Discovering Your Inner Economist


A nice profile/review from New York magazine of occasional reason contributor Tyler Cowen and his new book, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist . Excerpt:

Not so long ago, economists not named Milton Friedman mostly kept to themselves, impressing each other with their inscrutable theories. Now they're the pop stars of academia….Among this new crowd of economists, Cowen, a 45-year-old professor at George Mason University just outside D.C., is a cult hero…..With Discover Your Inner Economist, Cowen attempts to put serious economics in the service of self-help. He starts by arguing against money as the prime shaper of human behavior. "The critical economic problem is scarcity," he says. "Money is scarce, but in most things the scarcity of time, attention, and caring is more important."

…..In a highly discursive style, Cowen rockets from topic to topic, covering everything from how to talk your spouse out of buying a warranty on a new purchase (sound economics is on your side, but the cost to marital harmony is likely to exceed the cost of the warranty; so in other words, don't fight over peanuts) to the reason a Malaysian woman spent 32 days in a glass room filled with 6,000 scorpions (she was attempting to "signal" her status in the world).

The best sections of the book concern tactics for maximizing one's cultural consumption, or what amounts to imitating Cowen. He lists eight strategies for taking control of one's reading, which include ruthless skipping around, following one character while ignoring others, and even going directly to the last chapter.

Cowen blogs at Marginal Revolution.