In Praise of Tyler Cowen

I’ve been reading an advance copy of Tyler Cowen‘s book Discover Your Inner Economist. Many of you may know Cowen as co-proprietor of the excellent MarginalRevolution blog, which we’ve cited here often. The book is fast, furious, and fun, with great examples of how to apply economic thinking to nontraditional subjects. (My favorite: Cowen’s advice for keeping a meeting short is to have everyone stand up for the duration.) But in addition to the fun examples, there are occasional gems of methodological thinking, like this one:

A good intuitive economist approaches a practical problem by asking “What is the relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?” If we haven’t posed this query, and assembled at least the beginnings of an answer, we may founder. For instance, we might make the mistake of throwing more money at a problem, when money is not what is needed. By identifying the relevant scarcity, we learn where to direct the incentives.

I think this point is so good and so well expressed that it helps show all of us (especially the majority who aren’t economists) a practical way to start addressing practically any dilemma.


Fontosaurus

The "everyone stands" during a meeting is a standard behavior for the scrum portion of agile development. Works like a charm, too. I regularly oversaw meetings of 20+ people that lasted easily less than 15 minutes and still addressed everything that needed addressed.

msp

My personal favorite Tyler Cowen work is his ethnic dining guide for the metro Washington D.C. area:
http://www.gmu.edu/jbc/Tyler/tyler_cowen.htm

With this guide, there is no scarcity of information about great places to eat in VA/DC/MD.

sgc25

Issue is sometimes it is hard to find the "relevant scarcity". Maybe I should read his book first... But many people tend to use money as a substitute for something that can satisfy the real scarcity.

lermit

Money is like time, but it is not time. It is rarely that we find provocative thought for the sake of business. Thank you for sharing,

.lermit

Kent

Tyler Cowen for the Nobel Prize!

mathking

Let me preface my remarks that I really like Cowen's work. But I think the first question you should ask when facing a practical problem you might address with these techniques should be "Is there a relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?"

lermit

Guess what. It is called 'inspirational' now. It used to be about aggregation vs single phenomena.

Now it's so spread and mixed up it's not scientific any longer!

Long live economics. And math. And, well, let me see, marginal analysis?

.lermit

lermit

I'm waiting for the scarcity revolution, and... dinamite swallowing... luminary... oh and a couple of tricks about marginal analysis that came out about two issues ago. Game theorists have it made.

.lermit

John Channing

“What is the relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?”

This sounds a lot like Goldratt's Theory of Constraints, used to identify bottlenecks in processes.

furiousball

That guy looks like he could eat a lot of pie

w24x192

Like John Channing says, this looks like reading prescribed by my work - 'The Goal' by Goldratt. That was an interesting book...a business novel for those that haven't read it.

It is certainly tough to find the constraints or scarcity...especially to try and find them proactively.

Fontosaurus

The "everyone stands" during a meeting is a standard behavior for the scrum portion of agile development. Works like a charm, too. I regularly oversaw meetings of 20+ people that lasted easily less than 15 minutes and still addressed everything that needed addressed.

msp

My personal favorite Tyler Cowen work is his ethnic dining guide for the metro Washington D.C. area:
http://www.gmu.edu/jbc/Tyler/tyler_cowen.htm

With this guide, there is no scarcity of information about great places to eat in VA/DC/MD.

sgc25

Issue is sometimes it is hard to find the "relevant scarcity". Maybe I should read his book first... But many people tend to use money as a substitute for something that can satisfy the real scarcity.

lermit

Money is like time, but it is not time. It is rarely that we find provocative thought for the sake of business. Thank you for sharing,

.lermit

Kent

Tyler Cowen for the Nobel Prize!

mathking

Let me preface my remarks that I really like Cowen's work. But I think the first question you should ask when facing a practical problem you might address with these techniques should be "Is there a relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?"

lermit

Guess what. It is called 'inspirational' now. It used to be about aggregation vs single phenomena.

Now it's so spread and mixed up it's not scientific any longer!

Long live economics. And math. And, well, let me see, marginal analysis?

.lermit

lermit

I'm waiting for the scarcity revolution, and... dinamite swallowing... luminary... oh and a couple of tricks about marginal analysis that came out about two issues ago. Game theorists have it made.

.lermit

John Channing

"What is the relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?"

This sounds a lot like Goldratt's Theory of Constraints, used to identify bottlenecks in processes.