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The Torch of Progress

The Torch of Progress – Ep. 2 with Economist and Author, Tyler Cowen

Ashley Yates
Episode 2 of The Torch of Progress features Tyler Cowen. We’ll be talking about why he proposed the field of “progress studies”, what he thinks of how the field has developed so far, and his thoughts on The Great Stagnation almost a decade later.


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In This Episode We Discuss:

(0:17) Welcome: About The Torch of Progress and Progress Studies for Young Scholars

(1:20) Upcoming guests: Patrick Collison, Max Roser, Deirdre McCloskey, and Joel Mokyr

(2:10) Introduction of Tyler Cowen

(3:20) Recap of Stagnation hypothesis and the status of the debate about it in 2020

(3:57) Economic growth began to slow in 1973

(5:40) How is it a fair comparison if you exclude the top area of progress (computers)?

(7:25) A lot of computer companies are not revenue generating. What about Airbnb, Uber, Google, or Facebook?

(8:32) Hypothesis that science itself is slowing down

(11:30) Is slower growth actually optimal?

(13:20) Hypothesis for potential factors explaining the stagnation (implementation, lack of low hanging fruit, cultural elements)

(23:45) If you were given a large budget to build a new type of research and development organization, how would you structure it? – Fast Grants and Emergent Ventures

(30:10) Progress Studies

(30:50) Is there a need for progress advocacy/movement?

(32:25) Progress studies inside academia vs. outside

(34:05) Where would you like to see it go from here?

(35:20) What is a book that no one has written that you would love to read?

(36:50) What advice commonly given to teens is actually wrong? Q&A from the audience:

(38:38) Could you see China overtaking the US in leading human progress?

(40:05) Would higher/lower economic growth rates be better for lowering global catastrophic/existential risk?

(43:30) General advice for someone entering undergraduate economics with regards to long term goals and what to focus on

(44:37) How much of progress is dependent on societies holding Jewish/Christian view of progress?

(47:00) There is a lack of low hanging fruit in traditional topics like physics/chemistry, but aren’t there low hanging fruit in newer topics like robotics or AI?

(48:20) One cause of stagnation might be the focus on fake growth vs. real growth (encouraging tech/science). What are some strategies to achieve real growth?

(50:00) Is there a finite or infinite amount of progress that can be made?

(51:00) Will progress studies need to keep changing because the answers keep changing?

(52:40) To what extent is government intervention in the economy and other sectors a hindrance on growth?

(56:19) In an interview with David Porell, you said that the scarce resource of our time is motivation. Quoting you, “The real scarce input is the preacher, the moral, the leader, the inspirer, the mentor, the role model.” What explains this scarcity?

(57:45) What is something you believe is true about progress even though you can’t prove it?

(58:40) Follow Tyler Cowen on his blog, Marginal Revolution or his podcast, Conversations with Tyler

About Tyler Cowen:

Tyler Cowen is Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University and serves as chairman and faculty director of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. With colleague Alex Tabarrok, Cowen is coauthor of the popular economics blog, Marginal Revolution, and co-founder of the online educational platform Marginal Revolution University. A dedicated writer and communicator of economic ideas, Cowen is the author of several bestselling books and is widely published in academic journals and the popular media. Cowen’s latest book is Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Antihero. He writes a column for Bloomberg View and has contributed extensively to national publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and many others.

Previously on The Torch of Progress:

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