Are you merely a cog in the larger economy? What’s wrong with being a cog? After all, cogs are individual decision-makers, and isn’t that the appropriate focal point of economic analysis? Even if being a cog isn’t so bad, what are the monsters you need to look out for in the digital economy? And what sort of economic policies should be in place to deal with them? These issues worry Diane Coyle, and feature in her new book, Cogs and Monsters, also the subject of this episode.

In this conversation, you’ll find much that Coyle and EconTalk host Russ Roberts agree on, but also several important-and subtle-differences. So let’s hear what you think. Use the prompts below to start a conversation. We know these are especially big questions… So pick and choose as you see fit. We’d love to see your thoughts in the comments!



1- What is the nature of Coyle’s critique of economics today? How does Roberts’ critique differ from hers? Which do you think is more apt, and why? How should we be teaching our students and thinking about economics going forward?


2- Coyle asserts that her central question in the book is, “is this a good policy?” What does it mean for a policy to make things better? To what extent can any policy promise to be objective? What should be the role of economists in advising policy makers?


3- What were the failings of the economics profession regarding the 2008 financial crisis? Should we have seen it coming? What about Brexit? Post-COVID supply chain disruptions?


4- Coyle argues that policy makers need some sort of framework to help them make decisions. Though Roberts and Coyle may disagree on the margins, what might such a framework look like, and to what extent can it help us answer questions like whether Stonehenge should be moved to the Birmingham exhibition center or whether the Churchill War Rooms should be converted to affordable housing?


5- Another big question that suffuses this conversation is, what is progress? How do Coyle and Roberts each answer this? Why does Coyle believe the digital economy makes this so hard to assess, and to what extent do you think she’s correct regarding the historical significance of this moment?