Saturday, July 11, 2009

What I Think of Tyler Cowen and His Writings where Cowen blogs, while occasionally containing an interesting post, is overrated.

Nothing caught my eye in his book, Discover Your Inner Economist, the two or three times I flipped through the book in bookstores, so I never bought it.

Not much caught my eye in his new textbook (co-written with Alex Tabarrok), Modern Principles: Macroeconomics.

His writing style, in general, comes off to me as pompous.

All that said, I just discovered, as I have tweeted this evening, that Cowen has another book out, Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World.

The book is a path-breaking, eye opener.

The book starts with a revelation by Cowen that he considers himself a thinker in "an autistic cognitive style." He considers autism to be a method of thinking where putting things in order is extremely important, and that there is a spectrum of autistic type thinking. He believes that Bill Gates, Thomas Jefferson and other notables may be autistic, using the definition that he gives autism.

His view of autism emphasizes the fact that individuals have different types of minds, and those that are autistic tend, in very many individual differing ways, to focus intensely on the ordering of information. He writes that what is ordered and to what degree is unique to each person. This view dovetails with the recent post I made about the differences in minds that both Richard Feynman and Friedrich Hayek seemed to believe exist. Indeed, in his book, Cowen quotes Hayek.

Cowen takes this advanced view of autism, as a form of intense focus on ordering, to help explain what he sees the internet to be about.

In Cowen's view, the internet, and its sub-categories, blogging, facebook, twitter, linked-in,, Gooogle search, etc. is about advanced ordering of information, so that we can find information much quicker than in pre-internet days. And we can find those who have common interests much quicker. It helps us get autistic about our ordering, in Cowen's view.

He sees the short bursts of information to be an advantage over the pre-internet long forms of writing. And he sees the iPod, the iphone, email, IM, RSS feeds etc. as tools which allow each of us to create our own separate flows of ordered information, based on our own unique demands for information on various topics.

Outside of the title of the book, which seems to be a stretch probably thought up by the publisher to sell more copies, there is little to argue with in the book.

The book does tremendous advanced work on what real autism is about, and almost as a byproduct, delivers significant insights as to how minds overall are, on an individual basis, quite different.

This advanced thinking carries over into Cowen's views about the internet and how it impacts, society, culture, the individual, and relationships. Cowen's insights on the value of short bursts of information that occur as the result of twitter and IM are worth the price of the book alone.

In summary, Cowen's work is important pioneer work, others may polish and tweak it, but the advancements made by Cowen in this book are truly spectacular, unique and very important.

He knocked this one out of the park.


  1. For what it's worth, I saw Cowen give a talk at Freedom Fest. He talked about his new book but then threw open the discussion to any Q&A people had. It was one of the better talks I went to at the conference, even though I often criticize Cowen on my blog.

  2. A short interview of Cowen discussing his new book can be found here.

  3. Peter Boettke suggests that Cowen's graduate work on choice theory is outstanding.

    I plan to check it out when I get the chance.