[W]hen people say, “Oh, I’m a deontologist. Kant is my lodestar in ethics,” I don’t know how they ever make decisions at the margin based on that. It seems to me quite incoherent that deontology just says there’s a bunch of things you can’t do or maybe some things you’re obliged to do. But when it’s about more or less — “Well, how much money should we spend on the police force?” Try to get a Kantian to have a coherent framework for answering that question, other than saying, “Crime is wrong,” or “You’re obliged to come to the help of victims of crime.” It can’t be done.
Tyler Cowen, ‘Rob Wiblin interviews Tyler on Stubborn Attachments‘, October 16, 2018
Milton Friedman used to argue that there is no such thing as a free lunch but at some level of the analysis this has to be false. The universe exists and who had to pay for it?
Tyler Cowen, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, 2017, p. 14
If the increase in well-being is largely illusory in the long term, once preferences and expectations have adjusted, the famous are trapped in the worst of all possible worlds. Their fame brings little benefit, while they are imprisoned by their need to preserve their reputation.
Tyler Cowen, What Price Fame?, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000, p. 160
Some performers manipulate the style of their product to shift the incentives of critics to pay attention. Richard Posner cites Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Kafka as figures who owe part of their reputation to the enigmatic and perhaps even contradictory nature of their writings. Unclear authors, at least if they have substance and depth, receive more attention from critics and require more textual exegesis. Individual critics can establish their own reputations by studying such a writer and by promoting one interpretation of that writer’s work over another These same critics will support the inclusion of the writer in the canon, to promote the importance of their own criticism. In effect, deep and ambiguous writers are offering critics implicit invitations to serve as co-authors of a broader piece of work.
Tyler Cowen, What Price Fame?, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000, pp. 34-35
It was a common platitude—during the boom years of the 1980s—that Japan was the future and that America needed to follow and learn from Japan. The funny thing is, those claims might have been true, but in the opposite direction of how they were intended. Japan is an object lesson in how to live with a slow-growth economy.
Tyler Cowen, The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, New York, 2011, p. 87
If the time horizon is extremely short, the benefits of continued higher growth will be choked off and will tend to be small in nature. Even if we hold a deep concern for the distant future, perhaps there is no distant future to care about. To present this point in its starkest form, imagine that the world were set to end tomorrow. There would be little point in maximizing the growth rate, and arguably we should just throw a party and consume what we can. Even if we could boost growth in the interim hours, the payoff would be small and not very durable. The case for growth maximization therefore is stronger the longer the time horizon we consider.
Tyler Cowen, ‘Caring about the Distant Future: Why it Matters and What it Means’, University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 74, no. 1 (Winter, 2007), p. 28
Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that there is no fact of the matter as to when “now” is. Any measurement of time is relative to the perspective of an observer. In other words, if you are traveling very fast, the clocks of others are speeding up from your point of view. You will spend a few years in a spaceship but when you return to earth thousands or millions of years will have passed. Yet it seems odd, to say the least, to discount the well-being of people as their velocity increases. Should we pay less attention to the safety of our spacecraft, and thus the welfare of our astronauts, the faster those vehicles go? If, for instance, we sent off a spacecraft at near the velocity of light, the astronauts would return to earth, hardly aged, millions of years hence. Should we—because of positive discounting—not give them enough fuel to make a safe landing? And if you decline to condemn them to death, how are they different from other “residents” in the distant future?
Tyler Cowen, ‘Caring about the Distant Future: Why it Matters and What it Means’, University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 74, no. 1 (Winter, 2007), p. 10
Many believers in animal rights and the relevance of animal welfare do not critically examine their basic assumptions […]. Typically these individuals hold two conflicting views. The first view is that animal welfare counts, and that people should treat animals as decently as possible. The second view is a presumption of human non0interference with nature, as much as possible. […] [T]he two views are less compatible than is commonly supposed. If we care about the welfare and rights of individual animals, we may be led to interfere with nature whenever the costs of doing so are sufficiently low.
Tyler Cowen, ‘Policing Nature’, Environmental Ethics, vol. 25, no. 2 (Summer, 2003)
[A]n informed cosmopolitanism must be of the cautious variety, rather than based on superficial pro-globalization slogans or cheerleading about the brotherhood of mankind. […] [I]ndividuals are often more creative when they do not hold consistently cosmopolitan attitudes. A certain amount of cultural particularism and indeed provincialism, among both producers and consumers, can be good for the arts. The meliorative powers of globalization rely on underlying particularist and anti-liberal attitudes to some extent. Theoretically “correct” attitudes do not necessarily maximize creativity, suggesting that a cosmopolitan culture does best when cosmopolitanism itself is not fully believed or enshrined in social consciousness.
Tyler Cowen, Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Cultures, Princeton, 2002, p. 18
Most individuals hold worldviews that exaggerate their relative importance. Real estate agents feel that most people should own homes, bankers see the relative merits of finance, and academics believe in the vital importance of scholarly writing. Cultural creators are no exception to this rule. They believe not only in the importance of art in general, but in the special importance of their era and genre. Competitors, and cultural change, threaten this importance.
Tyler Cowen, In Praise of Commercial Culture, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1998, pp. 188-189
The Beatles are not getting back together again. Brahms is dead. Composers will not return to Baroque style in large numbers. It is we who hold the power of “the cheapest possible artistic revolution” in our hands. We need only will it. Imagine that if one year the world produced 200 brilliant symphonies, 5,000 amazing pop songs, 300 first-rate CDs of jazz, and 5,000 mind-blowing ragas. And that is just a start.
Tyler Cowen, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist, New York, 2007, p. 72