Over the past 20 years, arguably no libertarian thinker has cut a broader or deeper swath than Tyler Cowen, who holds the Holbert L. Harris Chair in economics at George Mason University and acts as chairman and general director of the Mercatus Center. Co-founder of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution, the 56-year-old New Jersey native is a regular contributor at Bloomberg and for years wrote an "economic scene" column for The New York Times. He is the host of Conversations with Tyler, a podcast series that includes interviews with people as diverse as Martina Navratilova, Paul Krugman, and Dave Barry, and the author of a shelf full of books, including 2000's In Praise of Commercial Culture, 2007's Discover Your Inner Economist and last year's The Complacent Class.
His work is at once intellectually serious, concise, and engaging, and his unique perspective yields fascinating analyses of activities and subjects that most economists ignore—everything from the literal and figurative prices of fame to how globalization empowers Mexican folk artists to whether public funding for the arts has been more successful than most free-marketers would grant. A recurring theme over the past decade is a fear that America and much of the West may have entered a period he calls "the great stagnation," in which technological innovation and economic growth have slowed even as risk-taking and moonshot-type ventures are demonized or ignored altogether.
I sat down with him to talk about his newest book, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals. It's an unapologetically libertarian argument for what he calls long-term sustainable economic growth and, more importantly, intellectual and cultural attitudes that are unabashedly devoted to freedom and prosperity. It's a provocative, powerful argument for an America in which government does less, individuals do more, and the future becomes the object of our dreams rather than a repository of our fears.
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