The Portal podcast transcription series
- Peter Thiel
- What is The Portal?
- Werner Herzog
- Timur Kuran
- Rabbi David Wolpe
- Jocko Willink
- Bret Easton Ellis
- Andrew Yang
- Bryan Callen
- Julie Lindahl
- Sam Harris
- Vitalik Buterin
- Garry Kasparov
- London Tsai
- Garrett Lisi
- Tyler Cowen
- Anna Khachiyan
- Eric Weinstein – State of the Portal 2020
- Bret Weinstein
- Sir Roger Penrose
- Ashley Mathews (Riley Reid)
- Ben Greenfield
- Agnes Callard
- Kai Lenny
- The Construct: Jeffrey Epstein
Geometric Unity – a First Look
- James O’Keefe
- Daniel Schmachtenberger
- Eric Lewis
- Jamie Metzl
- Ross Douthat
- Ryan Holiday
The following transcript was generated by a machine and not edited by any human – so it’s full of of errors. I’m posting the transcript because the podcast is excellent and a crappy transcript is better than no transcript. Questions/comments: get me on Twitter @mgmobrien.
Eric Weinstein 0:09
Hello, I’m your host, Eric Weinstein, and today I get to sit down with one of my favorite conversationalist. Tyler Cowen, who’s here from George Mason University where he’s a professor of economics. Tyler, welcome to the portal.
Tyler Cowen 0:23
Thank you, Eric.
Eric Weinstein 0:24
Now, when we were talking about what topics we could begin with, I didn’t want to begin with economics and you suggested the apocalypse as a great place to start. Now, the great benefit of this is that we get past it, the rest of the conversation will be post apocalyptic.
Tyler Cowen 0:40
The Apocalypse itself is economics, of course. But I was just thinking that virtually any good theory of politics need some notion of the apocalypse. Let’s say you thought the time horizon for the universe or human civilization were potentially infinite. You would then be so concerned with minimizing existential risk that nothing would get done. Whereas if you think, Well, you know, mankind has another 800 years left on earth on average, and by that time probably would have blown ourselves up or an asteroid will come, then you think what glorious things can we do with those 800 years? And it’s quite a difference in perspective. So an infinite time horizon might actually choke off rational thought about political decision making. So
Eric Weinstein 1:20
is there any possibility for keeping the apocalypse exactly 800 years away, like a donkey with a carrot dangled in front of it at a fixed distance?
Tyler Cowen 1:29
That would be the Strauss II and view right that you always think it’s 800 years away. But think of it as like a problem from from finance. So you’re riding naked, put on a security, well, it’s going to bankrupt you at some point. But any given month, any given day, the chance of that happening is probably quite small. So the apocalypse may be like the proverbial naked put, it’s out there. The chances are very small. The optimists always sound like they’re right. In a sense, they are right, that Steven Pinker would claim but at the end of the day, if the clock ticks for long enough, it’s boom. And by, but in the meantime, let’s do something grand and Baris. Now
Eric Weinstein 2:04
Tyler, you have a sort of a portfolio of different ways of communicating with the world. Have you ever dragged Steven Pinker onto a podcast which you do under conversations with Tyler or Have you discussed his bizarre notion of optimism on your famous economics blog? marginal revolutions with Judy, with your colleague Alex,
Tyler Cowen 2:28
my podcast conversations with Tyler has an episode with Steven Pinker. And I sat him down in a chair the way you did with me and I said, Stephen, the cost of destroying the world by pressing a button is falling all of the time every year, at some point it will only cost say $20,000 to take out a major city. How long do you think the world is actually going to last? Given that demand curve sloped downwards when prices fall people do more things? destructive weaponry is becoming cheaper. How can you be optimistic? I asked him no good answer. I would say evasion he said well, my theories not predictive, it’s just a way of thinking about that at A.
Eric Weinstein 3:03
So so it instantly falls apart.
Tyler Cowen 3:06
It falls apart. I don’t know if it falls apart instantly, because weaponry has spread more slowly than we might have thought. So you read nuclear theorists in the 50s and 60s, they think a Third World War I might be coming quite soon they were wrong. You read worries about proliferation from the 80s and 90s. They sound horrible. I wouldn’t say it’s been great North Korea, no one’s happy about that. But at the same time, the weapons have not been used. So there’s something fundamental about the models we don’t understand. You can ask the question, why didn’t al Qaeda hire a bunch of Stooges to go into a Tysons Corner shopping mall with submachine guns and just cause some terror? That didn’t happen? So the logic of choice of wielding destructive power is one of the issues in social science we understand least Well, I would say, and there is perhaps some hope of salvation. So I’m not sure pinker falls apart instantly. But I didn’t feel pinker defended pinker very well. And on my book, Marginal Revolution I did review his book. And my worry is that there’s an observational equivalence with how you look at the data. So you could say, well, deaths in wars have been going down will continue to fall. That’s possibly true. But another model is, the more destructive the weapons are, the less frequent the wars, things will seem great for quite a while. But the next war, when it comes will be quite a doozy.
Eric Weinstein 4:21
So in some sense, this is the great moderation, which last time was about market volatility in here. It’s about the volatility of human violence
Tyler Cowen 4:29
in great moderations may be contained the seeds of their own destruction. Well, again, I would want to be cautious there, because we don’t understand destructive decisions very well. Like why did Hitler invade Russia? We know a lot about it in the documented sense, but I don’t feel it’s understood very well.
Eric Weinstein 4:47
Agreed, and I agree that we don’t know why so few reservoirs have been poisoned with relatively low tech options and the Las Vegas shooting for example, showed what a special More level of innovation in mass killing can do to really amp the body can if that’s what somebody is trying to optimize. So I think that there is a huge mystery. But I don’t think that pinker from what I understand of his basis for optimism is really getting at that the people who listen to this podcast and have heard me elsewhere have heard me complain that it’s as if he’s neglecting a potential energy term, but for violence. And so the realized violence, as you were pointing out, has gone down. But the potential for violence is enormous. And as the cost falls, the access to violence of this particular nature seems to put it into far too many within reach, or far too many hands.
Tyler Cowen 5:47
One of our saving graces could be that the contagion effects for methods of violence seem pretty strong. So we’re in a time where in the US shooting up schools is the thing to do. It happens More often by some metrics than it used to, in the 1970s, being a serial killer was somehow like the thing to do. So if you’re inspired by what people have done just before you, and you’re not very innovative, it could be that violence and lack of innovation are somehow correlated and contagion effects mean you’ll kill, you know, a terrible number of innocent people, but it still will quite limit how much damage you do to the world as a whole.
Eric Weinstein 6:23
Well, I mean, in terms of r&d. Thinking about terror innovation is quite interesting. It seems to me that it’s hard to remember that there is no known linkage between suicide bombing and Islam. Before the the Beirut barracks bombing, if I’m not mistaken, it came from Sri Lanka.
Tyler Cowen 6:48
In the proximate sense the IDF Well, the Tigers, they’re not the only ones who’ve done I think
Eric Weinstein 6:52
that they didn’t they really perfected after the Beirut barracks bombing, and then it sort of came back to the Middle East. Do I have that I’m not sure on the timing. But there are very few groups that have been using suicide bombing in the modern era. Yes, maybe the Kurds that the Tamils in Sri Lanka and various Muslim violent movements, jihadi movements.
Tyler Cowen 7:17
The striking thing about 911 is how innovative it was. So that’s what really ought to scare us. But it does seem also such innovations are pretty scarce.
Eric Weinstein 7:27
Well, that that, in some sense at Afghanistan was like, an r&d lab for Al Qaeda. And one of the things I believe I remember was that there was a taped conversation within al Qaeda that it leaked, in which various groups were deciding. We’re trying to decide whether this was the greatest thing they’d ever done, or whether it was a terrible move because it was going to cause them the loss of their r&d lab.
Tyler Cowen 7:55
You know, Karl Heinz Stockhausen, the German composer, he said, Well, it was such a wonderful a work of art. And obviously he got pilloried for that comment. I’m not sure what he meant by it. It’s a terrible thing to say I wouldn’t say it. But it’s still getting at some aspect of 911. That was quite different that it was an attempt to innovate.
Eric Weinstein 8:13
Well, I mean, could we could we go there, I’ve talked on this program about message violence, which is violence that is made, particularly theatrical for the purpose of underscoring a message, for example, affecting a position of kindness, which clearly ends up, you know, torturing somebody like, you know, drowning them in a tub of their favorite wine or something like this, that there’s something very perverse about certain kinds of violence, who’s where the intention is to amplify the underlying harm in a way that animates the imagination, in some sense. You know, the Jordanian pilot video, which was cinematically gorgeous and as sick as could possibly be imagined that was released by ice. This would be in this realm. It is there a sense in which we can look at 911 is deliberately theatrical and artistic.
Tyler Cowen 9:08
Most likely it was, as I understand it. And if you look at the targets chosen the World Trade Center was not actually that economically important. It certainly was not politically important, but they were the tallest structures, there was a theory they would collapse in a certain way. And it seems they did, they did. So it does seem artistically motivated in some sense. And there is this odd obsession of many dictators with the arts, which I think is also poorly understood. But it also gets at the notion that the totalitarian and violent impulses in US can be severed from innovation but don’t necessarily have to be
Eric Weinstein 9:51
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Tyler Cowen 12:33
But I think mass opinion in general tends to neuter some of that desire for artistic creativity. So if you look at passion plays around the world, if you go see on say during Easter, in Mexico, they become something quite celebratory. It’s for family and friends and people get together people drink people cook special dishes, so it’s drained of so much of the actual passion story and it becomes among other things, Less passionate. So it’s hard to sustain the emotional violence behind the innovation of violence. And that may be another one of our saving graces. And you see this with suicide bombers, when they’re removed from their environments where they’ve been indoctrinated, it can be quite hard to get them to go through with what they’ve been told to do. And sometimes you get them to go through with it by not even telling them they’re going to die. Hmm. I’ve read some accounts. I’m not sure how validated This is that a lot of the 911 terrorists, they didn’t know they were going to die.
Eric Weinstein 13:34
And maybe that ambiguity, I mean, presumably, everybody signs up with an idea that martyrdom is part of the package potentially, but they don’t know that the play is going to be called for any particular Tuesday.
Tyler Cowen 13:48
And the same was true for RF fighters in World War Two or any other very high risk activity, where you’re pretty sure you’re one of the good guys, but you don’t want to die. So the fact that it’s a lottery ticket of sorts, in some ways that people Your interest it motivates you it gets your adrenaline up, it probably improves your performance. But at the same time, it’s absolutely terrifying. And, you know, how much does that operate symmetrically on the good and bad moral sides of this equation, it’s probably more similar than we would feel comfortable admitting.
Eric Weinstein 14:18
Now, I ran into an idea that I hadn’t heard codified with in labeled with a phrase before, called strategic silence. And I read about this and writings or speeches of Dana Boyd works with data and Society Institute. The idea behind it is that if you have predictable reliable news coverage, it allows somebody who, let’s say wishes to undertake a terrorist action to know that they can count on you to amplify their message, because they have the ability to create news they are not just news takers, but news makers in that realm, The news media has been experimenting with the idea that they will not do the bidding of the attacker by broadcasting things about motive about name or about certain circumstances of the crime. So at least ostensibly as not to amplify the leverage of the attacker. Is that kind of a death knell for confidence in reporting that, if we report the facts straight, we give people too much leverage over news. And if we don’t report the facts, then we quickly erode confidence in our system.
Tyler Cowen 15:38
I favor the experiment of not reporting the names of say mass shooters. I’m not sure we’re really withholding facts. So the name of the person didn’t mean anything to the audience in advance, whether the person’s name is john smith or john Brown. It’s it’s a fact in some way. But in another way, it’s not a fact at all. Whereas if it’s a person who is already known, say back back then Osama bin Laden, then you are withholding a fact. If you don’t say Osama bin Laden had a role in 911, my worry with the policy of strategic silence is that destroyers will innovate in ways to recapture the attention. So if they don’t report your name, maybe you kill more people, or maybe you innovate with a new method of killing people. So you might be inducing innovation over the medium term. And I don’t think we know yet, as an experiment, it does seem to be worth trying. But I wouldn’t be all too optimistic about it. Because as I say, on my blog, like solve for the equilibrium, and what’s the equilibrium here, we don’t quite know.
Eric Weinstein 16:41
Although with somebody like the unabomber, who left us a manifesto or let’s say, the Christ Church, shooter in the mosque, we have a fairly detailed account of what was going through the person’s mind while they were committing their crimes.
Tyler Cowen 16:57
I don’t know if that is what was going through their mind. It was what was going through their mind at some point in time. But was it their actual set of motivations? Well, I don’t feel qualified to judge. But I wouldn’t just take that for granted or take it quite literally. But would you feel comfortable in suppressing the dissemination of such a document? I don’t think it’s possible to suppress that. The way the internet and other institutions have evolved, I wouldn’t do it either. But in any case, it will get out there. So if we decide, oh, it’s not going to be on Facebook. As you well know, there are other parts of the internet, where it just can’t be taken down an
Eric Weinstein 17:33
interesting place where I think I disagree with you. I don’t disagree with you that we can’t stop the document from being on the internet in a very determined person in their ability to find it. I do believe that there’s a frictional coefficient that the search engines and the major platforms can control if they so choose, to slow down the flow of information and whether it gets reified and discussed. Inside of what I’ve termed the gated institutional narrative is a big deal because those news organizations react chiefly to each other and special trusted institutions. And so many of us still have the idea, when we’re listening to that conversation, that it’s an open conversation when, if you’re in a position like you are, maybe we’re astounded by the number of things that simply can’t be discussed in in, in that echo chamber. And in those corridors.
Tyler Cowen 18:28
I think the short term and the medium term are quite different here. So if Facebook and YouTube and Google all of a sudden decide they won’t cover some awful video, that will have real impact, but I think say four or five years later, there’ll be some new set of tools. Maybe they’re only used to find out really bad stuff. But people will know there are sites or methods where you can go see here experience all the really bad things, and then it still gets out so I’m not at all opposed to people say who run Facebook deciding not to post something. I think it’s fine. It’s their website, more power to them. But at the same time, we should not infer too much from the short run reaction, because again, solve for the equilibrium institutions and searchers will adjust.
Eric Weinstein 19:12
So you and I have a slightly different orientation about that. I’d be fun to play with it for a second. I think I’ve used to hold a position that these companies had the right to do what they want. And I’ve started to change my opinion on that, based on the idea that if I define the public space, relative to private space, I can find only private space on the internet. I need to hire a company to allow me to get an on ramp in the form of an ISP. And that in general, unlike a city with parks and institutions of government, I really can’t find any public space on the internet. And so if the whole thing is private But I feel like it’s absolutely essential that we place much more restrictive rules about what can and cannot be prohibited on the internet because there is no public space from the get go my way, my way off.
Tyler Cowen 20:15
The analogies of public and private space to the internet, I think are quite complex, I would just start with a very simple question, Who is that you would trust in politics to make those decisions better than what our current internet is giving us? And for me, the answer is no one no party, no institution. So I would like to keep things more or less the way they are now and have no liability for the internet companies. let them decide. And the notion that Congress, did you see the recent recent testimony of Mark Zuckerberg before Congress, cut a little bit of it not much. It’s remarkable how little people in Washington understand about tech at any level.
Eric Weinstein 20:57
So So what explains this you I spent a fair amount of time in Silicon Valley. And it’s not like the government couldn’t
Tyler Cowen 21:05
get help from the world’s smartest tech people, and they can and they do, but the actual decisions are made by Congress and by a president.
Eric Weinstein 21:13
But what explains the lousy level of questioning of tech people and you know, both scientific
Tyler Cowen 21:18
the quality of voters, right? So people get the leaders they deserve voters or poorly informed representatives want to parade a certain display of toughness or strength in front of those voters. So they’re deliberately rude to Mark Zuckerberg they ask stupid questions, which voters will let them get away with? In my Twitter feed? Some of the very stupidest questions were being applauded, say, by PhD economists, like oh, you know, get tough, you know, show Mark Zuckerberg. So even at that level, there’s an expressive response that encourages this behavior, and that’s why we get it. But when you then think, gee, this system is going to regulate speech on the internet. I say No way. You know, finger was right. I think
Eric Weinstein 21:56
that’s different. If you ever watched Jurassic Fighting, or bunnies?
Tyler Cowen 22:02
I’ve seen bunnies fighting on the internet and bunnies
Eric Weinstein 22:04
your writing is amazing, right? It’s like, I think I got this from Joe Rogan bunny UFC is just, they fight in such an intense fashion. I think people are cheering some of these hearings in the same way that they would cheer for like one rabbit over another they were so it’s like a cockfight. Just it’s just interesting watching people beat up on each other, particularly if you like one more than the other. I don’t think that people are anywhere near as stupid. As I don’t think we’re getting the government, we deserve it. And let me give you an analogy, which is plaguing me for many things. We used to think that TV was the idiot box. And we clearly just didn’t understand long form television of the form that has been discovered with Game of Thrones or the sopranos. I think that there’s a long form politics that we Want, and we’re smart enough to know the difference between what we have in that. And we can’t get it because it’s really not in the interests of people who have more leverage than the rest of us.
Tyler Cowen 23:10
I don’t think it’s the elites who are keeping this long form politics from us. I think it’s the voters. There are plenty of candidates on the Democratic side. Some of them are quite smart. You may or may not agree with them. But we
Eric Weinstein 23:23
don’t find quite smart on the Democratic side. We won’t talk about dumb.
Tyler Cowen 23:26
Mayor Pete and Andrew Yang, for instance, are seemed quite smart. I’m not familiar with all the candidates. So if I haven’t mentioned your favorite, I intend no slight. But they’re obviously both quite smart. their chance of winning is pretty small. They have gotten media exposure. I know Andrew Yang is sometimes kept out of the CNN graphics, and so on. But
Eric Weinstein 23:48
virgin didn’t have itself hysterically funny as if it’s, you know, we’re back in 1994. And no one will be able to discuss this because we don’t have a lively internet.
Tyler Cowen 23:58
But the people who made it be laid emotions right are more likely to be the Democratic candidates than those two individuals. Hmm. And that I don’t blame on the elites. I’m not saying the elites are blameless, but it’s mostly the voters.
Eric Weinstein 24:12
Do you know frank luntz? Well,
Tyler Cowen 24:14
I’ve met him and I’ve heard him talk. I wouldn’t say I know him. Well, I think he’s very smart.
Eric Weinstein 24:18
I think he’s very smart, too. I went to college with him. And for those who don’t know, is a republican pollster who pioneered the use of particular phraseology for a common concept. And he more or less discovered that we don’t actually have opinions about underlying law or facts or theory, but we have huge lead divergent opinions off based on how the same underlying stuff is presented to us that death taxes and estate taxes may be the same thing. But we oppose the death tax and were for the estate tax. Do you believe that this level of emotional manipulation would go away if we started getting tools with which to discuss it.
Tyler Cowen 25:07
Clearly, that kind of emotional manipulation is higher in some countries than in others. So it’s impossible to lead to believe at some fixed eternal constant. But the United States have has a long history of emotional and sometimes populist politics. In the 80s and 90s. I view as an outlier kind of error where things were relatively calm and reasonable, even though at the time it didn’t always feel that way. feel that way to me at all, compared to the mid to late 19th century. My goodness, right, yeah. Then you had people in Congress attacking each other. A lot of partisan media, a lot of outright lying. So I don’t see America becoming like Switzerland anytime soon. But clearly, it’s not impossible.
Eric Weinstein 25:46
Well, I think one of the things that really strikes me about that is that the liat waters and the frank luntz is who put a sort of a deliberate spin on this kind of mean spirited emotional manipulation. We’re surprised that it didn’t behave, let’s say like rugby, where you have a bunch of gentlemen take the field, play absolutely, brutally with each other. And then going back, going back to being gentlemen, when the game is over, Frank Luntz has told me that he just hates the current state state of our politics, that it’s far too mean spirited and destructive. And he can’t locate anything that he’s done. To kick this, this, this into high gear. It’s a very strange thing. There’s a disconnection between working on these campaigns in a somewhat scientific fashion, to use people’s passions to sort of take over their decision making and then there’s this inability to understand well, how did we all become so uncivil?
Tyler Cowen 26:52
I wonder if one of the problems in America is our temporal distance from more so there was World War Two, terrible event, but it didn’t make us More instrumental, irrational. And if you look at something like the Manhattan Project, phenomenal achievement, as you know, done really quite quickly, would not have been possible outside of wartime. Even in an earlier America, then there’s the Cold War. Now the Cold War, let’s say it ended 1989 1992. That’s a number of decades, young people today don’t know about it. So without a common enemy, maybe the enemy becomes each other in some way. And we’re more mean spirited, because there’s a lack of a common enemy. that’s, to me the most likely single hypothesis for what’s happened.
Eric Weinstein 27:31
And it’s evolutionarily rational that when there isn’t a common enemy would attempt potentially, to make your slice larger at the expense of someone else’s slice who might might be on your team, whereas during wartime that would be seen as sort of an unforgivable offense because you have something much bigger to organize around.
Tyler Cowen 27:53
And I think it’s interesting the one issue where there is at least potentially a common enemy, maybe not quite vivid yet, but that would be China. Sure. opinion on China it’s not polarized. Republican versus Democrat. I’ve spoken to people in Congress on both sides about China. There’s a mix of opinions, diverse opinions within each party. It’s not that all the republicans line up on one side and all the progressives on another. So there you see polarization actually not being so strong.
Eric Weinstein 28:20
I think China has done a wonderful job of manipulating us by making sure that most of their activity is below a threshold. So that appears that they don’t really have any global designs. And of course, there’s a narrative that says China really cares only about China, and it’s not focused on the outside world. Returning sponsor lamps plus sent me a nice bedside lamp, but it was so nice that my wife immediately stole it so I can’t tell you how well their product works. That is unless they send me an additional unit hint hint. They also sent me an unusable light bulb joke and a fun fact about Thomas Edison. So I’m going to instead use that as licensed to tell off color jokes and to get you much more excited about lighting than you’ve ever been. By turning you on to a world of great artists working in chandeliers that you might know nothing about. Our first genius is Luke Durham. Go look up his kinetic chandelier is with over 600 spinning radiometers which are over 17 feet high in length. pure genius. Plus, how many adult film stars does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer to but they have to be very, very small lamps plus is the nation’s largest retailer of lighting. So once you’ve gotten inspired by Luke Sriram, go to lamps plus and use their videos to hone in on the lighting that is perfect for your style and decor. Plus, they have a large selection of Minka Lavery lighting to transform your home into wonderful living areas. Michael every is known for designs that blend function and style using innovative materials. So get up to 50% off hundreds of lights furniture and decor from now until December 24. That’s 50% off during the lamps plus holiday sale from now until December 24. So go to lamps plus Li mpsp comm slash portal to start saving today lamps plus comm slash portal we welcome back returning sponsor wine access do is replace your local wine store by sending out a much larger team of geeks to scour the globe for the best values and wine not by looking for the most famous label, but by looking for the small passion projects or offbeat stories where you get top quality product at a fraction of the price. And they also want to educate you so they send out literature about what it is that you’re drinking. And in fact, I wanted to let people know about the story that inspired the intellectual dark web. I was a student of the Madeira wine, which is very strange, because when you open it, it doesn’t go bad. I wanted to know why it had that property. And it turns out that the wine was made oxidized and heated at the beginning. And this process is known as the estimation process ensures that every bad thing that can happen to Madeira happens at inception, so you don’t need to worry about the product actually spoiling. What I thought was is that the intellectual darkweb was such a terrible name for the movement that the press could not possibly make it any worse. And in fact, they spread it perfectly without realizing that it was a Trojan horse strategy. In fact, there’s a video on my channel to explain this. So I learned a great deal from understand My wine but we want to help you discover your new favorite bottles and time for the holidays. So we have an exclusive limited time offer with wine access, where you can get $100 off your first purchase of $250 or more. This is a savings on these outstanding wines that are already a great value with wine access.com slash a poodle going to get yourself one hell of a bottle with wine access comm slash portal, so why not order them bottles tonight, you’ll get $100 off and support the show by going to wine access comm slash portal. You’ll be glad you did.
Tyler Cowen 31:34
My view is China has very strong Asian designs. I’m not sure they have truly global designs, but I view them as a threat to liberty and Asia.
Eric Weinstein 31:45
Sure. Now, I guess I have a question. Do you think we’re living through a very unusual time in the last this the last decade and really probably the last five to seven In yours,
Tyler Cowen 32:01
I’m not sure I would slice up the years that way. So I now see the 1980s and 90s as the unusual time of calm and feeling of triumph and that neoliberalism can do no wrong. And that’s the outlier. The turning point for me is 911, and the financial crisis. And now you have trumpism, a series of very strange events that are causing people to revise many things they had believed, and were responding by being nasty or to each other. So I see the cutoff point as 2001.
Eric Weinstein 32:32
Do you see anything? For example, that’s, to me. I view the apparent death of Jeffrey Epstein. As one of the most bizarre news stories I’ve ever seen, it seemingly happened with every bizarre coincidence that would be necessary for somebody in protective custody, to meet his end, understood situation in which everybody wants to know exactly who he was how he was connected to the intelligence communities. Where are his support probable co conspirators? They seem to still be alive. Nobody seems to be tracking this down the news media seems preternaturally uninterested in it. And if you look at like top podcasts, there are lots of podcasts that are dedicated to the Jeffrey Epstein question. Anybody could make money, even debunking conspiracy theories about murders of Jeffrey Epstein by the intelligence community what the hell is going on that we’re not even talking about? I haven’t followed the details of the Epstein death very closely. But in general, it’s very hard to get me to believe in conspiracy theories, just looking at base rates. How many people kill themselves in prison, versus how many people are killed by outside conspiracies in prison. Other than the case of someone who snitches on the, you know, the drug gang and their shift in the shower, that kind of thing, which is pretty common.
Tyler Cowen 33:52
So I’m not close to thinking that was a conspiracy. I would say I have an open mind, since I haven’t studied it. But I do Don’t look at it and recoil and think my goodness, this is so strange.
Eric Weinstein 34:03
No, I don’t necessarily you don’t have to believe it’s a conspiracy, you can believe that there are two camera failures and that there’s some guards that were asleep on the job. And then a freakishly long period with nobody killing themselves in that facility happened to be ended, because there’s an arrival of an unpredictable event. What I’m trying to
Tyler Cowen 34:18
say is what I believe, okay, you said
Eric Weinstein 34:20
it well, right. But my point to you would be, if that’s what I believed, and that is a part of what I believe, but I have a probability distribution that puts far more weight on other things than I think your probability distribution does. I would be interested to discuss that and to show people just how the conspiracy, the conspiracy theorizing mind is led astray will be a wonderful opportunity for a rationalist to take this on, and to sell a bunch of papers by showing what nonsense This is and even Michael Shermer at some point,
Tyler Cowen 34:58
but it’s the market for that. So large He wanted to talk to prove he wasn’t murdered. But
Eric Weinstein 35:03
my point is people wanted to talk about this much more than papers wanted. Like, why not? Do it a special on what is known about Jeffrey Epstein’s connections to the intelligence community?
Tyler Cowen 35:18
Just Just that was known. I’m not saying that the he has huge connections, the intelligence, but what do we know? I read about it in my blog comments all the time. I’m not sure how much if it’s addressed. But if I look back on history, to me, it’s remarkable how few successful conspiracies there are. And there can be a lot of circumstantial evidence that something was a conspiracy talk of Pearl Harbor, JFK assassination. Many other cases like they don’t quite materialize.
Eric Weinstein 35:47
Mo on Pearl Harbor affect you.
Tyler Cowen 35:50
most historians think it was a series of massive screw ups. And they were clearly pieces of information, put on tables and left around, but there was no committee are individuals such as FDR saying I’m going to let this
Eric Weinstein 36:03
go No, I’m not saying that. I don’t think anybody wanted Japan to attack that ferocity in Pearl Harbor. But the question of did we want cassis belly for World War Two? And was probably and were we interested in potentially getting torpedoed in British shipping lanes or choking Japan, which is resource poor for natural resources so as to induce them into some act of belligerence, hopefully much smaller than Pearl Harbor. Sure,
Tyler Cowen 36:31
but that’s not a conspiracy, right. That’s, that’s a plan that went wrong.
Eric Weinstein 36:36
But it would be it would be a bit of a conspiracy to attempt to get someone to attack you so that you could enter the war claiming to have been attacked,
Tyler Cowen 36:44
I don’t know it. Maybe military strategy.
Eric Weinstein 36:47
Well, if that’s standard military strategy, maybe this is the reason why you don’t see as many conspiracies because that’s just normal operating procedure. I guess I’m always shocked by how many relatively Large and complicated conspiracies have been proven to have existed have not fallen apart and all these standard things and you can’t get a large number of people to do something without somebody squealing, that people have an urge to purge. So nobody keeps a secret. This has been, to my mind clearly disproven just by proven conspiracy. So what
Tyler Cowen 37:18
what is to you the most dramatic, large scale conspiracy cointelpro
Eric Weinstein 37:21
has to be the best of them.
Tyler Cowen 37:24
And what happened there that the
Eric Weinstein 37:26
FBI had the dirty tricks department that actually fed misinformation to create fake news into the mainstream media with the intention of killing law abiding Americans because the FBI didn’t like their politics. That’s pretty bad.
Tyler Cowen 37:43
Look, it’s a large number of people too. It’s not what I see is a conspiracy. So we know for instance, as a fact that the CIA supported abstract expressionism within the field of painting Yeah, because they thought it would neutralize propagandistic art and make Americans less communistic. Don’t think that’s seriously disputed.
Eric Weinstein 38:02
Like, I got into a much more interesting discussion with an economist not too long ago, who was looking at my work in economics and said, Eric, the person said to me, Eric, I can’t stand to see you fighting the Chicago School of Economics. Do you? Are you aware that this was really just a bulwark against totalitarian communism, rather than a theory that was intended to be operational and descriptive with predictive power, and that now that the Cold War is over? The problem is we didn’t tell the children that it was really a political project rather than an analytic one.
Tyler Cowen 38:40
But I mean, I know I knew most of those people. They were economists what they said they believed was true. They had careerist concerns, or they wanted to make the world a better place. That’s actually the best theory of the Chicago School of Economics.
Eric Weinstein 38:55
Well, I don’t know. I mean, you know that there’s this very funny paradigm which I call it As an X spends as a why, and you know, for example, in physics, I would say that Edward Witten has earned as a geometer, but he’s spent as a string theorist, okay. In economics, I would say Milton Friedman earned as an economist, he was a very fine connoisseur, and he’s spent as a political theorist. And that, in part, this game of earning in one place and spending somewhere else is depending upon how you view the history of a subject, it can be far more important to the participants how they spend, rather than how they earn their credibility.
Tyler Cowen 39:39
Sure, look, Friedman made some mistakes. So he thought that educational vouchers would work easily and simply and be quite popular. That hasn’t turned out to be the case. He was more optimistic about shock therapy than he should have been. Though I would say on the whole shock therapy has done well on average look at Poland right Poland is successful, fairly The free economy. But what explains that I think it’s just simply that Milton didn’t see the future course of world history. And he was imperfect, and maybe too optimistic about some of his own ideas. And you’ll hear all kinds of accounts about the Chicago, the Chicago boys and conspiracy or the Habsburg Monarchy. You hear this from Lyndon LaRouche, okay, or the CIA funded them in Chile or whatever. I don’t feel those are the correct deep historical understandings, the more or less superficial account, they had ideas, they believed in the ideas, some of the ideas were wrong, a lot of them turned out to be really quite correct. Their overall record is pretty good. That superficial account I think, is fundamentally true. So
Eric Weinstein 40:43
now that we’ve somehow found a way into
Tyler Cowen 40:45
economics after burning through some other stuff, we would never out of economics.
Eric Weinstein 40:50
Okay, please continue. All right. Well, that’s the problem is that you could never it’s like you can’t leave evolutionary theory. Can we talk and again, let’s Feel free to turn any question around on me, although I’m not an economist. What I find astounding about the field of economics is that on the one hand, I can’t get enough of it, I need to use its concepts, its terminology, some of its models. And then the other hand, I think it’s an absolute abomination that has been not it’s not that the field is broken so much is that the field is fixed in the same sense that the World Series can be fixed. And I find that whenever I go into economics, there’s this sort of Martin Bailey type approach where there’s this very defensible core of economic writing. And then there’s this absolutely tortured. Just so story that we tell that almost always seems to flatter institutions and power and in the structures that would be up ended if we actually just let the field run and run Reach the conclusions that will emerge from the models.
Tyler Cowen 42:03
It may depend on what exactly you’re being upset by. But keep in mind, at least in the West, what you’re calling institutions and power are the most successful institutions The world has seen ever. So there’s something to be said on their behalf. Right? Sure. And economics if are just so stories are fairly positive toward those institutions. We shouldn’t be repulsed by that there may be margins where they’re getting things wrong. So I would say no economist that I know of is really willing to write a critique of the National Science Foundation. Why is that hard to prove? But I think the logical reasons are the obvious ones that don’t want to alienate a potential funder. Well, the the only major critique written was written by myself with Alex tabarrok. Other than that, it’s virtually
Eric Weinstein 42:48
literal. I have I have accused the National Science Foundation of specifically destroying the pipeline for STEM labor. For the purpose of making late stem labor cheap for employers, to the detriment of American aspirants,
Tyler Cowen 43:08
sure I read that but within economics, it’s very hard to find criticisms of the NSF virtually impossible.
Eric Weinstein 43:15
Okay, so here’s an interesting question to me. Economists have been very comfortable turning the lens of economic theorizing on absolutely any group save one, they’ll do. So priests, they’ll do it to scientists to politicians. They cannot imagine, I mean, that this is going to escape. Notice forever. My wife has talked about economics squared. What is the Political Economy of economists themselves? And where are these papers? Now you don’t find it interesting. Particularly that this field doesn’t exist.
Tyler Cowen 43:52
I think they do it now on Twitter. So they accuse each other of having bad motives or being captive of their funders. So with that, Social media you’re seeing blossoming of this kind of attack. There are still criticisms I don’t like being made. So there’s the partisan criticism of people who disagree with you, but to say criticize Chinese graduate students, because they can’t speak their mind about issues related to China, because they fear for their own careers are for their family members back in China, that’s somehow not acceptable to raise even as an issue. So I do think there are big blind spots, but just like attacking the other person is now pretty common, typically done in a not very clever, sophisticated way.
Eric Weinstein 44:33
Okay, but we let’s talk about making it clever, more sophisticated. If you are going to turn the lens of economics and particular the analysis of political economy on the profession of economics. What would be the assuming that there’s sort of a parado curve here? Sure. For the first 10% of my effort, I should get something like 70% of the of the of the bang, what would be the first thing to do in economic theory using economic theory against economists themselves?
Tyler Cowen 45:06
Well, you use the subjunctive, but I have in fact written this. The biggest problem is people over specialize and write narrow, defensible papers to be published, that are invulnerable to peer criticism, but don’t amount to very much. And there’s a massive waste of human labor. And people do not direct their energy energies toward actually solving problems and answering questions. That to me is criticism. Number one, I think it’s absolutely correct. It concerns me greatly. A small number of people have voiced this.
Eric Weinstein 45:35
That’s sort of a if I understood it correctly, and perhaps I didn’t, that’s a little bit of an opportunity cost that we could have done a lot more and instead, we settled for something that wasn’t
Tyler Cowen 45:45
or maybe those people should just not be doing economics. They’re talented people. They could just, you know, build bricks, whatever.
Eric Weinstein 45:51
True. But if I think about what really moved the needle in medicine, let’s say the whole concept of Isagenix harm, which is, you know, harm done by healers really focused us on the idea that certain hospitals kill more people than others. What about ikana genic harm?
Tyler Cowen 46:14
It depends at whom you point the finger. But if you look at what is sometimes called the Washington Consensus, which is not a view I completely agree with by any means, but it’s called the Washington Consensus for a reason. There’s a recent paper by Bill easterly. That goes through and argues correctly, I think that on average, the Washington Consensus has done more good than harm. So the idea that economics is some great scandal that we’ve gone around wrecking things Binyamin Appelbaum argues this in his recent book. I like that book. I think it’s smart, but I think it is more wrong than right and it’s overlooking the many cases where economic advice has done well. I mentioned Poland before, but Czech Republic Slovakia you look at Chile which has been democratic since 19. 90 economic inequality in Chile has been falling for some period of time. The country started
Eric Weinstein 47:05
from sky high rates and it has fallen somewhat.
Tyler Cowen 47:09
It’s in the middle of the Latin American distribution, but it’s fallen. And the country has the highest real wages in Latin America by some amount. It’s not a miracle. It’s not perfect. Economists gave some bad advice there. But overall, they did much more good than harm.
Eric Weinstein 47:25
See, this is the thing that I’m very confused by I understand. Let me just say that I see that even though economists may do a lot of harm at prettified as doing pure good, that that’s not the criticism that I would really level first at the profession. It’s really something closer to academic malpractice, where the economists know the truth, the right way to set up the problem and choose not only not to do that in public, but to demonize to exclude to blackball, anyone who would make the correct critique. In other words,
Tyler Cowen 48:10
they don’t know the right way to set up the problem. We don’t we’re too stupid. No, that is
what’s the problem? We should be setting up
Eric Weinstein 48:19
the right way. Let me give the the example that I perhaps no, I know a small number are we going to get to gauge theory?
Tyler Cowen 48:25
Now you want to? Well, first make your point but at some point, we need to get to gauge theory because I need you to let me change one I’ll do it the gauge of do a gauge theory exam, but that’s complicated. Do your other simpler point then we’ll do gauge theory.
Eric Weinstein 48:38
Well, I could do the great moderation I could do. Stem labor, and I could do CPI. These are things I’ve engaged with. If I did the CPI one that’s very clear. You have a small number of economists in the mid 90s. became directed by Bob packwood and Daniel Moynahan, to find an overstatement of the CPI. Because tax brackets were indexed, right and entitlement benefits, social security medicare were indexed. And so what they found is if you could knock down the measurement of the CPI, you could raise taxes and benefits. And they backed out that 1.1% overstatement, if corrected, would lead to a trillion dollar savings over 10 years. And they actually broke into two groups to come up with two separate numbers that would add together to 1.1. Which to me is academic malpractice. That is they started with the target. And this is according to one of their own members of this Baskin commission, Professor Gordon, who talked about the fact that somehow the two groups came up with the two numbers which would add it together. You Dale Jorgenson, a Harvard professor of economics is 1.1% overstatement. And that’s what they went with. Now, to me. That’s like saying, we need to find an error and all the temperature gauges, so that we can come up with different targets because global warming is a problem. You’re not allowed to touch the temperature gauges, for God’s sakes.
Tyler Cowen 50:22
For sure, as in so many numbers, there’s an error of exaggerated exactness. But if you look, say at Google’s Price Index, it’s not so different from how we calculate the CPI. If you look at how central banks or other economic authorities around the world calculate their CPE is, it’s not that different than what we have done. And you could say it’s all one big overly Carlin conspiracy, but I don’t see that the current way of calculating the CPI is off by very much. And if it’s off, it’s still may be overstating inflation a wee bit, because there are perhaps more free goods today through the internet than we had
Eric Weinstein 50:59
out there. That’s not a legitimate counter argument. What I’m trying to say is, is that assume that in fact, there is a best CPI and assume that it was 1.1%. overstated. It’s still not legitimate to go into a quiet room in a closed commission, and say, here’s the target boys, we have to find this number. Let’s break into groups and put together that number so that our finding will raise taxes and slash benefits. You’re not allowed to break the gauge to get the policy. The gauge is the gauge.
Tyler Cowen 51:31
Politics is an ugly system, but it does seem they gave us a measure of the CPI somewhat better than what we had had. If you think that inflation has actually been much higher, you must think real rates of return today are astonishingly low. I mean, that will truly make you a mega pessimist, which perhaps you are. But keep in mind, people compare our measurements of rates of inflation to other economic variables and see if the whole picture makes sense. And if you think the true rate is very different from what we have that implies Some very radical conclusions, which I don’t want to dismiss out of hand. But I’ll just say there are multiple checks on this process. Do they fit in with our others? I
Eric Weinstein 52:07
think we’re in two different layers of the discussion, which is fascinating to me. one layer the discussion is, did they point out some good things about ways in which the CPI could be done better? They did. And did they do some work? They absolutely did. Did they commit academic malpractice? Absolutely. motherfucking. Yes. They committed academic malpractice. It’s not in the same layer of the stack Tyler To me,
Tyler Cowen 52:34
it is your objection, just the process. So I don’t doubt Yeah, bad things went on in those rooms. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
Eric Weinstein 52:42
Well, they destroyed my wife’s career over it as my opinion. They went into something called the Harvard jobs market meeting, which is a closed door session during the time that the Boston commission was active. And she was talking about two of the things that you can Due to try to adjust the CPI to make it more accurate one is to replace what’s called a mechanical index that is something that prices, let’s say, a basket of goods in two different time periods, famous examples being the passionless pairs index that you can either replace that with a human standard, which is like cost of living, what is the cost make you equally happy between two points in time, right? Or you can do something called chaining and chaining given that your blog is called Marginal Revolution. Marginal Revolution was originally the introduction of the differential calculus into economic theory. And this is in the limit an application of differential calculus. And the fact is that these two things have never played well together. Because you can’t chain tastes. In economic theory, you have this doctrine that says that tastes have to be treated as if they were unchanging and what we did you collaborative work was to bring in gauge theory, as you’re stating, to make sure for the first time, you had dynamic agents who were allowed to change their tastes as humans do, and still stay within the folds of what’s known as ordinal utility theory.
Tyler Cowen 54:14
I would say this, most people would admit and indeed emphasize that over a time period of multiple decades, that comparisons just don’t work. And cannot work. There are various impossibility theorems for aggregating price indices over time. So if you ask, well, would you rather have me like the Ragnar fishes, right? Would you rather have $50,000 to spend in the Sears Roebuck catalog of today, or 1900? Most people would rather spend it in the catalog of today. But that suggests there’s actually been radical deflation. But I don’t think that’s exactly the correct conclusion. I think the correct conclusion is over very long periods of time. The comparability goes away in transitivity enters into the calculation and you just need to be very careful and modest as to what you know, and don’t
Eric Weinstein 54:59
know actually There’s an entirely different possibility. So what we’re discussing for those of you at home who want to play along, one of the things that’s weird about this podcast is that I’m very willing to throw out pointers rather than to dumb things down to the point that nothing ever happens on the podcast. So there was a guy named Irving Fisher, who you can look up who came up with lots of axioms to find the perfect Price Index and then Ragnar Frisch came up with an impossibility theorem that said, if you took on Fisher’s axioms, there was provably no measure that could satisfy all of the axioms impossible,
Tyler Cowen 55:35
right? Okay. Now, let me ask you about gauge theory. Before you tell us what it is, give us the bottom line. You know, money shot, let’s say gauge theory is correct. is the actual rate of inflation higher or lower than what we’re measuring?
Eric Weinstein 55:48
No, it’s that you’re measuring the wrong object. There’s something that you would create, which you might so if we previously use these mechanical pencil Wash and last pairs index indices, those are replaced by something called a conus index. Now conus comes in two flavors, but it’s a cost of living, which prices utility, the pleasure I get from items, rather than the cost of the item. So if wine and beer are the same price per leader, and I’m indifferent between them, right, and there’s a frost that kills off a bunch of grapes, if you pay me the money to rebuy my original basket, I’m going to take the money, I’m going to buy a mess of beer because wine has become too expensive. I’m going to spend the extra money on something else, right? So if you want to get rid of that effect, you move to this thing called the conus index,
Tyler Cowen 56:39
and you adjust your quality better, but that’s hard to do. There’s a lot of people well, there’s a lot of mystics who try to do this, right? It’s a highly imperfect endeavor, the internet makes it harder,
Eric Weinstein 56:49
but that’s not that’s not where gauge theory really comes in what the really exciting thing about gauge theory and economics and there’s nobody I’d rather discuss it with and then Tyler The Economics should be the most interesting of subjects analytically and intellectually. Because it is the only place that I’m familiar with man’s two greatest ideas coming into direct contact, the theory of selection, both sexual and natural that governs us as apes,
Tyler Cowen 57:17
which we don’t use very much, but continue. Oh, I agree. It’s a great idea.
Eric Weinstein 57:20
I think if you allow a reinterpretation in which, let’s say utility maps to fitness and indifference maps to drift, I think you’ll find that you’re using it everywhere. In fact, what economics does is to give you a second layer using the fact that money uniform Mises a lot of things to allow and as if physics to arise as in the work of Paul Samuelson. And so the weird thing is, is that you’ve got apes engaging in markets which is really just selection by other by other means. Using and as if physics as The language of interaction.
Tyler Cowen 58:02
So I would say the best idea of economics is that demand curve slope downwards, price goes up, people do less of something. selection is an incredibly important idea. We’ve done a bad job of incorporating it. No sleight men to the idea. There’s a lot of pieces on selection in economics, but they tend to be big, sprawling messes rather than useful. And most of the best economics pieces are based on pretty simple applications of the law of demand or income effects. But to get back to gauge theory, let’s say everything you’re saying is true. is the actual real rate of return higher or lower than I used to think it is? That’s what I want to know. Should I be more optimistic or more pessimistic?
Eric Weinstein 58:40
No, my guess is you probably end up more pessimistic but the the number of different things that would change. You see, there’s a concept, let’s say in computer programming about how something is cast. If I have the number three, I can either treat three as a symbol, in which case it’s a string, I can treat it as an integer, in which case, I’d call it an you I nt or I could treat it as a float 3.000 and however much accuracy that the computers willing to maintain the question of what is let’s say a representative consumer is not properly understood. In my opinion, I agree that the problem is the representative consumer should be a field, something like a temperature field or a field of wind measurements on the space of all possible consumers. Now you and I will explore hopefully in this podcast something about our difference in taste in music. I don’t even know what it is, but I’m gonna shut it down. We’re going to find out it it is the case that if you were doing inflation properly, you would be using gauge theory and you would be using field theoretic concepts for representative agents you wouldn’t be making these point. Like you would never say what’s the temperature today in America? Because it’s, it’s, it’s you’ve cast temperature which should be a field displayed on a map. app as if it was a single number like a float.
Tyler Cowen 1:00:04
Okay. But again, let’s say you’re right, what’s the actionable trade based on this information? I mean, you probably are already rich, but you should be truly truly rich, right? Because there’ll be an actionable trade if we’re miscalculating real rates of return. Why even if there’s variance if the proper estimate is higher than we realize, there’ll be some kind of options play on that. And over time, it will systematically make money.
Eric Weinstein 1:00:28
I mean, I think that my my reluctance is, is that it’s not really a sharp question. You have all sorts of questions like hedonic adjustments, which is, you know, the car that I call a Mustang today isn’t like the car that I call a Mustang from 30 years ago. So I may have to look at how much the luxury trunk space fuel efficiency that series of different objects had. And as its as it changed qualitatively, there’s a question about why does economics focus so much on purrito improvement As a gold standard, where if you all get rich by an additional billion dollars and I get rich by 35 cents, I’m supposed to say that I’m improved any sensible human being looking at things like mate selection, or you know, scarce vacation property will know that I’m much worse off.
Tyler Cowen 1:01:19
I wouldn’t agree with that. But that’s a separate question. But
Eric Weinstein 1:01:21
that’s that there’s so many of those things. I don’t know how to answer your question. In other words, the
Tyler Cowen 1:01:26
field but you should be short, intangible capital. If you think true real rates of return are lower than other people realize that maybe tangible capital you can measure exactly how valuable the factory is, but intangible capital, which is hard to value, you should be more pessimistic about. So there’s a bunch of firms with a lot of intangible capital, you could short those. If you want to be hedged the market as a whole, you could be long or otherwise protect yourself against other developments by having some other long,
Eric Weinstein 1:01:53
except it’s also the case that some of us who have attempted to form these kind of broad theses I can tell you that I didn’t really appreciate what was going to happen between the collapse of Bear Stearns and several months after AIG was about to harden,
Tyler Cowen 1:02:15
basically, no one did, even people who saw some parts of the crash early on, did not have good day by day predictions of how it would all unfold
Eric Weinstein 1:02:23
well, and the issue of the interceding in the markets, you know, with a very visible hand, to engage in pure acts of political economy, to, you know, both stabilize the economic system, but also to defend very vulnerable institutional players. I no longer know how to make those kinds of trades, because I don’t believe that I know what we can do artificially in the face of a crisis.
Tyler Cowen 1:02:53
But if real rates of return are truly lower than is believed, the system cannot deny that either Either forever or even for that
Eric Weinstein 1:03:01
low. That’s why I’m
Tyler Cowen 1:03:02
claiming that we’re just keep on buying puts on the appropriate stocks, don’t do it with leverage. Just toss money into this trades, forget about them do it for 30 years, you’re a young man, maybe you’re doing it right. I’m not expecting you to tell the audience your financial position. I’m just saying there’s a way of testing this view. It’s not that hard. Most people in the hedge fund world are not doing this. Right. And they think very closely. I
Eric Weinstein 1:03:26
do believe that we are Asian, right. I believe there’s about a 50 year bubble. I mean, so one of the things that that unites us is I was thrilled that you were also focused on the early 1970s as a real and mysterious discontinuity with respect to growth, and it’s
Tyler Cowen 1:03:46
one of the biggest puzzles so in 1973 comes a lot of indicators crash, you can say fine, the higher price of oil, that’s great, but the higher price of oil goes away and those indicators do not come back very well.
Eric Weinstein 1:03:59
What do you think? Okay, first of all, let’s just do this slowly. Sure. Is it mysterious that more people aren’t focused on what happens around 1972 to 74?
Tyler Cowen 1:04:10
Of course, 10% of the profession should be working on that. Instead, people are doing these little narrow things to publish. But it’s hard to get a clear answer to the question we’re discussing. So no one can publish on it. referees will shoot down whatever you turn in. I would rather see people just write and speculate on the more important questions. But if you ask what do I think happened? Clearly, oil was a major factor.
Eric Weinstein 1:04:32
Let me give you just a little bit of of your do what you can’t do, but I can. Yeah, I think my favorite version of the graph that shows how violent this change was, is something that you focused us on. It’s not perfect, but it’s measured GDP, whatever the failures, we have that measure together with measured male median income, yes. And those two things are going up in lockstep. up before 1973 or so, and then one of them flatlines. And the other keeps going up. Is that graph something that you developed?
Tyler Cowen 1:05:10
I presented it. Obviously, the numbers come from other people. I’ve done a lot to draw attention to it, but I don’t pretend it’s original with me.
Eric Weinstein 1:05:19
Well, I think it was a great observation that that graph was so clean, that it caused people to stop denying that something happened. And then they almost immediately in my experience, and correct me if that if yours is different. They go from not believing that something really big happened to immediately telling you exactly what it was that happened that explains it and the rich people stole it all or something yeah, or it’s all about Bretton Woods or it’s all just about the oil shock.
Tyler Cowen 1:05:48
But I think the missing variable once you get to oil prices, over regulation, a number of factors that people have already discussed, but I think the increasing feminization of society is a missing factor in the salt equation, that norms have changed. Women as a whole are more risk averse, or much less likely to fight a war in a more feminized society. So in my opinion, this is very likely good on that. But change is harder to accomplish in some ways, and people are more comfortable with higher levels of regulation. And that’s how things are. There’s pluses and minuses, but it will slow down measured economic growth. Now, can we talk about
Eric Weinstein 1:06:32
to use your term a feminized economy, without the public in a public sphere, without having to celebrate everything that is feminized and demonize everything that was lost?
Tyler Cowen 1:06:47
Well, it depends who the UI is. Okay. I do think one should consider costs and benefits. And to a large extent men have accepted a more feminized society because it has very strong power. positives. So I’m completely sincere when I say on net, I think it’s a good thing. So give both experimental evidence and portfolio evidence, women are more risk averse. And as a norm, my guess is not proven. But my speculation is that really matters. And it is in addition to other factors about productivity and regulation and spending more and fighting pollution, and oil prices, and so on, which are at this point, more or less well known. And that’s why I think the slowdown has mostly persisted. And I do think you will have extraordinary periods like 1995 to 1998. When information technology to so many good things, it overwhelms the negatives. I think we’ll have more of those.
Eric Weinstein 1:07:42
So let’s assume for the moment that both feminization of some kind has occurred, right. And let’s also just stipulate for this purpose that it’s also net positive right, up until the present. Let’s imagine that going forward, far fewer women choose or able to form Families and become mothers. Sure. How does that change the equation potentially? Could that tip this increased level of feminization negative?
Tyler Cowen 1:08:08
Well, could it even now forgetting about the speculation? It’s a significant gain for elite men, and quite possibly a negative for non elite men. And you see that in the data very clearly
Eric Weinstein 1:08:20
due to marriage.
Tyler Cowen 1:08:21
Correct. So marriage as an incentive is much weaker for some subclass of men, who seem to be fairly numerous. religiosity seems to be down. total fertility is down. It’s now I believe, at about 1.8. It used to be at 2.2. And if you look at social indicators for a lot of men in the lower middle class, income or educational category, you see massive problems, and that’s part of the story.
Eric Weinstein 1:08:49
What sorts of economic behavior Do you see? Change with let’s say law Status males really taking the brunt of some of the shocks to our modern economy?
Tyler Cowen 1:09:08
Well, marriage is good for man on net, it feminized them for one thing. So greater
Eric Weinstein 1:09:15
health, lower depression,
Tyler Cowen 1:09:17
correct, less drug abuse, suicide rates lower and so on. And we’re seeing those variables for significant numbers of men move in the wrong directions median income, as you noted, as I presented, that has been stagnant for the median male earner. I think those numbers are, are across a long enough period of time. They’re unreliable in some ways, but that there is a problem is completely indisputable, to say, Oh, it’s gone up exactly so much between 1970 and today that is an illusion, but that it is a problem and indeed a crisis. That is very much a reality. And you see it again, in many other indicators, not just the income numbers. That’s how we know it’s
Eric Weinstein 1:09:56
real. What have women potentially lost from increasing feminization even if it’s net positive for them as well,
Tyler Cowen 1:10:04
again, women is quite a large category as men.
Eric Weinstein 1:10:10
Would you want to break it up into low status and high status females looking at some of the issues about how high status females use low status females to perform kin work that would otherwise have to be done.
Tyler Cowen 1:10:24
I mean, I would say this, there’s evidence that stress levels for a fair number of women are higher. If you think women now have the chance to have better careers, which is great for the economy, and very good for the person working if you’re in a career you enjoy. But at the same time, it may be hard to convince the men, they should take on a greater share of child rearing responsibilities. So the woman ends up having to do both, and the income level is higher, but the stress level is much higher. And I think there’s both scientific evidence and anecdotal evidence that is true. I couldn’t tell you offhand how larger class of women that is, but I do know it’s been studied pretty extensively.
Eric Weinstein 1:11:04
Why do you think it’s so difficult to discuss costs and benefits and even the facts of gender within economic theory without it becoming so contentious, as to effectively make the enterprise somewhat unprofitable?
Tyler Cowen 1:11:23
Well, it’s hard to discuss in many settings, not just in economics, I think actually, economics is one of the better settings to be able to have such discussions. There are two areas in academia where you can still say things that are either counterintuitive or possibly politically incorrect, and that’s economics and philosophy, and both are healthier for it.
Eric Weinstein 1:11:45
So to me that evolutionary theory,
Tyler Cowen 1:11:47
I know that area less well, may well be
Eric Weinstein 1:11:50
true. I would say that that’s probably my, I mean, it’s under a ton of pressure. Now, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that you If you allow political correctness into evolutionary theory, there is no subject.
Tyler Cowen 1:12:05
probably true. Again, I couldn’t say economics is under some pressure now. But it’s so data driven, that results Get out right. They may be reframed in particular ways or certain angles of it talk down or put into
Eric Weinstein 1:12:20
any thoughts about the wage gap.
Tyler Cowen 1:12:23
Well, which one between men and women? Let’s take that if you adjust for demographics, it mostly goes away. I do think there is also discrimination against women in labor markets, but I don’t know dude measured by the wage
Eric Weinstein 1:12:35
gap. Well, that’s that’s one of my problems. Like, I’ve gone so far as to claim that academic tenure is increasingly withheld because a large number of females find child rearing so fulfilling that it competes, even if they’re at the very top of their profession, as researchers and so by forcing people both men and women to wait longer and longer for a permanent job offer What you do is you start selecting out against a very talented, usually female assistant professor, who may discover the joys of raising three kids. And we’ll have a 15 year period of decreased productivity. I’ve argued we should abolish tenure
Tyler Cowen 1:13:20
to be more fair to women. There are other reasons. But that allow
Eric Weinstein 1:13:23
you think that that’s somewhat land there’d be absolutely the frustration being that those of us who think of ourselves as concerned with actual discrimination against women in the labor force may not want to sign on to the you know, women get paid 75 cents for every dollar that a man gets paid, because that’s not a good argument.
Tyler Cowen 1:13:41
And the elite men who benefit from tenure, they’ll just call it meritocracy. And somehow compartmentalize and not see how it’s an unfair system. But another thing I would say that I would really want to stress, there’s a lot of kind of tough talk on like the right wing about Oh, the claims of women about discrimination are overblown or incorrect, and so on, and I get where they’re coming from, but the discrimination against women in markets, it’s very real, it’s very significant. And our main self image of ourselves should be as problem solvers, who will reduce that discrimination and take on some kind of emancipatory perspective. To do that, I think you have to be objective about the evidence. If the goal is not at the end of it all to dismiss it, or the democrats are wrong or the left wing is terrible. It’s really the wrong approach, like focus on the individuals is a big problem. I tell people to come at it from a different perspective, I say come at it from greed. If you imagine the number of insights that are held between female ears, and putting up extra barriers within the workplace means that we have less, we have fewer minds that we can query.
Eric Weinstein 1:14:49
It definitely seems to be the case that given differential success rates if you believe in anything like intellectual equality, there should be a bonanza to be unlocked. from having women highly productive in the workplace, to me, to me greed, rather than obligation seems to me to be the right strategy. Not everybody loves that approach.
Tyler Cowen 1:15:10
Yes, but there is a collective action problem. So even if you as an individual, say an employer are greedy, there may be social norms that makes it hard for you to benefit from your insights. Yeah, because the other people in your workplace customers may have screwed up expectations and norms. And you can’t just wave a magic wand and kind of see through all the myths of gender and hire the right people, and automatically succeed. There’s some educational issue of collective action problem, where large numbers of us need to understand what’s going on better. And see which are the actual discriminations, which I think are often matters of expectations, and role models and implicit biases, which can be very strong.
Eric Weinstein 1:15:49
Well, you asked about gauge theory earlier, when we ran into trouble trying to introduce gauge theory into the core of economics. It was gonna have a very unpredictable effect because cuz it was going to be a backwards incompatible, there’s sorry a backwards compatible upgrade of the entire theory with making compatible also with the world’s most beautiful mathematics found in particle theory, General Relativity in differential topology. What I found was that there, economics was set up for it to be a battle, and that my wife and collaborator did not want the fight. And I was, I mean, I was just ready to, you know, to duke it out with these guys for the pure pleasure of shoving it down their throat as an extremely sort of male aggressive perspective on an innovation. And because it was under her name. Given that it was her thesis, and we would collaborate on part of it. There was no ability to actually have that fight so that the norms of the profession favored conflict. as a means of exploring something and that because women may have different feelings about how conflict should be handled. I worry that like in this instance where, you know, you had somebody from from the developing world who’s female, presenting a new idea that such ideas can get lost very easily if we don’t have a more balanced workplace.
Tyler Cowen 1:17:28
There’s a lot of self examination going on in economics right now about conflictual norms and have seminars are held. But I worry a bit will address the superficial aspects and be superficially slight concern and not change actually being rivalrous in the way that is screwed up. We’ll see how it evolves. This is a new movement. But so far, I’m not yet optimistic that we’ll get at the actual problem. You aren’t. Well, we’ll see in all fairness, the people who raise it are completely correct to raise that I’m on their side. But at the same time, we can’t be naive, you’ve got to realize problems are deeply rooted. And to just focus on the superficial symbols of the problem, you can end up
Eric Weinstein 1:18:12
not fixing things. So we’ve referred to this podcast as audio and video. Some has done that effectively. This is pirate radio for a new generation. You were famous within economics for a couple of moves that seem really nutty to me. And I think
Tyler Cowen 1:18:30
the first one is that you turn down Harvard to go to George Mason as an undergraduate because you thought you could spend more time reading the great the great works of economics is do I have my facts more or less, right? I didn’t apply to Harvard. I had a very strong academic record. Oh, and this was back in the late 1970s. I’m believe I could have gotten into many top schools. But I only applied to George Mason In fact, okay. So, my high school guidance counselor thought I was crazy I had as a teacher, you know, and so on good grades. But for me, this was a version of homeschooling, I was choosing homeschooling. And most of all, I hated the idea of living in a dorm. I consider that so barbaric, that as a 17 year old, I thought, I want a life. I want a car, I want an apartment, George Mason was a commuter school. It had an interesting economics department. But most of all, I wanted my personal space and ability for classes not to be too hard or have too much homework. And I would just work on my own, like every day all day long morning through night, and I did it.
Eric Weinstein 1:19:38
Was it a great decision?
Tyler Cowen 1:19:39
Well, it’s not for me to say I don’t regret it at all. I’m very happy I did it. But you know, great by what standard? It could be a lot of decisions you make ex post, you’re glad she turned out to be you. And you’ll endorse them. But that’s not quite as informative as actually seeing the Zonday trade off.
Eric Weinstein 1:19:55
Okay, but then you you went to Harvard for grad school.
Tyler Cowen 1:19:58
Correct. And it was nice. from you to get a job, right? And a research job, and then you came back to George Mason after a stint at UC Irvine. That’s correct. Okay.
Eric Weinstein 1:20:09
And you start choosing to blog.
Tyler Cowen 1:20:12
Yes, that’s correct. That was I think 2003 though, my memory could be off by UK.
Eric Weinstein 1:20:18
Now, this puts you in a group with people like Peter white in physics, who are starting to really upset standard academicians, if I recall correctly. Because the power of this blog to up end, what had been thought to be the meritocracy if you have somebody who can think and write very clearly in a lively fashion, suddenly they’re able to have a different kind of influence than you might have through a journal like econometric or something like that.
Tyler Cowen 1:20:49
But I’m not sure I upset people at first it was not taken at all seriously, so no one was upset. And then it was very quick all of a sudden, that it was taken very seriously. And then people decided They needed to suck up to me or to the blog. And there was not much of an intermediate period, or I fought some kind of war because
Eric Weinstein 1:21:06
I didn’t understand that. So in general, the power of this blog once it was realized, cause people to
Tyler Cowen 1:21:15
want to get along with you. People are very nice to me, as I think they should be. But they’re not always nice to each other. They’re nicer to me than they are to each other. Hmm. And that came suddenly. And before that happened, they just ignored me. There was never much hostility that I’m aware of.
Eric Weinstein 1:21:29
Well, I tried fighting you on a couple of points, but I was very ineffectual. So I can see that you’re,
Unknown Speaker 1:21:34
you’re I don’t feel I don’t
Eric Weinstein 1:21:36
Tyler Cowen 1:21:37
I don’t feel I’m one of these people who’s had to fight off this incredible opposition. And, you know, I persevered and they told me this and I stuck with it. That doesn’t ring so true to me. It was like I did my own thing. World like, who knows, but they weren’t paying attention, and then somehow magically, it
Eric Weinstein 1:21:52
worked out. And what do you think the current status of economics blogging, I mean, I just
Tyler Cowen 1:21:59
I mostly To the blogs have faded and have died. Who’s still in it?
Eric Weinstein 1:22:03
That’s worth reading.
Tyler Cowen 1:22:05
It depends what you count as a blog, but econ blog with Brian Kaplan, Scott summoner and other people is great. Scott summoners own blog is very good. Arnold cling asked blog, it’s called Paul Krugman is not really blogging anymore. The debates happen on Twitter, which I think is a less effective medium, but obviously, it’s quicker and in that sense, quote, unquote, cheaper. And, obviously, Facebook, Twitter and other social media have been out blogging, it’s been great for my efforts. We’ve played a kind of Last Man Standing strategy, and done very well with it. So I’m not worried about the death of blogging. My view is like, Bring it on, you know, just the death of Tyler Cowen that way, but until then, you know, blog will continue. Just ask the question, how many websites can you go to every day where there’s reliably interesting content to this new york times? There’s financial times there’s a bunch of others.
Eric Weinstein 1:22:58
What do you think the comments section of marginal revolutions your blog is a large draw.
Tyler Cowen 1:23:04
I don’t know, I think it’s pretty terrible. I hope it’s not a large draw. But since it has a lot of comments that must draw someone,
Eric Weinstein 1:23:10
it does seem to draw a lot of interest where people really want to mix it up there. I don’t know what
Tyler Cowen 1:23:15
people provide context for the posts. So I shut down the comments section for like, 10 days just as an experiment. Yeah. And all these people wrote me, they’re like, we know the comments were terrible. But they gave us context on your posts, because you would just say things we wouldn’t understand. And we’d read the comments. And now we know what’s at stake. So now I think those people are doing something pretty valuable, even though like the actual quality of what is said is highly variable to be generous.
Eric Weinstein 1:23:40
Do you have the sense that we’re part of a weird movement
Unknown Speaker 1:23:46
Eric Weinstein 1:23:48
I don’t know how to call it like thinkers who aren’t much recognized by the standard structures.
Tyler Cowen 1:23:56
Standard strategies diet, you
Eric Weinstein 1:23:58
aren’t like your You’re like Patrick Collison, for example, as somebody who a lot of our world that I share with you holds in very high, we hold him in very high esteem. I don’t know how many people in the country think of Patrick, as a mind rather than as a very rich CEO.
Tyler Cowen 1:24:19
Patrick is one of the smartest people ever. But I think a whole bunch of people know that now. Yeah. And
Eric Weinstein 1:24:26
do you think that he’s being tasked by our government to really think through difficult problems in technology? I would, I would ask him an RFP?
Tyler Cowen 1:24:35
Well, I don’t know what our government has in mind. I want to get back to this idea of like, who are the structures? So Marginal Revolution, it’s a blog, but I don’t view it as just about me. I view myself as editing a daily magazine for economists and other smart people, right. And like it’s the daily magazine for economists and related kinds of thinkers. So I don’t view it as like an outsider. thing anymore. I know it has this funny, weird early years of blogging look like a 1990s website. That’s like a retro inside joke. It’s so cool. I like it. Yeah. And I don’t even know how to make it better without it looking kind of stupid and gross. But like, I’m the establishment, not the only part of it.
Okay, so you’re going to pretend to be the so I’m gonna
Unknown Speaker 1:25:20
be the establishment. You can attack me
Eric Weinstein 1:25:22
now. Right? Well, who are the best heterodox thinkers that live sort of on the periphery of the consciousness?
Tyler Cowen 1:25:29
I don’t know what the term I’m serious you?
Absolutely. I wrote a blog post about you. And I said he defended for this podcast. I didn’t just defend it. defend you. I said Eric Weinstein is one of the most interesting people to sit down and have an extended intensive conversation with
Eric Weinstein 1:25:47
this is why it’s so hard to fight with you. If you couldn’t be kinder, but I’m I’m trying to think about whose signal we can boost at the moment. Like I think you remember when we went to that meeting on how to think about Measuring and reforming science for higher productivity. Laura Deming, for example, blew me away I thought she had saris great. She had some of the best insights. I don’t know how to boost her signal enough. She’s She’s somebody like Patrick, that I want more people thinking about. We have a mutual friend who is incredibly generative and very dangerous. Michael Vassar. intellectually,
Tyler Cowen 1:26:26
I’m never sure what’s up with Michael. I’ve spent time with him and been very impressed. But I just don’t know what he’s doing. Yeah, you enlighten me. No, but add sign right or you know
Eric Weinstein 1:26:38
what? No, no, I can tell you that he’s theorizing about woke as a concept. He’s much more for it without buying it in its own terms.
Tyler Cowen 1:26:49
That sounds like me, but what are his intermediate products? I
Eric Weinstein 1:26:52
don’t know. I mean, it’s just there are these people who many of us talked to over the years
Tyler Cowen 1:26:59
are Grant, you must know who grant is no, you don’t know grant, just GW ER and just Google to grant he is a man. You see, like the Daniel Martin Berger of our time. Dennis rocker, I doubt but I the will the way you put the question. Yeah. So Gwen lives in Southern Maryland, okay, and just like lives. And he writes these essays on the internet, and he collects information. He’s a phenomenal guy, very friendly. If you meet him seems super nice. I don’t know him well, but I’ve only positive things to say about my interaction with him. And his essays will blow your mind. Yeah, Scott Alexander. But this idea,
Eric Weinstein 1:27:36
okay, so slate star Codex.
Tyler Cowen 1:27:38
There’s no longer heterodox or orthodox anymore. ideas come from the internet. Whether everyone likes that or not okay, for the last 1015 years, and the people we’re all discussing are in various ways, significant players on the internet. And of course, it’s diverse, but they’re not like quite the outsiders anymore and either you Oh, Really,
Eric Weinstein 1:28:00
really, I don’t know that I can get my ideas inside of the institution. My claim is is that when the heterodox thinkers are finally invited back in,
Tyler Cowen 1:28:10
like, I think that you want to be invited to Council on Foreign Relations. They would bore the hell out of you.
Eric Weinstein 1:28:15
Not the way I do it.
Tyler Cowen 1:28:18
I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure they’re fine. They have a lot of smart people. I know a lot of people that are like them very much. I enjoy talking with them. I’ve never visited the place. Okay. But as an institution, yeah, I don’t think of them as changing anyone’s mind on anything.
Eric Weinstein 1:28:30
Yeah. And I don’t mind. No, but that’s part of what I think about like the National Academy of Sciences. I went for a meeting at the National Academy. And it’s very clear that they weren’t used to really heterodox ideas of a certain level in anything like the volume that we had them and the problem that I so I have this thing I call the disc, the distributed idea suppression complex. Yeah, and it has to do in this has to do with our mutual friend Peter teal. Who has a related bizarre version of a common idea with that we’ve talked a lot about his version is that the stagnation that he and I and you, I think have all discussed, is actually functional that it’s really important to retard the spread of great ideas, because in some sense, they may be so destabilizing to a fragile world. fascinating idea. It’s a fascinating idea. Peter, I would say would be one of the smartest people our age and again, too often as he’s referred to us of like, maybe. Yeah, he’s really, really quite good
Tyler Cowen 1:29:37
as an original, creative, generative thinker, and as a judge of talent, which are two related but separate things was like Peter could be the smartest person that I know.
Eric Weinstein 1:29:47
Well, in part. To make that argument. What I would say is that Peter does a better job figuring out who the generative heterodox thinkers are your objection? Notwithstanding to the term heterodox. And then what he realizes very often is that they don’t know the best way of putting forward their ideas. He’s also got another idea that academicians don’t understand, which I call max maximally compressed, minimally distorted, where he takes some idea. And he’s willing to give up a tiny amount of accuracy to make it extremely compact, so that when unpacked, it tells you a ton, and because academicians over focus on special cases, he very often runs the table where somebody will object to the idea that his principle isn’t exactly accurate, but it’s dramatically so accurate that the heuristic is just about overwhelming power. And of course, he’s used that to enrich himself quite considerably.
Tyler Cowen 1:30:51
Patrick Collison may be the quickest learner but I would say this, Eric, enjoy your triumph. So we live in this funny in between world where the old structures are all still there. We both have had the first half or so of our lives in only the old structures, the second half of our lives in the world of the internet. We’re the only generation that will be able to say,
Eric Weinstein 1:31:09
I guess a beautiful point.
Tyler Cowen 1:31:11
It’s beautiful. But when the old structures fade away, and you have more and more people who just grew up with the internet, like you are the mainstream and the Council on Foreign Relations, it’s like the heterodox thinkers who don’t have much influence, and I’m half teasing you. Yeah. But in fact, I mostly correct and you just don’t see it yet. Because these kind of status hangover is still there, though. I mean, they have like the thick oak desks, whatever. And they’re all
Eric Weinstein 1:31:36
that said, we want that it’s not that at all it has to do with the fact that I’ve been in both worlds. You know, I’ve been I’ve been at Harvard and MIT and Oxford. And I’ve also been shut out of luck. And the oscillation between being in the good graces and outside of the good graces. is impressed me a great deal. I think more than that it has with you because you’ve just charted a
Tyler Cowen 1:31:58
heterodox path. I’ve never been out of the good graces. Yeah, I’ve just been ignored at times. I’ve never felt like the stress or the failure.
Eric Weinstein 1:32:07
Well, okay, I guess in terms of opportunity costs, a lot of us view you as one of the most insightful and encyclopedic minds out there. You do an unbelievable job of sifting for us. And you’re an unbelievable expositor. And we would, we would naturally See you, as at the very highest echelons. I think that view is now much, much more widespread than it was 15 years ago, right. I mean, you’ve become time has treated you pretty well.
Tyler Cowen 1:32:43
It’s gone well for me. Yeah. Like if I’m just out in the world, and I don’t like go out to places much Yeah, at least once a week someone will recognize me. Or like more than once a day someone will write me and like Express.
Eric Weinstein 1:32:55
Let’s go clubbing on the Sunset Strip. People are gonna recognize you all. I’m
Tyler Cowen 1:32:59
Not sure that’s the place me But uh, I’ve had a lot of good fortune, I would say.
Eric Weinstein 1:33:05
So let’s talk about something you’re talking about being 17. At choosing to go to a commuter school, you were playing guitar back then.
Tyler Cowen 1:33:14
I think I started when I was 11 or 12. Yeah. And I quit, like around the time I was 17. Because I went to college.
Eric Weinstein 1:33:22
And your musicianship informed you in terms of what the structure of music really is, at its deepest level, you have strong opinions about music and culture.
Tyler Cowen 1:33:36
I was always terrible on guitar, I wanted to learn different fields of music. And I thought to do that you needed to play something. Yeah, understand basics of music, music theory, chords, whatever. So I did a bit like classical jazz, blues, every different kind of guitar just a bit to have an entry point into the world of music. It was never to play or impress people right ever played for people and was never good, but I could play play the notes of a song to see how it fit together.
Eric Weinstein 1:34:02
Okay? There is a kind of relativism that is descended over musical taste where every time I say something is better than something else, I run into somebody instantaneously telling me I’ve committed like I get a traffic citation that you can’t say, you know that that Bach is much more important or better than scarlatti. And I just don’t understand this complete abdication of any role in which, you know, informed judgment plays a role that we have to have issues of tastes that that say this is better than that, and then you’re allowed to take a look. You’re allowed to take a heterodox position on that. But we should be passing along our tastes and our prejudice and exposing it to discussion with other people rather than just finding relativist mush.
Tyler Cowen 1:35:00
Right. And I think the relativists often don’t mean it. What they’re really saying is on objective grounds I challenge the status of the person making this proclamation. And I will challenge the status by not accepting the judgment. But they’re not actually claiming that all matters and these are relativistic I don’t think of postmodern relativism are these booking in the way Jordan Peterson says, I’ve never bought that argument and Peterson’s exchange with Zack and their debate, I thought Peterson lost that part of the debate. Most people are objectivists whether they admit it or not, let’s just say what we think is correct and debate it. And David Hume, in the mid 18th century, wrote some wonderful essays on standards of taste and the test of time. I think he was essentially correct that matters of aesthetics are not objective in the same way that matters of fact are that you can measure and confirm them. But nonetheless, there is something about the judgments that informed people make that expresses an interest subjective validity, and it can be debated and judged. And it’s one of the things we’re here on earth to do. So try to take in wonderful music,
Eric Weinstein 1:36:08
what moves what moves your soul in music?
Tyler Cowen 1:36:12
Well, let’s start with classical music. My tastes are completely orthodox. So Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms. I’m quite fond of contemporary classical music or mid 20th century
Eric Weinstein 1:36:24
anybody who isn’t in the acknowledged highest highest Echelon?
Tyler Cowen 1:36:30
I don’t think so. I think my tastes are so remarkably close to what you would call the Canon in these particular areas that they’re boring. Do you think they find a lot of music before Bach maybe somewhat overrated? So palestrina is an important composer when I listen to it. I just don’t enjoy it as much as I buy opposed to but maybe my defect to him to my show. It’s fine. I don’t know. Just going to pray. I like it. I don’t love it. Anything from that. Period okay is fine in a slightly under impressed manner, do you think I think with Monteverde and then Bach things explode and become marvelous and amazing?
Eric Weinstein 1:37:11
Do you think even temperament is really the the central? Is that ground zero for the specific beauty of Western music?
Tyler Cowen 1:37:21
I think it’s development of instruments through capitalism and markets and growth of the middle class. And having more people experiment playing and composing pianos become much better string instruments become much better. You have the modern orchestra, you have actual audiences, and the interplay of those forces as opposed to music being more in the church, maybe closer to pure vocal music. I just think it’s much better and almost everyone in their heart knows that.
Unknown Speaker 1:37:49
Eric Weinstein 1:37:52
Tell me that. No, no, I’m actually I’m processing in real time. What excites
Tyler Cowen 1:37:55
you in classical music? I think Haydn’s under somewhat underrated closer to Mozart than people want to admit. Yeah, quite durable.
Eric Weinstein 1:38:05
Tyler Cowen 1:38:07
I mean, I guess I Mozart is amazing peaks. But a significant portion of what Mozart wrote is boring. The younger works are mostly boring.
Eric Weinstein 1:38:15
I often feel that I must have a hole in my soul because of the amount of Mozart that doesn’t land that I hear all of these people describing Mozart is this, you know, exact exactly perfect balance. And there’s something about the language that I find somewhat repellent so that I’m less likely to get along with people who are bananas over over Mozart, if if somebody is very clear about Bach, like, Bach is like heroin, it’s an addiction. You can’t you just can’t get enough of the stuff. I relate to that much more. I often say that there are mathematicians who will claim that Bach isn’t their favorite composer and I never believed them. But you know, take Mozart symphonies, which are obviously chronological.
Tyler Cowen 1:39:00
29 is quite good. And then not until, you know, maybe 36. You could say 3334. But before 29 they’re just boring. If they were somehow all gone, I don’t think there’d be any great loss. So most of Mozart, isn’t that good. I don’t think it detract from him. But even with Bach, there’s extreme selection, which Bach you hear you don’t hear most of the cantatas very much most of them are boring. Yeah, that was the main thing he created. So there’s some of that in Johann Sebastian as well. We don’t exonerate him from the Board of charge altogether. Christmas Oratorio, it’s pretty good. It’s not an incredible work. So even St. John’s passion, it’s quite good. Not as good as B minor mass or St. Matthews passion, right. So there’s extreme selection in the BOK, you’re hearing and thinking about
Eric Weinstein 1:39:47
we you know, the funny thing for me is that I had to swim upstream from Segovia, his translation of Spanish piano music onto guitar. I didn’t realize There was an entire world of Spanish piano music where the guitar wasn’t originally thought of necessarily as a, as a concert or art music instrument. It was more of a folk instrument. And so that’s been a huge wealth of of interest for me like listening to other Benny’s on on pianos.
Tyler Cowen 1:40:22
Amazing Alicia delarosa, right. She’s a wonderful performer of that. But the guitar music I find it very interesting to take some more modern like ambient music like Brian ina or the whole movement from the 1970s and listen and think through what was going on there. Right and then go back to earlier guitar music, Baroque but also the Spaniards and listen to it through that lens, and it just comes alive in a completely
Eric Weinstein 1:40:47
new way. I had that with Robert Fripp that Fripp was evocative of Zack earlier like Venezuela music or something like that. And I’ve never traced down why I felt that are you So,
Tyler Cowen 1:41:01
so we’re I’m a big fan of what is misleadingly called World Music, just listening to as many different musics as you can, kind of figuring out their logics. And then going back and applying it to what you already knew from rock and roll or classical music or jazz and seeing it all, you know, quite a new, or you that’s a very high productivity activity.
Eric Weinstein 1:41:19
Are you interested in in UHD? music?
Tyler Cowen 1:41:21
Sure, of course.
Eric Weinstein 1:41:22
So, I when I found linear Bashir in Iraq, I just my jaw dropped. I thought this was such gorgeous stuff. And then I sort of made my way to maneuver this year through Farida trash, who I think is unbelievable. And eventually I was listening in this middle eastern idiom. And I hear him start to play with blues and rock and roll on the food. And it was fascinating watching somebody from Iraq, who’d studied in Europe of course watching you there’s a for example. In it Stanford University. There’s this garden which I think has master carvings from Polynesia or Indonesia. And there’s versions of Rodin’s gates of hell and the thinker in this Polynesian, or or Indonesian idiom. And it’s just fascinating to see oneself regarded by the other.
Tyler Cowen 1:42:27
Sometimes I think the more interesting question is which musics Don’t you like? And to think through though so I’m going to ask you Eric, why didn’t music Do you really not like or cotton to? I think it’s just bad or wrong somehow.
Eric Weinstein 1:42:41
I have trouble with music that doesn’t allow us to impart more emotion because it’s too highly produced. And I’m pretty sure that has to do with the emotion because I find Jimi Hendrix very emotional I found that shares believe Where she uses the autotune function as an instrument rather than as a correcting of the human voice to be very emotional.
Tyler Cowen 1:43:08
But when I hear very, like computer oriented or can you name a name? Why do you reject? point the finger? Not cheese?
Eric Weinstein 1:43:17
Do I have to you have to
Tyler Cowen 1:43:19
do your podcast?
I myself the person isn’t listening.
Unknown Speaker 1:43:25
Eric Weinstein 1:43:27
I guess there was a time when I didn’t like Amy Stewart’s version of knock on wood, which was a great piano r&b song, because I found that it was so highly overproduced that I just couldn’t cut into it. that had to do with the disco influence. I’m choosing things now that I really dislike but I’ve sort of maybe come around because I find no look. You find something in just about everything that you live. Until it’s very hard to create music that’s completely devoid of interest. And so if I spend more time with something, even if it’s really bad, I’ll usually be able to find something in it that well that’s why it became famous and that’s why that’s why it’s being listened to. I’ve been down on EDM To be blunt I don’t think that I’ve some point we had a car ride with a friend and I said let’s put on songs we can sing along with the person puts on some EDM, there was nothing close to a campfire song.
Tyler Cowen 1:44:31
inside of it. I found that kind of sad. You buy into electronic dance music, heavy metal, I meant to say heavy metal,
Eric Weinstein 1:44:40
such as, I mean, there’s a lot
Tyler Cowen 1:44:41
of artistry and so I asked Ted joy this when I did my conversations with Tyler podcast with him. He’s one of my favorite music critics. so brilliant guy, you should have him on. But I asked him about heavy metal. I said underrated overrated. And he said, Well, it’s underrated. But I couldn’t get him to admit that he actually listened to it. Okay, so
Eric Weinstein 1:44:58
you want to go there? I think it’s underrated from technical musicianship and I think it’s often overrated in terms of what it does to heart Paul Gilbert.
Tyler Cowen 1:45:08
That’s exactly what he said. In other words,
Eric Weinstein 1:45:10
okay, so Paul Gilbert has a beautiful riff on this. He’s a, you know, obviously fantastic guitarists, but he says you can take a great blues guitar guitarist, teach them a lot of scales and turn them into a shredder devoid of interest, but with fantastic technical chops. I think that that’s really sad. I think that what one of the things I’m very concerned about is the fall off in interest in musicianship, like in guitar at the moment we have these fantastic guitar virtuosos who live on YouTube and Instagram. And the guitar universe is paying attention to them. But the outside universe is not. There’s this guy, Guthrie Govan who lots of people I know have never heard of this guy. He’s an unbelievable gift to the guitar. Where is he? What group? Is he part of what are his main songs? You know, he can he can be anyone and then he can be his own thing.
Tyler Cowen 1:46:11
He’s like the grandson of guitar, I guess.
Eric Weinstein 1:46:14
Yeah. But it’s very odd to me that or for example, percussive guitar. It was a guy named Justin king who did a song, oddly enough called knock on wood, which just showcases how many ways you can now interact with your instrument through harmonics and various, you know, patterns of drumming on the wood the way the flamenco guitarists used to be brought to a high level. I can’t get a lot of people interested in all of the weird innovations that are taking place a little bit like Rodney Mullen and skateboarding where originally you’re skateboarding on four wheels. And then his point is like, Well, okay, well, what else can we do? You’re thinking, Well, what do you mean? Well, maybe we could skateboard on the bottom side or on the sides of the skateboard, and you’re thinking, Does that even make sense and As was here, I’ll show you well that’s what progressive guitar has been for me. It told me that I didn’t understand the instrument more or less at all. Something else I’m really enthusiastic about is sugar blue on harmonica. Do you know this guy? not known to me? I don’t know the song is it on YouTube? Do you know the song miss you by the Rolling Stones? Right? Well, that that. That harmonica is sugar blue, obviously the guy who can thread that, if you break the harmonica into three registers, he can thread the top register like nobody’s business, and he and john popper of Blues Traveler are sort of locked in some artistic conversation the rest of us can barely understand, like, that excites the hell out of me because you’re taking an instrument that’s so limited. And you’re saying, well, it’s only limited to you because you haven’t figured out what you could do with it.
Tyler Cowen 1:47:44
Other than Bach, maybe South Indian classical music is the closest we have in music to mathematics. And at times, I think you should listen to that.
Because I would have said no, you’re somehow
Eric Weinstein 1:47:56
the North Indian. No, the South the Carnatic. Yeah, I think The North Indian. I mean, look, this is just a world that I knew nothing about. And I chanced upon this book of a musicologist named Neil Searle called something like Indian music and performance. You can find it on the internet with lots of little sound files that he made for a cassette way back in the day. And he took it an entire performance of romney ryan, the great sarangi players are the violinist. Man, this is just how did I not know there was an entire universe of Indian classical music. You may be partial to the south. I’m very partial to the north,
Tyler Cowen 1:48:38
south north along with Bach and maybe the Beatles. It has the only other serious claim to being the best music period.
Eric Weinstein 1:48:45
All right, The Beatles defend yourself. So what’s your take on three Beatles songs that
Tyler Cowen 1:48:51
are at least current in your thinking and that really show off how deep that cannon is? Was it 1966 you won’t see me it’s basically Paul song, but the melancholy had the background vocals operate. What’s done with the piano, the baseline that operates on so many different levels at once just sounds like a simple ballad. But every time you listen to it, there’s something new in there, complex emotionally. And then it’s just over. You never give me your money. The last 1015 seconds are just phenomenal. Paul had been listening to john cage and Stockhausen and just sound and what’s the dividing line between sound and music? And he just sticks that in the end of a Beatle song with a lovely melody, and the whole thing just dissolves. And then you get back to marching through the Abbey Road side to medley. Hey, dude, this is so many Beatle songs that I think are just phenomenally better than what other people are doing. And they synthesize more different parts of music than anything Bach did. That’s their claim to greatness in terms of his clothes, their goals. Okay, so the Beatles mostly Lennon McCartney. They’re composing these songs and they’re playing them and they’re singing them and they’re producing them. And they’re a plus excellent in all of those dimensions Yeah, on their best material. And Bach was a composer, probably an excellent player, we don’t really know. But he was reputed to be very good, easy enough to believe. The Beatles take on and added three or four dimensions that are not in classical music and master them. And then every album, they change their style. Every song, they change their style, they hardly repeat themselves. Yes, they have a lot of clunkers. They had the two best voices and rock and roll. JOHN and Paul was down and roll. All right. So they were pretty
Eric Weinstein 1:50:34
impressive. Alright, let’s have a small fight. We’ll get back
Tyler Cowen 1:50:36
Aretha Franklin when the Rolling Stones Paul, she’s wonderful. What would you have said she’s less versatile than that would
Eric Weinstein 1:50:42
have gone with Freddie Mercury and Roy Orbison, where am I wrong?
Tyler Cowen 1:50:46
Roy Orbison has eight or nine amazing songs which are incredible and the Beatles themselves Left Right. But that’s kind of a then it’s any Mercury, sir. Freddie Mercury has one album, two albums. You can listen to straight through his vocal effect is most of the time broadly the same? He’s one of the top vocalists. Absolutely. And I know you’re partial, maybe to Parsi culture, and where he comes from. Drag that in. But in terms of versatility, I don’t think he’s close to the Beatles. And I love Queen and I went to see them playing out with Freddie Mercury, but with Adam Lambert who did a fantastic job, I thought, I still listen to Queen. I’m a big fan, but they’re
Eric Weinstein 1:51:32
totally irrational way. I don’t think that’s true. I think that they’ve got maybe two dimensions. There’s like the shredder, early punk, semi metal style one and there’s the ballads. I just love my life. You hurt me. I feel like Brian Mays so incredibly tasteful. I agree. He doesn’t have to play a note more or less than he wants. He’s just not needy and they you know Roger Taylor’s I’m in love with my car, I think is one of the most comically brilliant songs I’ve ever heard. So, and I don’t even listen to that much queen. Are you familiar with the voice of Eva Cassidy given that you were in the Washington area for a long time only marginally, but I’ve never heard it live if that’s what you’re asking. Just there’s an album called Live at blues alley where she does a version of stormy Monday that just tears My heart and shreds and barely puts it back together by the end. It’s just unbelievable performance on a song. I thought I’ve heard everybody’s version of it. And just just as well, you haven’t heard this one. Apparently she was sick while the recording session was happening. And so some magic happened to her voice because of the illness. It’s really interesting. Cecile Maclaurin savant is my favorite cup jazz popular song vocalist and she’s active now I’ve seen her three times. I think she’s better than Ella Fitzgerald. She’s in her prime. She’s maybe about 30 plays or you know around in clubs very often has plenty of CDs. I love Ella Fitzgerald and never put her One is that
Tyler Cowen 1:53:01
it’s a little exaggerated and mannered. And she was trying too hard. Her technique is incredible. But it’s always excessively conscious of what the audience is thinking for me. You know, I used I enjoy it when I hear but I also never put it.
Eric Weinstein 1:53:18
I use it as like, the gold standard for lots of things like Cole Porter, and then at some point, it is. Yeah, I don’t I think that there’s something in my tastes that have changed with the time and I now just never I never reach for it. You know, like Art Tatum. I always enjoy him when I’m listening to his piano work, but I never think boy am I in an Arteta mood. Because how can you be in an Arteta mood? It’s so exacting and demanding on the ear that like that’s not something that happens.
Tyler Cowen 1:53:49
He might have been the one of the two greatest jazz pianist with monk but I are Cecil Taylor. Well, I don’t hear new things when I hear Tatum. It’s just perfect, right? It’s just it’s just It contains every style of its time and then some, but I don’t feel the need to go back to it. I’m okay with that. Yeah, okay, calm down in my eyes. But I think I feel like nobody was ever
Eric Weinstein 1:54:09
really able to work with. There’s a guy named Eric Lewis who I think I connect to Tatum and I start to see Oh, well, maybe if I saw this as being part of a, of a lineage, but it’s, there’s something about the fact that, you know, Hendrix didn’t really leave descendants on the guitar. And I feel like Tatum didn’t really leave descendants on the piano. Or the monk really surprised some
Tyler Cowen 1:54:33
ways. He’s a funny descendant of Tatum more than you would think, monk monk. He has very little technique. But the idea of integrating styles and making jokes he was, in my opinion, highly influenced by our Tatum. He just didn’t play the piano very well. But as a composer, he’s phenomenal. I don’t know. It could be the best jazz album. The theory is and I still listen to it.
Eric Weinstein 1:54:57
You ever take on The weirdness of Miles Davis generosity to us all in terms of leaving this beautiful legacy in his being a complete dick.
Tyler Cowen 1:55:12
Well, a lot of wonderful creators have been complete decks. There’s a long list of those Picasso. Some people have said john lennon I don’t know the full list. But he’s not some unusual data point to be explained. Partly there might be correlations between creativity and having unusual brains. Right, right. And then once you’re succeeding, you can get away with a lot more. And then drugs enter the equation for Davis, and Lenin, and bad things happen. So this is not a huge surprise.
Eric Weinstein 1:55:43
All right, so getting back to the Beatles, okay. When Lenin writes the song was how do you sleep right after the Beatles have broken up, he makes a reference to something about you didn’t see Sergeant Pepper’s or Sergeant Pepper Took you by surprise. You’d better
Tyler Cowen 1:56:01
see right through that mother’s eyes. Yeah, it means Paul McCartney. So he admits Sergeant Pepper was Paul’s album which I kind of was. That’s quite an admission.
Eric Weinstein 1:56:09
Well, is that
Tyler Cowen 1:56:11
Paul was the workaholic in the Beatles. Yeah, that’s the key point here.
Eric Weinstein 1:56:15
So what I hadn’t understood and this is only because I happen to weirdly be friends with john son Sean is Sean points very clearly to Strawberry Fields Forever as being the discontinuity in Lennon’s ability as a composer
Tyler Cowen 1:56:33
I agree with that.
Eric Weinstein 1:56:34
What Okay, how did I miss this and how do you see that?
Tyler Cowen 1:56:38
Well, I don’t know that you missed it. I did miss it. Is John’s group you look at Hard Day’s Night albums. There’s hardly any Paul songs on there as things you said today, which is amazing, but it’s a john album. And it’s pretty close to perfect even John’s like first real song Please Please Me one of the best Beatle songs completely visceral hits you in the gut. Still sounds amazing. But I think After Strawberry Fields john stopped innovating. He had an amazing voice emotionally which he still could use. You have songs like I Am the Walrus, which have a kind of even melodic line and a bit of pulsating. But when you start to hear john songs through the lens of if you applied machine learning to them, there’s a similar structure to a lot of the melodies they don’t move around that much the way Paul melodies do, and Paul being the workaholic just gets better and better and better and Paul learns from George Martin and Paul learns orchestration, Paul even became a good classical music composer. That’s phenomenal. And by the time of Sergeant Pepper, it’s Paul’s group and Paul is calling the shots Abbey Road side to is you know, basically Paul’s work Paul’s creation even with the john songs, a piece like tomorrow never knows, which is john singing. JOHN composed a very flat melodic line. But the whole construction of the sound was mostly Paul and Paul will take credit for that. So it’s becomes Paul’s group john feels more pushed out. It’s the start of the Beatles breaking up and so on.
Eric Weinstein 1:58:06
Yeah, so they’re these dynamics within the group that I’m not, I never actually studied the Beatles enough. But like songs like across the universe don’t really impress themselves upon you as being.
Tyler Cowen 1:58:18
It’s that same kind of even not much varying melodic line carried by John’s voice and mood, and the fact that it’s the Beatles. I like the song. But Paul is experimenting much more by then
Eric Weinstein 1:58:30
I see variants.
Tyler Cowen 1:58:32
But here’s the thing about how do you sleep by john it was I learned recently it was actually Paul who started that feud. Yeah, Paul had a song to many people. You know, that was your lucky break. And he was really mocking john like, Oh, it was lucky that you, you know, hung out with me. And john was retaliating people think john is the aggressor in that, but Paul was like super passive aggressive.
Eric Weinstein 1:58:54
Alright, then I want to put together a data series and I want you to get your reaction to it. So I’m gonna start with Gilbert and Sullivan. I’m gonna have Jagger and Richards Yeah, Lennon McCartney, Perry and Tyler and Aerosmith. What the hell’s going on with these dyads that are so combustible. We’re both really benefit from the antagonize relationship. And we end up with this incredible music but it’s it’s so effing personal.
Tyler Cowen 1:59:29
Well, it’s rivalry. It’s what really motivates people. Yes, it’s the money also, of course, but wanting to do better than the other and having the other as a mental audience. I think it was Peter teal who had this in one of his talks once that he has these different images of people sitting on the shoulder. What would this person think what would that person think? Ivan Eric Weinstein and Peter deal sitting on my shoulder among others, right? We all have dialogue. So I call it you know, like Phantom, Eric Weinstein or Phantom Peter teal. Do
Eric Weinstein 1:59:59
you run me an emulator?
Tyler Cowen 2:00:01
What do you mean by that?
Eric Weinstein 2:00:01
I try to run you in emulation. Sometimes I think about Tyler, like I start to get emotional about something. Tyler is not going to fall for that he’s going to be even keeled. He’s going to think about what’s likely to be true. He’s not going to think about how to make the biggest splash. And, like, I have these rules that can’t generate you and what I consider to be your brilliance and contribution, but it can it can generate a kind of thumbnail sketch of you without you needing to be present.
Tyler Cowen 2:00:31
Oh, sure. But it’s harder to have a phantom Eric Weinstein, because a phantom Eric Weinstein is about being generative. And that’s harder to model than a phantom Tyler Cowen. So if you think if part of me is even keeled, even keeled might be hard to achieve, but it’s not that hard to model it just like calm down. I can’t I have
Eric Weinstein 2:00:50
such I’m so driven by passion, hard to achieve, but not
Tyler Cowen 2:00:53
a model. So you might reject your Phantom Tyler can Let’s
Eric Weinstein 2:00:56
try one of the things I do is it has a very strong filter It says if the emotional register has been exceeded by this much of that much in either direction, Tyler wouldn’t do that call up Phantom, Tyler Cowen
Tyler Cowen 2:01:07
is right there on the phone. Even the real Tyler Cowen will probably answer the phone. But you’re harder to model
Eric Weinstein 2:01:14
for that reason. I’m incredibly flattered, even if that isn’t your attention. The idea that you would have a hard time doing that means a lot to me, Peter is an insanely difficult person for most of us to model because I don’t think it’s even consistent session to session. Peter is so driven by the search for something new, that whatever it is that he’s thought last is now incorporated into, well, that’s old. Where do we go from here? I mean, it’s just it’s a constant, it’s part of the model. So
Tyler Cowen 2:01:50
I have my own Peter teal model. Now you know, Peter much, much better than I do. But I think of it as you really do need to incorporate everything you know, into your current view, consistent Or you’re failing. So your views should be a kind of random walk. Because if you can predict their direction, it means you should already be where you’re headed. And there’s something wrong if you’re not. And the other part of my Peter teal model is the way in which he is an intensely moral thinker and how the moral element of his thought interacts with the cognition and strengthens it. And again, you know, Peter better than I do, though, he’s only that’s only moral human he, I will retreat, but that’s how I model Peter.
Eric Weinstein 2:02:29
He’s moral is religious,
Tyler Cowen 2:02:31
but that but it’s not just that it’s how the moral and the cognitive are integrated, you
Eric Weinstein 2:02:34
know, so I’m picking up in this weird feature. So I had him as the inaugural episode of the interview episode of the show. And I would say that one of the one of the reactions that people had is Wow, I’ve never seen this side of Peter. And of course,
Tyler Cowen 2:02:51
I’ve never seen any other I’ve never seen any other
Eric Weinstein 2:02:52
side of Peter so that that the delta between the private and the cartoon the private person in the cartoon character that the media portray is got to be one of the largest Delta’s I’ve known for any other human being sure,
Unknown Speaker 2:03:07
Eric Weinstein 2:03:09
Anybody else? Do you think we’re getting wildly wrong if we go by their media?
Tyler Cowen 2:03:15
Well, most people, I think, and plenty of these are people I don’t know. But my default assumption is if they’re very well known, the media is getting them wrong. Right. Not true in all cases, but it’s a better default assumption than the opposite.
Eric Weinstein 2:03:28
So I agree that that that’s true. But what I’m looking for is, where is the distortion?
Tyler Cowen 2:03:34
Most? Well, Charles Koch would be an example.
Eric Weinstein 2:03:37
Tell me about Charles Koch. I so I have the experience. people perceive me as being somebody who’s not going to be friendly to the Koch brothers. Certainly the the image of the Koch brothers, and a lot of people I respect, think very highly of the Koch brothers. And I noticed in myself that I have a module that says anything coke related has To be seen as the work of the devil like it doesn’t, I don’t even have a thought before the word Koch starts to tell me that this is something I can’t even entertain, which is fascinating because of my political mill you just noticing metacognitively Wow, I didn’t install that module. Where did how did it get there?
Tyler Cowen 2:04:17
Just to be clear of Koch foundation as a major donor to my university and programs I’ve connected with. Peter has supported some things I’ve done just for our listeners. Charles, I think in terms of being an execute or an integrator and synthesizer is the most impressive human I have met, as far as I can tell, no kidding that the high returns of Koch Industries over such a long period of time. And it’s not in a sector based on a kind of like trick. Well, Google obviously has done very well. I don’t want to call Google a trick. Search. It’s a kind of natural monopoly. Yeah, they’ve done a wonderful job since then, and YouTube and all that. Yes. Koch Industries has worked in pretty competitive sectors and earned high returns through competence and execution and understanding and developing processes which are replicable on a much larger level than the individual of Charles Koch or anyone else in a way that all the other impressive people we know have not done. So that is his and their most impressive contribution. But he is a man of the utmost integrity and to make it clear on issues such as climate change, I don’t at all agree with him. But I’ve known Charles for a long time. He’s absolutely a straight shooter, and does what he thinks is right, and is a great American, and is very much a person to be admired. Wow.
Eric Weinstein 2:05:42
And that’s reason enough to invite him on to the portal if he if he come.
Tyler Cowen 2:05:47
And there’s, you know, plenty of things I disagree with him about just
Eric Weinstein 2:05:50
to make a Charlie Munger is he’s somebody that you have had interactions with. I
Tyler Cowen 2:05:54
had never met Charlie.
Eric Weinstein 2:05:56
I had a dinner with Charlie and I was very impressed by I’ve heard that for many years be very tough, tough minded individual, but there’s a big payoff.
Tyler Cowen 2:06:06
Yeah, probably true. Yeah. I don’t even know what his media reputation is. Is it the opposite of that?
Eric Weinstein 2:06:12
I don’t know. My my sense of it is that he is happy to be overshadowed in the media by Warren Buffett but that to those who know he’s a powerful independent my I noticed that in my own work relationship with the Peter teal, people who don’t like me was out there always talking about use the word boss, but your boss did this, your boss said like they’ll really emphasize the the hierarchy, which is something that Peter has never done bizarrely. And it allowed me for a long period of time to move somewhat more quietly. Well, Peter got more of the attention and I don’t know that there isn’t a version of that at a different level, with with Munger and Buffett where Munger is known by everybody who should know who he is. And Buffett gets most of the headlines. Yeah, yeah. But any other like, famous famous, or they’re great arbitrage opportunities
Tyler Cowen 2:07:17
with other people’s reputations mask incredible contributions? Well, I don’t know if it’s arbitrage because if the people are famous, they’ve already been doing things right. So it’s not that you know, but for him to come along and hire them for a minute.
Eric Weinstein 2:07:31
Like, you know, Charo who used to do the Gucci Gucci act, right was a student of Segovia and a fabulous very talented classical guitarist, Dolly Parton. Phenomenal, kind of a genius who happens to hide behind, you know, a physique that draws most of the attention but she’s she’s really just an incredible thinker, correct artist on multiple dimension. Yeah, who else like this?
Tyler Cowen 2:07:58
Well, this is a controversial name, but my Michael Jackson and I don’t at all mean to excuse the things it certainly seems he has done. But as a musical talent, even before the bad news came out, he’s been grossly under appreciated. Getting back to the theme of creative individuals, often having these highly problematic elements, right?
Eric Weinstein 2:08:20
Well, this is this is this thing that I don’t know how to get at. In mathematics, I think we do an unbelievably good job of not removing the names of despicable people from their own work. So for example, I’m very partial to the work of a guy named Pascal Jordan, in the algebra of quantum mechanics and quantum theory, who is a committed Nazi, and there are tons of Nazis whose names are discussed, along with their work even in places like Hebrew University where I was for a couple of years. So it It’s a culture that says we don’t get to choose who brings the gifts and we don’t get to choose whether or not we acknowledge them just because they did something in the rest of their life. That was untoward.
Tyler Cowen 2:09:12
I think we should stop with the ex post purges, which are in any case, highly, highly selective. But that said, I’m never sure what is exactly the right policy looking forward. How do we do that? Do you think? I don’t think we figured it out. When I hear any side in that debate, I think they’re wrong.
Eric Weinstein 2:09:30
But they can all be wrong, or maybe they are all wrong, but I don’t think I have 100 my strategy for this I’d be curious to get your take on it. I think that we Jews should call for the destruction of the Arch of Titus, that commemorates the sacking of Jerusalem and the carrying off of Jewish booty by I guess Roman hands, with the idea being that this is so preposterous, that we should tear down this ancient arch. Even though you know Jews have always hated this Archer. That it will evidence to people just how insane it is to attempt to, you know, do this excision or exercise? I don’t know what you want to call it retroactively, when we obviously have a society built on structures of oppression.
Tyler Cowen 2:10:17
I don’t think it would show people bad. I don’t think it would be digested or interpreted properly. And here’s my worry. So you can say, well, we’re going to have a moratorium on canceling people in the past, right, but the past and the present are not so neatly separated. And there are people who are a part of the past but also part of the present number of people in comedy, but many others who are either active or they would be active if they would be allowed to be active.
And in those cases, I’m not sure what we should do.
Eric Weinstein 2:10:47
Do you have a strong feeling on Louie ck seems to be the case that a very large number of people want to see him return in a very large number of people want to make sure that that does not happen.
Tyler Cowen 2:11:00
I don’t know all of the details that maybe he’s done things I would find worse than I thought. But the marginal cases, I tend to believe we should allow for rehabilitation in general, I believe in second, third and additional chances. And it’s striking to me how many people in the political debate will be Oh, ex convicts. You know, we need to allow them to have jobs and rehabilitate them and welcome them back into society. But these other offenders, often they’re white men, right away. They cannot in any way be allowed back on the concert stage or wherever. Maybe you think they you know, ought to be working in a cafeteria somewhere. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure those emotions and intuitions are not consistent.
Eric Weinstein 2:11:42
Are you conflicted yourself?
Tyler Cowen 2:11:44
I’m conflicted myself. My gut, which I’m not saying is correct, right. Clear, is for second and third chances. But I understand incentives matter as an economist, and if everyone gets, you know an n number of chances, then penalty These don’t matter so much. So that’s why I’m conflicted.
Eric Weinstein 2:12:03
I was thinking about having I keep threatening to do this somewhere I have a list of like 20 paradoxes, which I’ve called the Hilbert problems of so social justice, named after the famous mathematical problems, and that there’s certain intractable problems that have to do with contradictory impulses, where you can show people that there’s no way of solving these puzzles, but they still insist on trying to apply these axioms and heuristics as if they lead to a compatible social ordering. Is there any way in which people can be dissuaded from trying to purge themselves of the fruits of all oppression? By showing them what that would actually mean? Do you think?
Tyler Cowen 2:12:44
I don’t know. But again, the view that we purge nothing may be problematic as well. My own podcast series conversations with Tyler I’m doing one in two days with a fellow Shaka cinco or who is a convicted murderer. Oh, I love Shaka. Ivan man. him yet spent 19 years in prison seven years in solitary 36 times was written up for some way treating guards badly. has, you know, confessed to, you know, these charges? And I had to think long and hard like, should I do a podcast with shock?
Eric Weinstein 2:13:16
Oh, no, you’re doing you’re making a great decision. And that was the conclusion
Tyler Cowen 2:13:19
I arrived at. But it’s still a question right? Now you
Eric Weinstein 2:13:24
I found Shockley to be I mean, I’ve only it’s very weird out there all these people in my personal and private life, who are now coming up potentially in the context of shut should I have a podcast with them? I think Shaka you can ask almost any question about his time in prison about what the transformation has been. And I think you’ll get a very credible answer. I thought I found him incredibly thoughtful as a theorist about the entire system.
Tyler Cowen 2:13:55
That’s also my sense, but the question of does the fact that we can learn Someone in any way exonerate them? I would still say, I don’t have a clear answer to that. It’s true. But I guess it matters for me at the margin for selfish reasons that matters. I’m really looking forward to talking with Shaka. But if you try to generalize, I don’t know where we’re left.
Eric Weinstein 2:14:17
Let me give a really clean example because the person is no longer with us. And I think that the artistic contribution is more fascinating than we care to admit. Have you ever heard the song by Charles Manson called look at your game girl?
Tyler Cowen 2:14:33
I’ve heard that there are songs by Charles Manson, but I’ve never heard it. I don’t think so.
Eric Weinstein 2:14:38
I struggle with this because it’s an incredibly beautiful performance to my ear and the human being who created it is obviously almost synonymous with a level of madness and depravity that we wish to insulate ourselves from. I don’t know how to reconcile that because I I see the sense of tivity and the gift and my feeling about it as a song, if you could just disembody it. I think it’d be a great song. If you actually think about what it is that you’re choosing to promote. This is not a very famous song because of its association. I think it would be a huge disservice if its popularity came to have us reevaluate. It’s often
Tyler Cowen 2:15:29
when the john lennon song Run for your life comes on the radio, which is a song about wife beating, it seems I do actually change the channel. I’m not sure I’m consistent, but it bothers me and that’s john lennon. And I don’t want to listen. Are we not entitled to some hypocrisy? I mean, like, why but we need optimal hypocrisy. Well, you need a kind of consistently consistent optimal hypocrisy and no one’s found
Eric Weinstein 2:15:55
that I really like that because I
Tyler Cowen 2:15:59
I felt But I can’t get through a day without my hypocrisy, and people are always trying to take it away from me. And all I really want to do is to minimize it. And to make sure that it’s functional rather than just a complete dodge. But we also need some hypocritical sanctions against hypocrisy. So there are multiple layers. Yeah, right. So you can’t just sit content in your hypocrisy, even if it’s optimal.
Eric Weinstein 2:16:22
Tyler, I could have you here for the rest of time. Can I instead say that you’re welcome to come back. Anytime I would, in fact, love to talk to you about gauge theory and other matters of how do we push the economics profession forward. But, you know, there are a million topics I could talk to you about, have absolutely nothing to do with our area of professional overlap.
Tyler Cowen 2:16:46
Will you consider coming back, I would love to come back and I’m still planning on having you on my podcast, which we absolutely will do, and might have even happened now. If you hadn’t invited me on to yours.
Eric Weinstein 2:16:56
Well, I would be completely honored and it would be fantastic adventure. So thanks very much for that. Well, let’s make that happen.
Tyler Cowen 2:17:03
Eric, it’s been a great
Eric Weinstein 2:17:04
pleasure. Okay, you’ve been through the portal with our guest Professor Tyler Cowen. Make sure that you subscribe to this podcast on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts and go over to YouTube and try to find our channel and make sure that you subscribe and click the bell to be notified when our next episode drops. Thanks very much
The Portal podcast transcription series
- Peter Thiel
- What is The Portal?
- Werner Herzog
- Timur Kuran
- Rabbi David Wolpe
- Jocko Willink
- Bret Easton Ellis
- Andrew Yang
- Bryan Callen
- Julie Lindahl
- Sam Harris
- Vitalik Buterin
- Garry Kasparov
- London Tsai
- Garrett Lisi
- Tyler Cowen
- Anna Khachiyan
- Eric Weinstein – State of the Portal 2020
- Bret Weinstein
- Sir Roger Penrose
- Ashley Mathews (Riley Reid)
- Ben Greenfield
- Agnes Callard
- Kai Lenny
- The Construct: Jeffrey Epstein
Geometric Unity – a First Look
- James O’Keefe
- Daniel Schmachtenberger
- Eric Lewis
- Jamie Metzl
- Ross Douthat
- Ryan Holiday