Read Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Den tist by Tyler Cowen Online


In Discover Your Inner Economist one of America’s most respected economists presents a quirky, incisive romp through everyday life that reveals how you can turn economic reasoning to your advantage—often when you least expect it to be relevant. Like no other economist, Tyler Cowen shows how economic notions--such as incentives, signals, and markets--apply far more widelyIn Discover Your Inner Economist one of America’s most respected economists presents a quirky, incisive romp through everyday life that reveals how you can turn economic reasoning to your advantage—often when you least expect it to be relevant. Like no other economist, Tyler Cowen shows how economic notions--such as incentives, signals, and markets--apply far more widely than merely to the decisions of social planners, governments, and big business. What does economic theory say about ordering from a menu? Or attracting the right mate? Or controlling people who talk too much in meetings? Or dealing with your dentist? With a wryly amusing voice, in chapters such as “How to Control the World, The Basics” and “How to Control the World, Knowing When to Stop” Cowen reveals the hidden economic patterns behind everyday situations so you can get more of what you really want. Readers will also gain less selfish insights into how to be a good partner, neighbor and even citizen of the world. For instance, what is the best way to give to charity? The chapter title “How to Save the World—More Christmas Presents Won’t Help” makes a point that is every bit as personal as it is global. Incentives are at the core of an economic approach to the world, but they don’t just come in cash. In fact, money can be a disincentive. Cowen shows why, for example, it doesn’t work to pay your kids to do the dishes. Other kinds of incentives--like making sure family members know they will be admired if they respect you--can work. Another non- monetary incentive? Try having everyone stand up in your next meeting if you don’t want anyone to drone on. Deeply felt incentives like pride in one’s work or a passing smile from a loved one, can be the most powerful of all, even while they operate alongside more mundane rewards such as money and free food. Discover Your Inner Economist is an introduction to the science of economics that shows it to be built on notions that are already within all of us. While the implications of those ideas lead to Cowen’s often counterintuitive advice, their wisdom is presented in ordinary examples taken from home life, work life, and even vacation life… How do you get a good guide in a Moroccan bazaar?...

Title : Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Den tist
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780525950257
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Den tist Reviews

  • David
    2019-03-25 12:26

    I enjoyed this book immensely! The title is very misleading--it is not about economics from a sociology perspective, but about applying rational, logical thinking to everyday (and not so-everyday) situations. In this book, Tyler Cowen describes how one might better enjoy going to an art gallery. In each room in the gallery, pretend to be an art thief--choose the single art object that you would prefer to own yourself, above all others. Think critically about why you would prefer it. Cowen describes how one might better enjoy reading a book, especially a difficult, complex fiction book. He suggests that skipping around in a complex fiction book can actually be beneficial, and help one to understand the story better! Read the first fifty pages three times. And don't feel compelled to finish a book that you don't like.Cowen describes how one might better enjoy music, how to cope best with kidnapping and torture, and a visit to the dentist. If you are a foodie, he offers interesting advice on what dishes to prepare at home vs. what to try at restaurants, and how to find good restaurants. Go to a neighborhood with low rents, or even food stalls that have low overhead. Go to a neighborhood--or a country--with the greatest differential between the wealthiest and the poorest residents. The wealthiest residents are the pickiest eaters, and the poorest residents will be the cooks.How should one contribute to charity? How should one treat beggars on the street? How should one tip at restaurants? How should you attend movies? What sort of gifts should one give?The topics covered in this book do tend to jump around a lot, but the sheer diversity of situations make this book very compelling, even if Cowen's advice is simply his personal opinion. Much of his advice is humorous and non-intuitive, but he backs up his advice with clear, logical explanations.

  • Terrie
    2019-03-05 08:33

    What a thorough disappointment. I love books in this genre, so I was really surprised not to enjoy this one. The writing and subject matter was very ADD, jumping all over the place. The only chapter that really tied to economics was the penultimate on charitable giving. No real insights here.

  • Julie
    2019-03-03 14:30

    Well, I thought this was going to tell me how to use incentives on _myself_ to get me to do the things I should be doing. And it was disappointing in that it did not tell me how to do that. I can't say it really did too much of what the subtitle said either. How to motivate your dentist? Compliment them on a job well done, and give them Christmas presents.I think the author revealed far more about himself than he did about economics. He takes pride in seeing like 40 movies a year, and walking out on most of them. Not because they're bad, per se, but just because he feels his time is better spent elsewhere after he's gotten a feel for what the movie's like. Umm...And he tells you how to get yourself to appreciate art. And where to find the best food. Where he was really starting to lose me was when he started talking about how to get yourself to appreciate fine literature. I'm sorry, but if you have to trick yourself into appreciating a book.. by skipping around, reading the best bits, playing games with yourself, and reading the Cliffsnotes.. then, it's probably not a very good book, is it? Why waste your time at all? You could watch the movie version if you feel culturally deprived.Or, well, you could at least watch _part_ of the movie, and then walk out on it.Working hard to appreciate art, food, music, books, movies? What's the point? Do you feel better about yourself? If it's worth your time to pay attention to, don't take shortcuts! Watch the whole freaking movie. Reading the whole freaking book!He's also got a chapter on 'signaling'. How a programmer could best land a job by signaling he's awesome by _not_ wearing a tie. Is this about signaling? Is this about image? If you do this consciously, seems to me, you're going to fail. The programmer shows up in geeky attire, because that's who he _is_. The only thing he's signaling is 'take me as I am, or I don't want to work for your company'. Not 'I am so super-awesome that I don't have to wear a suit and tie, which will prove to you that I'm super-awesome. If I'd worn a suit and tie, you'd know I wasn't super-awesome'.Anyway.. yea.. I think I could fill blog posts arguing with this author. But, hey, it's not worth my time!

  • Milad
    2019-03-19 09:49

    I’ve seen some reviewers lament that this book is a disorganized hodgepodge of random topics that reads more like a collection of blog posts than a book. I can’t really deny that. That said, I’d argue the following themes run throughout: (1) a response to economists who treat people like utility maximizing robots and try to infect every facet of human life with markets (2) an exploration of signaling and self-deception (3) self-help advice.This book is, partially, a reaction to other pop economics writers, such as Steven Landsburg. For example, in “More Sex is Safe Sex,” Landsburg says we can “fight fires” by compensating fire fighters with property they save and “prevent accidents” by holding everyone within a certain radius of an accident financially liable. Cowen rejects this sort of “use markets for everything” advice as misguided in certain contexts. For example, in his chapter on using incentives, he notes that paying your spouse by the pound to lose weight is probably not a good idea. She’d be pissed off. Cowen says the following conditions should hold before we resort to monetary penalties / rewards: (1) performance is highly responsive to effort (2) intrinsic motivation is weak and (3) receiving money for a task produces social approval. He argues that monetary incentives are especially inappropriate when applied to people who feel like they’ve lost control (like a spouse living in a “eat a Twinkie, pay a dollar” scheme would). These rules are applied to situations ranging from motivating your dentist to motivating a tour guide in Marrakesh. His chapter on the “seven deadly sins” is a compilation of eccentric markets where something about the exchanges strikes us as socially inappropriate. Examples: services to pay someone else to break up with one’s significant other, a $34 alibi for adulterers, Prince Charles’s butler who applies toothpaste to his toothbrush for him, etc. Fans of Cowen’s blog with notice some of these from his “Markets in Everything” updates.The material on signaling runs the gamut of topics: women appreciate flowers and diamonds (products of little intrinsic value to men) because they signal a man’s care, a Harvard B-school education doesn’t really teach you much but signals intelligence, etc. This chapter (predictably) features a heavy dose of Robin Hanson, since he views virtually everything we do as signaling – a large chunk of health care expenditures don’t improve health outcomes and merely signal our dedication to someone (e.g. a zillion tests / procedures for someone with a certain and imminent death), charitable donors are often signaling that they’re good people instead of actually helping, politics often merely signals affiliation with a certain group, etc. The chapter also discusses counter-signaling. For example, Cowen suggests that we keep good news to ourselves. Those boasting about good news are signaling they have something to prove, and staying quiet can be an effective countersignal. He also discusses counter-signaling in the context of job interviews and dating. On self-deception, Cowen notes that a disproportionate percentage of people think they’re above average intelligence, above average drivers, etc. This tendency is especially destructive in politics. As noted in the incentives chapter, we love control. Instead of high NPV investments in medical research and more targeted expenditures, we try to medically insure everyone. In the words of a commenter on his blog, “we can’t let anyone die.” In the words of Cowen, feeling we’re in control is our greatest self-delusion. The self-help advice also runs the gamut: what to order at restaurants (covered more extensively in his book on food), hyper-specific and unrealistic material (e.g., signaling you’re a clueless civilian in case you’re captured for torture), etc. However, my favorite material in the book was his advice on how to be a “cultural billionaire.” As anyone who reads Cowen knows, he has a remarkable ability to absorb culture. As he notes, in the modern US, money isn’t our relevant constraint for cultural consumption. A Netflix account is $10, your local library is full of great books, and you can consume plenty of free music on the Internet. The relevant scarcity is time and attention. Cowen’s advice for people to enjoy art more is to embrace the “Me Factor.” Most of us space out at an art museum. Art is ultimately about self-absorption. We need to relate museum art back to ourselves. Cowen’s advice is to pretend you’re a thief and ask which artwork you’d steal and why. That’d keep us engaged. With music, Cowen argues that most people have the opposite problem. In order to be cultural billionaires, they need to tone down the “Me Factor.” He notes that you can predict someone’s music taste with a few facts. 22 year old black male from inner city Detroit? Rap. Cowen notes that there are no genetic reasons we should prefer one genre over another. We’re merely fitting our lives to a broader “story” (e.g., the country music fan’s personal story of herself as a southern white female). Cowen suggests engaging other genres, such as world music. Cowen also suggests realizing sunk costs. Part of the reason he can consume so much information is that he cuts his losses: he finishes only 1 out of 10 books he starts and will go see chunks of 3 movies in an afternoon. To the traditional economist, sitting through a movie after we’re not getting anything out of it seems like an irrational sunk cost fallacy. From a more behavioral lens though, our choices are part of a broader narrative that we’ve bought into (e.g., I have to stay at this terrible hipster concert! I’m a hipster!). Cowen’s advice on charity is counterintuitive. He argues that giving charity can be counterproductive. For example, if you give $50 to someone on the street in Calcutta, you encourage up to $49 in effort to “exhaust those rents.” In human terms, this is why many poor Indians pay for painful procedures to look like more sympathetic beggars (e.g., a missing limb). To avoid these sorts of unintended consequences, Cowen suggests giving charity to poor people who aren’t expecting it. This chapter also presents an optimistic take on micro-credit and a possible argument for giving to high profile causes - if there’s a short supply of “people who care”, Bono’s visible giving can encourage more tsunami relief. Another nugget of advice: don't tip above 15% in America. Anyone in America is relatively wealthy so send anything above 15% to the Third World. The chapter also explores why people don't like gifts of straight cash from loved ones. To an economist, $10 in cash is more valuable than $10 in-kind (the recipient has a better sense of what he values, cash is more liquid, etc.). Once again, gift giving is a signal of caring: good gifts signal a personal attachment to loved ones and a skill in picking out gifts. A few thoughts on the book:(1) There is a tension that runs through “Discover your Inner Economist.” On the one hand, Cowen presents our self-delusions, irrationality, etc. as barriers to sound economic decision making. And his book attempts to give us advice to make better decisions. On the other hand, Cowen embraces the irrationality as what makes us human. The chapter on self-deception mentions “depressive realism” – people more in touch with reality are often depressed. The delusional are often happy. Cowen celebrates self-delusion – thinking we’re more important than we really are encourages us to do great things. Cowen also celebrates signaling in a sense. He notes that Robin Hanson’s alternative universe where we don’t have to constantly signal with flowers, college degrees, political affiliations, etc. is one where we’ll all merely computer uploads. This is, for Cowen, an austere vision. (2) It’s rare for a market-oriented economist like Cowen to see human beings as self-deluded and irrational. The behavioral economists tend to lean left. Pro-market economists have historically tended to present man as homo economicus. 90% of the content has nothing to do with libertarianism or public policy, but Cowen does inject the occasional libertarian commentary. In his discussion of using monetary incentives as motivators and why that doesn’t always work, he notes that the difficulty in determining when monetary incentives do and do not work is a strike against government regulation (this seems particular relevant in discussions about executive compensation). His discussion of self-delusion notes the particularly destructive impact of self-delusion in political decision making (specifically: health care policy, pandemic preparation, and counterterrorism). In censuring eccentric “markets in everything”, he notes that he does not think they should be banned. He argues that bans create black markets and that making mistakes is an indispensable part of freedom. (3) Though Mises does not get a citation here, the work seems to borrow from him. His tome “Human Action” focused on the “logic of choice.” Mises thought it was insufficient to look at what man did and that economists must understand why man acted. Cowen, likewise, tries to make our decisions in all facets of life intelligible here by looking back at our psychological motivations. (4) Much of the book, such as the portion on Neil Strauss’s “The Game” and the part about why we’re not having more sex if it’s our favorite activity, is covered on Cowen’s blog. And it’s covered with more depth on the blog, since this is a book for the general reader. Moreover, some of the topics presented get a fuller treatment in Cowen’s other books – the food chapter is in his later book on food, the material on “stories” is in his “Create your Own Economy”, etc. Also, fans of Robin Hanson’s blog will see a lot of things they’ve already read. All that being said, this Freakonomics-genre book was funny and intellectually stimulating throughout. So I’d recommend it.

  • Carl
    2019-03-22 09:35

    This is the closest thing to economics-as-organizing-life-philosophy that I've read. It was particularly validating to read a book written by somone who obviously thinks about the seemingly trivial (tipping, gift giving, consumption of culture, what to eat in restaurants vs what to make at home) as analytically as I feel I do. There are some bold ideas to be found in here to be sure and I'm going to keep this book at eye level on my bookshelf because I know I will want to reread a chapter at a time. Cowen is an avowed polymath and thus one of the more interesting chapters was on how to become a 'cultural billionaire', that is, how to get the most out of the abundance of culture to be enjoyed in our society. Out of 10 books he picks up, he finishes 1. He'll play games in art museums imagining that he can take home one piece from each room so that his attention remains heightened. He'll go to the multiplex and see bits and pieces of 4 movies in one afternoon. I wasn't surprised in the least that I liked this book so much because this guy writes one of the more interesting economics blogs out there,

  • Elyssa
    2019-03-04 13:48

    I chose to read this book after reading a review of it in New York magazine. I was hoping for more, but I appreciated the book's overall premise and did learn a few new concepts. Most interesting was learning what truly gratifies people (it's not money), how to best enjoy culture, how to order from restuarants, the power of self-deception, and how to be a better altruist. The book meanders and seems to lack a solid structure. It wasn't hard to follow, but I found it annoying. In the end, my "inner economist" tells me that re-reading the review and finding some other articles and reviews of this book might have been a better use of my limited reading time.

  • Cathy
    2019-03-09 09:46

    First, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn't finish this book. Tyler Cowen is apparently attempting to emulate the success of books like "Blink" and "Freakonomics" but in my opinion, fails miserably. It's apparent that the author only wants to tell us about how wonderful he is using examples from his life whereever possible. When he boasted about only finishing-at most-one book of every ten he picks up, I took that as permission to stop wasting my time with this tiresome braggart and let HIS book remain unfinished.

  • Jeremy
    2019-02-23 06:27

    The subtitle of the book is quite misleading. There are maybe two sentences about motivating your dentist. The bulk of the book focused on self-improvement through culture: art, music, cuisine and literature. It did contain some pretty radical ideas worth thinking about, and I laughed most of the way through. Apparently the author only finishes about 10% of the books he starts, but he argues that this is okay because it means that at any given moment he feels like he’s reading the best possible book available to him at that time. He also suggests that if you want to know the truth about what someone thinks, don’t ask them what they think, ask them what they believe most other people think. Pretty interesting.Quotes:Anyone who walks around Sweden or Norway will notice an especially tall, vital, and indeed healthy population. Scandinavian rates of longevity are among the highest in the world. Yet a recent study showed that about 25 percent of Norway’s workers are absent from work on an average day. Usually they are “sick,” they are “undergoing rehabilitation,” or they are on long-term disability. The rate of absenteeism is especially high for government employees, who constitute about half the workforce. The otherwise cooperative Scandinavians think nothing of deciding to just stay at home. In Norway chronic absenteeism encounters few penalties. The first year of sick leave often meets with full pay for a year and 60 percent pay the second year. If an employee is fired, unemployment benefits are long and generous. Long-term disability leave is up 20 percent since 1990, yet overall, Norwegians are becoming healthier, not sicker.Many people have deeply seated emotional reasons for being late. Being early or on time sets them up for disappointment if the other person is tardy. Sitting alone and waiting is experienced as a painful rejection. To prevent this humiliation it is necessary to be late. Lateness is a preemptive rejection of the other person before the latecomer has the chance to feel any pain or even any anticipation of pain. But what if both people have this complex? A good intuitive economist approaches a practical problem by asking “What is the relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?”The best gifts are often those that we, as gift-givers, do not ourselves value very much. Such gifts show we value the gift receiver, even if diamonds really are a waste of money.Since doctors kill as many people as they save, we would live just as long without them. That sounds crazy, but the data show no correlation, either internationally or domestically, between health-care expenditures and life expectancy. On economic issues, few voters defer to the opinions of expert economists when it comes to technical questions such as the benefits of free trade. This reluctance to defer does not appear to be a well-grounded suspicion of experts. Many citizens are deliberately dismissive, stubborn, and irrational in their points of view. At the same time these people maintain a passionate self-righteousness. Prince Charles…still has his butler apply toothpaste to his toothbrush.The typical American has intercourse two or three times a month. Married people have more sex on average.

  • Catherine Gillespie
    2019-03-17 12:29

    Tyler Cowen’s book Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist didn’t teach me anything new about love, meetings, or manipulating my dentist, but it was an interesting manifesto of sorts. Since the book was written by an economist, his musings on various facets of life have a sort of econ feel, even if I didn’t really find it to be all that life-changing.Cowen is interested in the various sorts of incentives we use and are motivated by, and the book is his attempt to link lots of bits of life to incentives (monetary and otherwise). While Cowen’s thoughts on how to pick an ethnic restaurant or how to best devote our charitable giving were interesting, I can’t say that I finished the book feeling like I knew much more econ than I did previously.{Read my full review here}

  • jlf
    2019-03-07 10:37

    Eh... I think I've read too many books like this recently, so this one was just kind of meh. Given that I look at Marginal Revolution a few times a day, nothing that I read was especially novel. Also, since I am a completely different sort of person than Tyler Cowen, I had very little interest in a good chunk of the book. I have no interest in becoming a "cultural billionaire"-- while I am not proud of being a Philistine, I'm pretty comfortable with who i am, and I am the sort of person who has no interest in high culture or experiencing new things just to experience them. I felt like I was reading a book that was not only written for someone else entirely, but written for a someone else that I would not particularly like.

  • Debbie
    2019-03-04 13:55

    Cowen seems more eager to show us just how awesome and worldly he is than to help us discover our inner economist (not to mention that the title is overly self-help-y).Then I reached this paragraph:"When should we finish a book we have started?...Is this book the best possible book I can be reading right now, of all the books in the world?...Whatever is that best possible book to be reading, I am willing to buy it or otherwise track it down. Most other books don't make the cut."Sorry Mr. Cowen, but yours didn't make the cut.

  • Ezra
    2019-03-14 10:52

    Only 80 pages in and I strongly disagreed with 5 assumptions, methods, and conclusions. Not as interesting as assumed it would be I when bought it. I wanted a book on how to think. Instead I got a random collection anecdotes on how to live which seemed severely flawed.

  • Josh
    2019-03-12 11:51

    This book looks great, like "Freakonomics" only with a more How-To bent. Too bad I'm so cheap that I'll have to wait until it comes out in paperback.

  • Tim Watts
    2019-03-18 08:44

    “Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist”, Tyler CowenAugust 24th, 2009 · Economics, Non-FictionSynopsis: The greatest economics writer in the blogosphere switches medium to offer an extended treatise on the use of economic principles to improve the non-economic aspects of your life. Utility is maximised.My Take: Tyler Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution, is hands down one of the best blogs on the ‘net. Not because he is the best economist online today (Greg Mankiw, Dani Rodrick, Paul Krugman, Steven Levitt and Gary Becker/Richard Posner would all have claims here), but because his personality is so perfectly suited to the medium. Instead of producing worthy and dry pieces of brilliant economic analysis, Cowen’s approach to Marginal Revolution is that of a cultural Bower Bird; collecting and displaying fascinating titbits from both his professional and cultural interests. The New York Times describes Cowen as:a world-class polymath who whips through graphic novels and 816-page bricks like Africa: A Biography of the Continent, listens to everything from Bach to Brazilian techno, searches out exotic cuisines all over the world, and still finds time to travel to remotest Mexico to update his collection of amate painting. For him, deep immersion in culture defines the good life, and his readers get the vicarious benefits.Cowen successfully translates this eclectic mix of rigorous classical economics and cultural diversity into the literary world via “Discover Your Inner Economist”. In DYIE, Cowen takes a more in-depth look at his cultural preoccupations through the prism of economic analysis and with an eye to maximising utility. As he puts it:“Economics developed out of a recognition of the fact that many things worth having don’t just fall into our laps in the course of our everyday lives… The real purpose of economics is to get more of the good stuff in life.”Cowen’s overarching insight into our cultural lives is illuminating. For him:“The critical economic problem is scarcity. Money is scarce, but in most things the scarcity of time, attention, and caring is more important.”Once you accept that there are limits to most people’s (ie non-professionals) interest in the arts and capacity to pursue this interest, the question then becomes how an individual can most efficiently maximise their enjoyment of culture within these constraints.Again, Cowen’s insights into how one could go about this are both useful. Take his approach to art appreciation. Cowen begins by acknowledging the relevant constraint:“Our time and attention is scarce. Art is not that important to us, no matter what we might like to believe… Our love of art is often quite temporary, dependent upon our moods, and our love of art is subservient to our demand for a positive self image. How we look at art should account for those imperfections and work around them. “Keep in mind that books, like art museums, are not always geared to the desires of the reader. Maybe we think we are supposed to like tough books, but are we? Who says? Many writers (and art museums) produce for quite a small subsample of the… public.So how should we go about maximising our attention and making most efficient use of our time:“In each room, ask yourself which picture you would take home – if you could take just one – and why? This forces you to keep thinking critically about the displays. If the alarm system was shut down and the guards went away, should I carry home the Cezanne, the Manet, or the Renois? In a room of Egyptian antiquities, which one caught my eye? And why? We should discuss the question with our companion.To put it crudely, we must force ourselves to keep on paying attention. Ranking the pictures focuses our attention on our favourites. It also focuses our attention on ourselves, which is in fact our favourite topic….…At the end of the visit, ask which paintings stuck with you. Did you find yourself thinking back on the Munch, the Pollock, or the medieval tapestries? A week later ask the same question. Then go read about those artists or that period. That is a more useful procedure than reading about art in advance.We should view paintings repeatedly, but especially after we have spent time with other artworks. The best way to understand one art museum is to go see another art museum with a related but not identical collection.As someone who has always diligently tried to broaden my cultural horizons at every opportunity, it resonated with me that ironically, the best way to do so was to narrow your initial focus in a new direction and then expand from a beach head of new knowledge. It’s also liberating to see how this isn’t simply a lazy or selfish approach to high culture, but rather a utility maximising approach to cultural enlightenment.Highly recommended for anyone wanting to enrich their cultural life.Highlight:“We must ignore the carping of the sophisticates. Well-educated critics may claim that pictures cannot be ranked, value is multidimensional or subjective, or that such talk, represents a totalising, colonising, possessive, post-capitalist, hegemonic Western imperialist approach. All of those missives are beside the point.When it comes to the arts, dealing with the scarcity of our attention is more important than anything, including respecting the artists.”

  • John Breeden
    2019-03-06 11:31

    Cowen took what would've been a wonderful essay on the importance of incentives in economic decision making and daily rational thought, then attempted to transform it into an easy bestseller. The content was very repetitive and anecdotal. There are certainly some great ideas and perspective to be gained but it's covered in a myriad of unnecessary thought experiments.

  • Jane Dugger
    2019-02-28 14:51

    This was interesting and thoughtful but not as much I as I had hoped.

  • Imrul Hasan
    2019-03-02 11:54

    The title is very misleading. This book is more about social and marketing perspective. Only few chapters are interesting but others are pretty boring and I had to skip those.

  • Justin Tapp
    2019-03-14 09:40

    This is one of the few non-ebooks that I have left, which is sad because I would have liked to have had notes and highlights from this book saved in the Cloud for all posterity.Here is a recent profile on Tyler Cowen in BusinessWeek, which tells you what you need to know about him and this book. Cowen has what my family calls a "mature palate." He has been to over 70 countries and has sampled more food, books, art, and ideas than just about anyone alive. A "cultural billionaire," as he says. (I reviewed his most recent The Great Stagnation here). I jive with Cowen probably because I agree with him about food, so I use his views to confirm my own--which he writes about. (In a restaurant, always order the strangest thing on the menu as it's probably going to be the best-prepared item. And only cook/eat at home what you can't find by eating out-- also good advice). I admire his ability to read and discard books for up to 8 hours at a time, while writing his own books, blogging, traveling, teaching, and advising PhD students. Scott Sumner once asked, "How many Tyler Cowens are there?" as he must have cloned himself somehow.This book should probably be titled "Ignore your Inner Economist," because Cowen is often talking to people like myself-- urging us to resist what we know to be irrational and think of a greater good. Chapter 5, on signaling, seemed to be written directly to me (Pg 92): If you are the economically informed member of your family, or perhapes even an economist, don't flaunt it. Hide its universal nature or widespread applicability. Do not present economic wisdom as a matter of principle or as a general way of thinking about life. To look good at home, make all economic points in purely specific contexts. Don't prattle on about incentives or signaling as all-powerful means for understanding the entire world. He goes on to talk about how I should ignore the $4 billion in deadweight loss to society each Christmas from gift-giving, and just do it because it makes others happy and that's what matters. (And this can sometimes be modeled. Ex: If my receiving a gift causes various family members' utility to increase by 10 and mine to decrease by 2, then it's a net positive 8). This book is the antithesis of pop economics books.I liked his chapter on the Seven Deadly Sins. Many people engage in acts that may increase overall utility but be harmful for society in the long-run. Some people engage in arbitrage that doesn't make the market any more efficient-- people finding items on eBay that are low-priced because the seller spelled the name of the item wrong, for example.On the behavioral side, we all engage in the "dangerous and necessary art of self-deception." Pg. 115: "Many of us think... we are the best judges of political and religious truth in the entire world. If we knew some better judge of truth, we would accept that person's opinions all the time...Even the deferential think they are 'the best spotters of people to whom we should defer' in the world." I tend to fall into that last sentence. My last post linked to some scientific studies of self-deceptive behavior, how when some people are confronted with information contrary that seems to disprove what they believe, they simply reinforce their beliefs rather than change them. Reagan Mythology is similar to how many Muslims who refuse to believe Bin Laden was behind 9/11.Most useful is probably the last chapter, which is on charitable giving. Give to people who need money but aren't begging for it rather than the beggar on the corner. Become a loyal giver to a few charities and get your name off their "share" list and their costly mailing lists. Explore creative means like microcredit, where wealth can be created.I give this book 4 stars out of 5. Cowen is more verbose than he is on his blog or his Kindle Single. But the book definitely got better as I went, which he probably intended.

  • Devyn Duffy
    2019-02-28 09:39

    Wow, this book is a dog. It was published in 2007, and maybe it wasn't as far behind its time back then, but it's in the same vein as Freakonomics and others of that genre, minus the economics.Surprisingly for a book written by an economics professor, there is almost zero economics in this book. It promises to show the reader how to apply economic principles to everyday life, but instead it mostly consists of random musings of a guy whose relative wealth has placed him out of touch with society. For example, one chapter is presented as using economics to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins, but instead it just lists the sins, gives a few examples of them, and suggests that we try not to indulge in them so much. "I am a strong believer in an ethic of individual responsibility," writes the author after a chapter in which he recommends flying to Singapore to get a $2 meal.And we get the old tired argument that we shouldn't give money to beggars in Kolkata (which the author makes a point of calling Calcutta, as if to display his bourgeois white guy card) because it will encourage the beggars to beg more. The author completely ignores the central economic questions of the case: what we can do for the beggars besides giving them money and what the beggars will do if we don't give them money. It's shocking to see an economist miss the clear fact that it's not assistance that causes poverty but poverty that causes the need for assistance. On the good side, the author does mention microcredit such as Kiva, but even then he claims that lending "enforces discipline and work," as if the borrowers aren't already disciplined and hard-working.Overall this book is just a random collection of untested ideas (such as making meetings shorter by having everyone stand during the meeting, as if managers aren't already patronizing enough) from a man whose lifestyle and personality are completely unrelatable (he suggests that you'll enjoy a visit to an art museum more if you imagine yourself stealing the pictures, because supposedly "theft is exciting"). The only thing I really learned from this book is that the author is an overprivileged dullard who wants to feel good about himself without having to do anything to earn it.At least he's not likely to be offended if you do the right thing and skip this waste of a book: he admits to leaving books unfinished and walking out on movies even when he likes them, on the grounds that he could like something else more. With this book, you'll have very little difficulty finding something you like more.

  • Nicholas
    2019-03-13 10:42

    This book covered topics ranging from incentives, faulty memory, self-deception.The best parts were those that covered psychology and not economics.Oh, and don't read fiction books in order.What story is this person trying to tell? About themselves, about the world. What story am I trying to tell? Should I be doing so? could I stop if I wanted to?He did really offend me by misinterpreting and then insulting Neil Strauss.Quotes:"Offer monetary rewards when performance at a task is highly responsive to extra effort...when intrinsic motivation is weak...when receiving money for tasks produces social approval...high rewards tend to make individuals "choke."""Stressed people tend to conform more to social opinion. They feel out of control and so they look to groupthink and the security blanket of other people's approval.""Everyone needs to feel that they are in control of something.""Meetings are not always about the efficient exchange of information, or about discovering a new idea.""What is the relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?""Why not be brutal about this? Is this book the best possible book I can be reading right now, of all he books in the world.""By honoring past investments, and our past cultural attachments, we are building up a narrative and a self-image.""The best way to impress a woman is to do something that impresses other men.""In Robin's view, our evolutionary programs are often ill-suited for modern society. Robin therefore sees the human race as facing a crisis of survival.""To get a person's real opinion, ask what she thinks everyone else believes...another trick for eliciting honest answers is simply to as for advice. When people tell us what we should do, their rue selves, true desires, and true worldviews come to light.""The need for control, or feeling in control, is one of our greatest self-delusions.""People think more rationally about the choice when it does not concern themselves. The more personal the choice, the more likely that fear drives out reason.""People need to be free to fail if their lives are to have meaning, of if virtue is to be possible.""Most of these tricks do not work in the long run or are counterproductive. We rely on the gimmick instead of developing a healthier way of life and a better approach to making decisions. The technology or the trick distracts us from strengthening our will.""Help other people by first helping yourself, by first fulfilling your own potential."

  • Richard
    2019-03-20 06:29

    Not a review, but a few gems from the book:Quoting economist Robert Hall as saying "If you haven't ever missed a plane, you spend too much time waiting around in airports.""[W]riters need to invest in a self-image as people who get something done every day, and self-deception helps us achieve that.""Brainstorming sessions are a counterproductive way of spending time.""Encouraging innovation [in medicine] -- a long-term source of immense health gains -- does not give us that same feeling of controlling immediate human suffering [as does socialized medicine].""We could repeal 'the Bush tax cuts' and [people] would still die.""If there is more sin in the world [now], it is in part because we have more opportunities, more wealth, and also more chance to (sometimes) make the right decisions."On extreme poverty in India: "At first I could not understand why so many of the streets, even the streets with no nearby stores or attractions, were so full of people. I soon realized those people were living on the streets. If I couldn't see their possessions, it was probably because they didn't have any.""If you are going to give, pick the poor person who is expecting it least. . . . We will know we have picked the right person if the object of our generosity is totally surprised."How to "subvert the nonprofits we do not like [by] [r]un[ning] up the costs of operation[:] Choose one nonprofit you do not like and send them twenty bucks. Once is enough. Mention that you are thinking of putting them in your will, or perhaps let it drop that you play at the local polo club or own a yacht. Keep your name on their mailing list. Send in all future changes of address. This action will drain that cause, and its like-minded allies, of hundreds or thousands of dollars for years to come.""If customers pay waiters more, employers will get away with paying them less.""Economist Joel Waldfogel . . . found that people value their gifts at 83.9 percent of their cost. . . . [T]he selfish gains of the giver are required to create the net value from the gift.""Our lives [today] are comfortable instead of wracked with hard physical labor, chronic malnutrition, and massive losses of women and babies during childbirth."

  • Deborah Flores
    2019-03-04 09:46

    All in all, it's a fun and fast read. The book jumps around various topics, mostly ones that interest the author. I apparently have somewhat similar tastes, so I enjoyed it, but it might be less engaging for someone with different interests. I liked the section about food stalls and dining and how quirky food options tend to get pushed to the margins due to high rents and other factors - I bet the author is tickled by the gourmet food truck revolution since the book was published. :) I found the chapter on charitable giving informative and interesting. I especially enjoyed the discussion of diplomatic parking tickets. I've read about it before, but the author's point about how people frame the issue - is it an intentional and flagrant violation of the system, or is it mere disregard for an ill-considered and arbitrary law? - was very interesting. I wish he'd devoted more time to it! On the downside, there were a number of overly broad generalizations that may irritate people familiar with certain topics or economic theory. I was irritated by the author's comment on p. 12 that 'few people [in the USSR] did wonderful work 'for the good of the Fatherland." His argument is valid (so far as it goes), but the 'good of the fatherland' hearkens back to the Third Reich, not the Soviet Union. Russia is most commonly referred to as a _mother_. Given how many times he used the USSR as an example of how to negatively incentivize a population, this bit of sloppiness (or perhaps deliberate mis-usage) disappointed me, even if it doesn't really undermine his overall point. Another very minor but amusing example: at one point, he refers to Marshall's as a source for "low-price clothing and furniture." This struck me as rather ironic given that this comment was in the middle of a section on seeking out cheap, eclectic and good ethnic food. The author apparently fails to realize that Marshall's offers some similarly eclectic bargains on luxury goods. One must know how to pick the gems among the dreck, but wasn't that basically the author's point about finding cheap/yummy ethnic food in dumpy strip malls?

  • Paul
    2019-03-14 14:26

    This isn't a horrible book, but I don't find it particularly actionable or informative, and it definitely reads like a bunch of fleshed out blog posts stitched together.2.5 stars

  • Brian
    2019-02-27 12:46

    (2.0) Jumped around so much, disorganizedThere were some interesting topics (see Dave Rubenstein's review for better coverage:, such as how to pick the restaurant to eat at anywhere in the world, how to select what to order, how to enjoy an art museum, how to give to the poor/charity to maximize impact.But he just jumped around a lot. He sets up a framework to evaluate decisions to make using your "Inner Economist" but then seems to largely abandon them as he goes from topic to topic. I wonder if he just sewed together a few distinct articles he'd published on various topics/columns and called it done. It really wasn't.I'll probably still read The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better though. Reason to believe he actually has coherent things to say.

  • Thomas
    2019-03-02 14:47

    This book is an odd duck. There's plenty of self-help based on economic theories, but most of it is along the lines of What Would Adam Smith Do?: How to Crush Your Competitors and Make $3 Billion in 3 Days. Unlike the standard airport fare, Cowen spends almost half of the book describing on how an economics professor decides which restaurants to visit. He also considers such instructive questions as, Which kinds of econ profs flaunt their degrees, and which don't? At this point in the review, it may seem that I was unable to detect any reason behind the rambling. Let me assure you, Cowen does make his lessons relevant to the lives of his readers. Unfortunately, most of the advice will be familiar to all but the dullest reader. In this sense, he has not departed from the mainstream of self-help writing. Since Cowen mentions blogging conferences in the book, I can't help but wonder if this book was cobbled together from the author's previous blog posts and hastily marketed to the space created by Freakonomics. Narration was flat, but perfectly serviceable.

  • Aichi
    2019-02-22 10:44

    Some good quotes from the book - worth a reread. Will start of with I think the best quote (and the concluding one)."So go ahead, use that Inner Economist to do better for yourself, your friends, and your family. Society depends on it.""1. Start by asking "What is scarce?" Is it time, attention, or in the case of owning a Picasso, money?2. Admit that we don't care as much about culture - at least any particular piece of culture - as we like to think we do. If we force ourselves to enjoy everything in the proper way, we often end up avoiding culture altogether. Let's come to terms with our imperfections and turn them to our advantage.""Order the ugly and order the unknown. In a fancy restaurant, order the item you are least likely to think you want.""If you are in an ethnic restaurant in the US, (1) Avoid dishes that rely too heavily on top-quality raw ingredients; (2) Appetizers are often better than main courses; (3) Avoid desserts.""(Singaporean) food stalls are an example of successful low-rent food."

  • Patrik
    2019-03-18 14:42

    I decided to re-read Tyler Cowen's book and I liked it more the second time around. As a true economist, Cowen emphasizes incentives in his title and throughout the book - but he applies his economic way of thinking to unusual "markets." This book is thus quite different from, say, the books written by Landsburg, Friedman, and Wheelan - books in which economists apply the power of incentives more traditionally and to more standard problems. Cowen, instead, explicitly argues that our standard economic way of thinking does not apply in all cases and the main reason is that people are not as rational as economics often assumes; people have emotions. Cowen's arguments are thus similar to behavioral economics, but he never explicitly mentions this (perhaps because the book was written in 2007). We might therefore want to compare the book to the work by Ariely or Kahneman. In this light, the book makes sense but does not quite measure up. Still, it is an interesting application of economics to unusual issues.

  • Gladstone
    2019-03-12 11:39

    Tyler Cowen é meu econ blogger preferido (Marginal Revolution). Sempre fui induzido a pensar nele em contraposição ao seu colega na George Mason University, Robin Hanson, que também escreve em renomado (e também indicado) blog de nome Overcoming Bias, um physican-and-computer-scientist-turned-social-scientist com idéias bem mais ousadas e um viés claramente futurista e "é realmente possível mudar as pessoas por meio de arranjos institucionais absolutamente inovadores". Como suposto libertário, Tyler Cowen pode até ser acusado de nunca (ou poucas vezes) assumir uma posição firme sobre assuntos polêmicos, mas resumir a avaliação de um trabalho intelectual a isso é negar valor àqueles capazes de pensar, definir e lançar alguma luz em overlooked problems realmente importantes. Me agrada muito a sua posição inequívoca à favor da diversidade em vários níveis e naturezas. Este livro talvez seja sua peça mais pop, lançada no auge do seu Marginal Revolution (e do econ blogging em geral), mas nem por isso deixa de ser uma boa introdução ao seu peculiar e útil pensamento.

  • Muriel Fang
    2019-03-22 08:50

    This is Tyler Cowen at his usual good flowing writing. I do find a few topics to be overlapping with other popular books. The example that on converting late-picking up social embarrassment to monetary fines, parents become more prolific in getting late in an Isreali kindergarten. I have read the story in Michael Sandle's book 'What Money Can Not Buy?', Dan Ariely's book on cheating, perhaps in David Brooks' 'Social Animal' and definitely somewhere in the Freakonomics franchise. This is good news for the researcher on Isreali kindergarten -- impact, but perhaps a bit crowding out for popular books on social science research. Some topics are fresher and interesting -- such as, do not bring up optimization and maximum value in family discussions. Such as, people procrastinate because they are afraid of failure (Cowen discuss his experience with his graduate students). Overall, a good read for people interested in economics.

  • Wellington
    2019-03-01 14:35

    Economists are an odd sort. Though I can understand a lot of their thinking, it's like they're the type of person that make their decisions comparing the lists of pro and cons. The author at least pays heed to this fact and laughs about it.The chapter on sins excited me most. Are there really companies who you could pay to use for an alibi? Yes. Are there companies that you could pa yto be your girlfriend? Yes.But I guess he lost me with the chapter on food. I consider myself an expert on eating since I do it many times a day - we all are! \He doe offer some suggestions to improve on meetings. Even passing some value to even the must mundane and pointless of meetings. His problems of dealing with habitual late people (one of my pet peeves) made me laugh but even an economist can't find a solution for that one!