[EconTalk] Tyler Cowen on Big Business

Tyler Cowen on Big Business

19/08/2019 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=78826393
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2019/Cowenbigbusiness.mp3

Author and economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University talks about his book, Big Business, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Cowen argues that big corporations in America are underrated and under-appreciated. He even defends the financial sector while adding some caveats along the way. This is a lively and contrarian look at a timely issue.

Listen date: early November


  • Oddly, the bit that stands out the most for me is Tyler Cowen dissing parties. And while I accept his specific point that drinking and music can crowd out cool and interesting conversations, I’m #NotAllParties outraged. Parties are a large genre! Dinner parties can still accomplish the interesting conversation objective! Oh well, on to the rest of the episode.
  • Tyler Cowen on business teaching you to co-operate with and persuade people touches on major themes of both Jane Jacobs and Deirdre McCloskey. And, I suppose, also to Aakar Patel’s repeated invocation of bania values. I think one distinction that Aakar doesn’t draw and which Jane Jacobs does is that Banias do the compromising mostly with other banias; whereas Jane Jacobs was clear on the importance of interaction with strangers.
  • In my younger days, I too believed that larger companies with more reputation at stake would be more scrupulous in their behaviour with consumers. Today, I’m worried that they just won’t be blatant frauds, but will hide behind thick legalese on contracts or pricing structures, especially in B2B markets.
  • Kiss to Tyler for telling everybody to move to cities to escape monopsonies. I’m a little sad that it didn’t spin off a larger discussion of urban dynamism. But even that abbreviated discussion was a welcome palate cleanser after the rubbish of the Chris Arnade episode.
  • I like his Bryan Caplan “Actually, human capital has measureable effects” takedown too.
  • Also the distinction between the financial sector’s political power versus what it accomplishes.
  • The point about “Books could be so potent that they hijack your brain” was a hypothetical too far, though it does recall ‘Books have power, and not just books of magic’. But overall, the argument does seem a bit “At least the infernal star goat does not devour our sun.”
  • The discussion about Nozick vs Rawls whizzed over my head. So I guess that’s two more for the reading list.
  • I like the Veil of Ignorance a lot, so I wish I understood why Cowen is dissing it. Plus, I need to write that blogpost about Ridcully, the veil of ignorance, and Indians.
  • Again, his argument about the local gossip being worse than Big Tech Surveillance ties in with thoughts I’ve been having on who the worse threats to dignity, potential, etc are in India – not the state, in my opinion
  • His point about solitude ignores the definition Cal Newport provided.


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