.
Freakonomics is the bellwether of this shift. But Cowen's new book, which may seem superficially similar to old-style pop-econ, in fact is something different. It integrates a great many of the insights of Levitt-style work, as well as insights from behavioral and experimental economics (which Lozado, confusingly, opposes to Freakonomics-style work at the conclusion of his review). Cowen's synthesis of these new insights adds up to a level of psychological realism heretofore unseen in the pop-econ genre. If Cowen succeeds in offering excellent cute-o-nomic advice, and I think he often does, it's because economics as a whole is now generating a more empirically adequate picture of the world. For those of us weird enough to love economics, that's better than cute: that's beautiful.
Full disclosure: I fairly regularly go out to Fairfax to have lunch and be grilled by Tyler and his mob of
Mossad-like interrogators economists from George Mason. Which tells you, at the very least, that I tend to like that sort of thing. On the other hand, if you're reading this blog, it's a safe bet that you do too.