Is the predictable environment of a McDonald’s or Walmart store experience promoting a more virtuous society? Are bank bailouts a necessity? Are our privacy concerns shaped by anti-corporate attitudes? Self-proclaimed optimist Tyler Cowen, provocatively subtitles his latest book,  “A love letter to an American Anti-Hero”.

In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts and Cowen discuss this book as well as some monumental books that shaped their thinking in early years. We hope you enjoyed this conversation, and we hope you’ll find these questions for further thought and discussion useful to spark a new conversation.


1- Cowen opens with the argument that we are less likely to be defrauded by big businesses due to their care of reputation. Do you agree that this is more likely the case with big business organizations than with small ones? If so, why?


2- To what extent do you agree that the formalization of rules, known as bureaucracy, more often protects workers and consumers in big business environments? If shoe return rules are increasingly lax, what are examples of reduced responsiveness or effectiveness in consumer dealings with big businesses? (P.S. You might find this Liberty Classic from Stefanie Haeffele and Anne Hobson useful in considering this question.)


3- Besides possible monopsony power by firms, rising rents and housing shortages in cities, what other factors might contribute to the current American “luggage problem” discussed? 


4- Cowen suggests bank bailouts might be necessary to avoid financial crises while Roberts believes business failure should apply to the financial sector as it does for other businesses. What might mitigate the moral hazard of crony capitalism and hubris by politically powerful financial actors?