Tyler Coen didn’t just drink coffee twice in his life. Tea is drunk only if someone offers it. Don’t touch alcohol. “Alcohol is bad for everyone’s productivity.”
Instead Quinn’s drug of choice is information. He’s not just an addict – he’s a traveling salesman, a businessman. Through his blogs, podcasts, and books, he posts big ideas and high-level trivia. He is among the most selective of economists. He is in favor of markets and big business. He insists that artificial intelligence, starting with chatbots like ChatGPT, is about to change the world. But he also writes about restaurants, movies, and books—because he enjoys them, and because he’s convinced that culture shapes markets (and vice versa). People should collect more information about music, the economy and books. So I try to show them how to do it.”
Quinn, professor of economics at George Mason University in Virginia, has become a cult figure among the highly educated elite bent on self-improvement. In Marginal Revolution, the blog he co-founded in 2003, he highlights the latest research on, for example, why the gender pay gap in the United States has stopped narrowing (family leave policies) and how long Roman emperors lasted before they were killed. Loyal readers include author Malcolm Gladwell and, according to Quinn, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak. But he wants more. Launch an online university, consisting of free economics modules.
He told me, “It is my personal ambition to be the person who has done the most to teach the economics of the world, in a broad interpretation.” When I ask about his rivals for that title, he starts by naming Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes.
The Quinn Economy brand is functional. Last year he and entrepreneur Daniel Gross published a book, talentAbout how to hire creative people. Some organizations avoid unstructured interviews, fearing that they discriminate against candidates. Quinn celebrates such free-spirited interviews, especially if the interviewer asks about things they really care about.
He often takes pleasure in being contradictory. When we meet in London, the consensus is that the British economy couldn’t be much worse. did not agree. “I see the south of England – London, Cambridge, Oxford – as one of the most wonderful parts of the world, and one of the few places where you can really give birth to and carry out a new idea. You see it with [Oxford Covid-19] Vaccine, you see with DeepMind [Google’s AI unit founded in London]. This corner of England: it has already overtaken Singapore on the Thames. Singapore has been left in the dust! “
Doesn’t Britain lack animal spirits? “It’s partly true. I hope you have a hard work ethic and have a lot of money.” [seen as] Definitely more positive. But it will not be like America everywhere. The strong suits here are very strong. London is literally the best city in the world.”
This is the Cowen model: quick to rank people, places, and cultures. Others might say, for example, that all major cities have good Asian food these days. “That’s not true! While there are plenty of good Asian food in Paris, you can’t really stumble upon it.”
He has an unfashionable love of generalization. “People think those things anyway, they’re afraid to just say it. Why don’t you just say what you think?” He sees himself as “more psychologically integrated. My natural hope is just to tell you what I think.”
He wants to push economics beyond academic methods. He hasn’t written any peer-reviewed articles since 2017. “I’ve done a lot,” he says. “A lot of [economics] Very tight. I’ve tried to engage with real world issues and express uncertainty when and where I feel like it. I think that resonates with a large number of people.”
Quinn, 60, wasn’t always so nosy. He grew up in New Jersey with little interest in exotic food or travel. Then in his late teens, he began traveling to New York, doing concerts, crowds, and used bookstores.
His first economic papers were accepted by journals when he was 19, and he was a tenured professor at 27. But blogging has allowed him to find his audience. The modern internet has completely changed my life.
Quinn’s Great Power reads. He considers himself an over-reader, and has an amazing ability to read. “If it’s a non-fiction book where I know something about it, I can read maybe five books a night.” He starts reading shortly after 7 am, and eats dinner early, around 5 pm, finding that it helps him function better in the evening. (Although he likes the variety of cities, he lives in suburban Virginia, in part because of the tax rate.)
His lists for the best books of 2022 included 36 titles, including his own talent, provided not to be shy: “These were the best books!” Yet he is open to non-readers: “Perhaps books are overrated. Travel is underestimation. Among the intelligently educated, books may be slightly overrated.”
Hyperlexia is often associated with autism, but Quinn does not experience the social difficulties that autistic people often feel. In person, he’s engaging and direct, and his answers are often helpfully blunt.
Conversation, like reading, is a way of gathering information. But this is not enough. “If you only read, you might still be an idiot.” It’s writing that “forces you to make up your mind about something. If you’re getting something written every day, no matter how long it is, it amounts to a lot. It’s the people who go many days without writing that have productivity problems.”
Since 2003, Quinn has been writing every day — “Sunday, birthday, Christmas, whatever.” On Christmas Day, he blogged about China’s Covid-free policies. On Thanksgiving, he asked why coins weren’t worth more than a dollar.
What is Quinn’s overall doctrine? He seeks to present issues that are “drained of emotion”. This leads him to be optimistic about human progress, not unlike a psychologist Stephen Pinker‘s. He calls himself a moderately libertine, and has teamed up with the foundation of billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel. He also defended classical liberalism against right-wing populism, arguing that the latter, by arousing distrust of the elites, might accelerate the “Brazilization of the United States”. “I don’t know if I’m a centrist on issues, but I focus on mood and approach.”
He is excited about technological change, but favors institutional continuity, even if US policies seem broken. “My basic hunch is, if GDP per capita is 30-40 percent higher than that of most peer countries, it probably won’t change. I’ve always been anti-Trump. [but] I don’t think Trump will win again, or even get the nomination again. But it seems to me that the system is working. And we’ve had a lot of policy changes recently, not all of it good, but it’s not stalemate at all.”
What makes him Quinn’s open-mindedness? He supported tax cuts for former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, which led to her ouster from office: “I thought the market overreacted”. In March 2022, he gave an interview Sam Bankman Friedfounder of the defunct crypto platform FTX, declared it “excellent”.
(That interview featured Quinn’s rambling question: “I think the best French fries in the world are in southern Argentina, in Patagonia. Where do you think they are?”)
Quinn first met Bankman Fried a decade ago. They played chess, which is a different kind of game. “It was good. He was better at chess than at chess. It’s a very important concept to understand for FTX. You have four people and two boards. If I take your piece on this board, I hand it over to my partner, and my partner can cut the piece down instead of making a move. You can You’re in this desperate situation, and suddenly your partner hands you a queen. So there’s no balance sheet in crowded chess. Things come out of nowhere to save you. You play desperately and you take a lot of risk. If people play bughouse, that’s their basic mentality.”
Quinn is a talent spotter. After Bankman-Fried interviewed, would he have hired him? “I would fund him as a VC, I don’t know if I would hire him. One thing Daniel Gross and I would say talent She: Conscience is the hardest trait to judge and the easiest to fake.
in the area
What gift do you give most often? CDs, maybe. But the real present is information: you are telling someone about something. Then only money, right?
Will more wealth make you happier? number. [But] Maybe when I’m 84, I’ll be in a better nursing home, and that will make me happier.
About cancel culture: The left wing is canceled more than the right wing. [In universities] Moderate-to-left Democrat women are the demographic most likely to be eliminated. Right men are relatively safe.
Cowen remains bullish on cryptocurrency. “Encryption is a really new idea. And people shouldn’t just throw it away.”
In general, he sees the disorder as not a threat. “YouTube is the most important medium of education in the world,” but prestigious universities and large state universities “will continue to do well.” He says humans will overcome AI disruption too, though he challenges economists to try to predict the ramifications more accurately. “We can’t predict business cycles, and we can’t predict the effects of new technologies. Surely this should humble us a bit?”
He plans to focus less on writing and more on speaking appearances, to adapt to a world where readers spend time with chatbots. If they build a really good GPT [chatbot] Who imitates me, I will be really happy. It will make a copy of me immortal. I’m 60, I have tenure work and other sources of income, so not everyone is in that position.”
Quinn’s optimism has limits. “The chance of nuclear war in any year, I’m more optimistic than most. But if you run enough years, it will happen. How many years do you have to run before the chance is that great? My estimate was 700 to 800. You can argue about the number, but it’s Not a million years. I don’t think it will kill all humans, but it will destroy what we consider civilization.”
However, this possibility did not seem to bother him. “If we have better institutions, and make better decisions, we can make a difference.” At the moment there are talented people to discover, interesting ideas to nurture. He leaves our interview, no doubt, to empty the libraries of London and fill his life with as much information as possible.