The prolific George Mason economist Tyler Cowen is a popular blogger (at marginalrevolution.com), a New York Times columnist, and one of the country's foremost defenders of free markets. His most recent book is Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World (Dutton). Editor in Chief Matt Welch spoke with Cowen about his new book in July. To watch the whole interview, go to reason.tv/video/show/tyler-cowen.
Q: Who should create their own economy and why?
A: I view this as a book about the power of the individual, the importance of individual liberty, and how we can all create our own liberties using the Web and the information economy to create streams of meaning. We draw disparate bits from YouTube, from blogs, from news websites. To the outsider it doesn't look like very much noble is going on, but it's full of suspense, it's full of narrative, it keeps us interested, and it's a lot more fun than a lot of the culture of the past.
Q: The connection between material wealth and happiness—partially through the Internet and through economic gains—is less than ever before.
A: Due mostly to the prosperity of capitalism, people like you and I can be just fantastically happy. It's quite plausible that you are happier than Bill Gates. You have penicillin, you ride on jet planes, you have your own car. And life for you can be extraordinarily fun. All this free stuff also means the need to earn money is in some ways weaker than it was even just 10 years ago.
Q: What is neurodiversity?
A: By neurodiversity we simply mean the notion that people are born with different neurological wiring. One of the key themes in the book is to focus on autism and the notion that autistics tend to be what I call "infovores." They love to gather, process, order information. We in society are becoming more like this ourselves. In some ways we are mimicking autistics, and I am saying this is a good thing.
Q: Everybody says we're a much more ADD culture now, that we have short attention spans. Is that something we should embrace?
A: ADD is another example of a phenomenon that is usually called just a disorder, but there's actually growing evidence that people with what might be ADD, or something like ADD, do extraordinarily well. There was one study that found that entrepreneurs were especially likely to have dyslexia. Having dyslexia makes you very good at delegating responsibility. It's possible that a lot of people with ADD use what is supposedly a disorder as a way of channeling their attention to consume information faster and more efficiently. The neurodiversity of the human race is very much an underappreciated asset. That's part of the theme of the book, tying back to the power of the individual and our right and privilege to be different.
Q: What's your biggest hope going forward, about individuals creating their own economies and how that might change society?
A: I think the Web and the new information economy is one potentially very strong protection against tyranny. Tyranny can control your education, can control your health care, can take away a lot of your tax money, but for the most part tyranny finds it hard to control what you visit and say on the Web. China tries, to some extent they succeed, but there are still plenty of shadow websites and other ways to get to places where people want to go.
So it's one of our bulwarks of freedom today and it ought to be appreciated as such. It's a largely unregulated economy.