Tyler Cowen: Discover Your Inner Economist

Posted on January 19, 2011

Use incentives to fall in love, survive your next meeting, and motivate your dentist.

Economics can solve all sorts of things. It’s not just about money, it’s about ‘maximum utility.’ Tyler Cowen, owner of the best economics blog in the known universe, walks us through how we can use economic theory for all sorts of things, from running better meetings and getting your kids to wash the dishes to eating at restaurants.

If you read his blog, you will be familiar with his style. Rather than producing one coherent thesis, he’ll discuss the problem at hand and then give you an ordered list of ways to deal with it. The best insight I gleaned? Have meetings where everyone stands. Boom, short meetings. There’s more to his theory, but that’s the crux of it.

Cowen is also the author of Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide, a deeply comprehensive exploration of the dining options in the DC Metro area. In ‘Inner Economist‘ you find out his philosophy behind eating out. His logic may surprise you. Order the thing that sounds like it will be the worst. The restaurant obviously has it on the menu for a reason, so go for it.

He adds to the conventional wisdom that the best restaurants are not found in the classiest part of town or have the shiniest exteriors. What makes this book great is he explains the fundamental truths as to why this is. Low rent = more money for good ingredients/talented chefs.

His later chapters tend to drag. He spends a great deal of time talking about ‘signalling’, how you portray yourself to the world. Although he shows us some fundamental truths (Professors at crappier universities display their titles more often than those at higher tier ones; everyone thinks they are better at things than other people), I felt that it delved into the realm of ‘over thinking it.’

Cowen even has a chapter devoted to ‘beating the 7 deadly sins.’ The idea is that you can use the shining power of economics to improve yourself, but I’m still as fat as ever.

As a fan of both the writer and the subject, this was a great read. I felt like I had spent a couple hours figuring out how Cowen’s brain works as well as surviving some solid knowledge bombs. For those who are a fan of ‘over thinking it’, like me, this book is well worth your time.


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