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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.