Tyler Cowen Has Been on Fire

Tyler Cowen is my odds-on favorite for public intellectual of the year (if not decade). I’ve run the data through my models and it’s incontrovertible.

But seriously, Cowen has had two terrific pieces on bubbles (and has consistently been the sanest, and therefore best, observer of Trump).

On bubbles, both pieces are worth reading in full, but just a taste of the first one, Ways to Burst Your Filter Bubble:

So I have a second proposal and one you may find less pleasant, perhaps precisely because it may turn out to be effective. Keep a diary, write a blog, or set up a separate and anonymous Twitter account. And through that medium, write occasional material in support of views you don’t agree with. Try to make them sound as persuasive as possible. If need be, to keep your own sense of internal balance, write a dialogue between opposing views, just as Plato and David Hume did in some of their very best philosophical works.

Cowen also mentions my personal favorite, Bryan Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test. If you can convince the other political team that you are a co-believer, then you have demonstrated comprehension of their political views. Until then, you’re fighting a strawman.

The second bubble piece, Ollie the Bobcat, Trapped Again in Washington’s Bubble, is a real something-for-everyone doozy. I don’t agree with all of it, but I admire Cowen for following his own advice.

On Wednesday, the female bobcat Ollie — who had escaped from her enclosure two days earlier — was discovered at Washington’s National Zoo. This may seem like a trivial event, but it does reflect some major themes of our time. . .

First, we Americans play it far too safe, most of all when it comes to our children. After Ollie’s escape was reported, 13 nearby schools canceled their outdoor recesses, even though bobcats are not a threat to human beings (they prefer very small prey). Better safe than sorry seems to be the national childrearing philosophy, but the phony threats are causing us to overlook real dangers to our children, such as the national debt and mediocre political institutions. At least the kids won’t be done in by a 25-pound feline.

A Straussian dig at the innumerate fear of terrorism and the folks who sneer at the innumerate fear of terrorism. We’ve all got innumerate fears. The political history of regulation is one of innumerate fears.

Dare I suggest that Ollie has shown us that walls do not work? The National Zoo supposedly has foolproof enclosures for its animals, but Ollie made a 5-by-5-inch hole in her cage and simply climbed out. A nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico won’t be easier to police.

That one needs no explaining.

Ollie’s walkabout also illustrates a problem in gender relations. She shared her cage with two male bobcats, and perhaps they were part of the reason she left. Furthermore, the public descriptions of Ollie show a kind of gender bias: Her keepers called her as “standoffish,” whereas a male escapee might have been called “independent,” “adventurous” or “entrepreneurial.”

Bam. Didn’t see that coming, Mr. Economist Man. Something for everyone.

Upon capture, the treatment of Ollie shows why health-care costs are escalating so rapidly. Today she will be given a full medical examination, even though it seems she did little more than walk around some fairly posh parts of town. The rule seems to be that if we can give someone or something a full checkup, we will. Ollie did have one small scratch on her paw.

Just when you thought your affiliation bias was tenderly cared for, Cowen gits his dirty hands all over your ‘BamaCare.

The saddest part of the Ollie saga is that, believe it or not, not everyone cares so much about freedom . . . [Ollie] was found by the bird cages, shortly after the zoo reported it was giving up the search. It seems she is more of a homebody, preferring federal rule, federal housing and a heavily regulated diet to a tax-free life on the lam.

Wait. Wuhhh?

I think the moral of story, as set forth by Cowen, is a little corny. But, I’m nitpicking:

So what’s the bright side of this whole story?

. . . [I]t turned out our patience — our bobcat — never really went away. She was hanging around the whole time, right under our noses.

So just when things appear to be hopeless, just when our government appears to be ridiculously impatient, and the long perspective no longer seems worth the struggle and search, perhaps our American rigor, determination, far-sightedness will appear once again, as if by magic. Right here in Washington.

Bobcat lore also holds that “bobcat people are typically already learned in the importance of keeping silent about sensitive affairs.”

If only a few food traps out by the bird cages would do the trick.


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