Tyler Cowen, co-blogger (with Alex Tabarrok) at MarginalRevolution.com, talks about liberty, global warming, using the courts vs. regulation to protect people, the challenges of leading a country out of poverty, the political economy of cuisine, and a quick overview of the Washington, DC. art museum scene.
EconTalk listeners were invited to email questions in advance of this podcast. See "Questions for Podcast Guests" at Cafe Hayek, for information about emailing questions for upcoming guests.
Intro, books by Cowen. A listener asked: What are the limits of libertarianism, or perhaps the limits of markets? Cowen's "Markets in Everything" posts at MarginalRevolution.com touch on moral and legal codes, politics and voting--not everything should be bought and sold in markets. Zelizer podcast. "Markets take on their meaning because not everything is a market." "What happens when you reject the Aristotelian ideal of moderation?" CDs, iTunes example.
Libertarian Paternalism.Richard Thaler podcast. Can government use behavioral insights to help us make better choices? Property rights vs. regulation is the underlying issue. Should society be concerned only with ex-post (i.e., legal) remedies, or should it also be concerned, ex ante, with probabilities (i.e., regulation)? This is not paternalism but rather an issue in property rights. But has regulation demonstrably reduced the risks? Sorting out wealth effects vs. regulation effects is hard. Global warming example. Irrational expressive voting can create "a collective outcome that's a bit like an agreement".
Dan Klein's Econlib essay: How important it is for economists to be open about ideology? What about Klein's suggestion that a Smith-Hayek identity is one potential grouping? Blogging solves much of this problem! From reading economists' blogs, "you don't just get a label--you get a whole complex picture." A label of Smith and Hayek may not capture the whole of any individual economist's stances. How will economics blogosphere change? Equilibrium is reached more quickly today. Difficult logistics blogging while traveling, wireless connections. Pseudonyms, secret blogs.
What should students read to understand Macroeconomics? Forthcoming macro book by Cowen and Tabarrok. There should be a macro book that is the equivalent of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. Journalists understand micro but not macro. Latin American despot example. What would an economist do differently? No wage-price controls, no triple-digit inflation. But even economically educated despots don't seem to be able to achieve this--they have to manage special interest groups. Public Choice economics should take cultural conditions into account--the narratives people tell themselves, Larry Iannaccone's work on religion. Some societies do overcome these obstacles. Greg Clark's book, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Developing economies, Third World, middle tier countries do grow.
Aesthetics, food. A listener asks: Why is there no funding for high-end food from either the government or individuals, analagous to the way orchestras and individual musicians are invited by cities? What distinguishes the star chef from the maestro? The French do encourage food and French chefs. Their agricultural policy may in part be to keep the quality of food high. Singapore's government consciously set out to create the hawker centers. But the U.S. does more for the arts than for cuisine. Public choice problem: there may just be less of a lobbying group in the U.S. for cuisine, cheap food is more subsidized. Food channel is private sector. Another listener from Montreal asks: Is it a challenge to a free-market advocate that an interventionist haven such as France produces such great food? There is a cost. Specializing in French food in France has limited innovation and other cuisines in France.
Music and art. A listener from England asks: Was there a split in the 20th century contributing to a distinct change in the way popular modern art and music are appreciated or evaluated relative to pre-20th-century art and music? Is our appreciation a continuum or is it closer to gardening vs. baseball? There is a split, but it is closer to Smith's division of labor being limited by the extent of the market than to a change in appreciation in general. Narrow rather than popular partisanship for punk rockers, techno, etc.--yet the music may have relationship with particular classical musicians. Tyler's step-daughter related music by Helmut Lachenmann to German noise band. Medieval art, contemporary art. People see some art and don't like it, but also may simply not understand how to appreciate it by relating it to existing familiar art. Rapid change and more of all kinds of music and art. Test of time, equilibrium may be achieved faster today. "Pick a painting you want to take home" may be better than "Which is the best?"
Washington D.C. museums: some public, some private. What are some of your favorites? Would those exist without government subsidies? D.C. museums have never been opinion leaders. Cowen's favorite is the Hirshhorn--takes the most chances. Most overrated is the Phillips Collection--same every time. Also good: National Portrait Gallery. What Tyler's working on now: micro and macro textbooks with Tabarrok. Discover Your Inner Economist coming out in August.