Like any sensible person, I view Tyler Cowen and his work at Marginal Revolution with a mixture of envy and awe, the first arising from his prodigious intellectual gifts and the second from the professor’s incredible productivity. The bi-weekly “What I’ve been reading” posts point to a ridiculous breadth of knowledge on literally hundreds of complex topics. One wonders if he ever sleeps, particularly in light of the fact that he returns all of his emails from readers. (It occurs to me that he might not be happy I mentioned that).
One Marginal Revolution reader once asked Cowen to explain how he remained so productive. He responded, I think paraphrasing someone else, that:
The first step in time management is understanding that right now you are doing exactly what you want to be doing.
How can this be in the absence of both Mila Kunis and a Fijian beach? The professor’s point, to the extent I understand it, is that each moment is a reflection of the extent of available options, in a context generated by all previous decisions.
The average American male is 5’9 ½”, 191 lbs, has a BMI of 27.8 (18.5 to 24.9 is “normal” range according to the hardly-unbiased Livestrong) and watches 28 hours of television per week. For most, this implies a need to separate “what you want to be doing right now” from “optimal”.
There are people on both sides of the argument, but any survey will tell us that no one regards the current state of financial regulation as optimal. The question that follows from professor Cowen’s philosophy is then the extent to which the current status quo reflects an aggregate “exactly what we want to be doing”, a homeostasis of conflicting political and economic points of view. Outside of the rent-seekers themselves, there exists little support for ongoing levels of corruption but, on the other hand, there is no support for widespread obesity either.
There are ten different ways to take this, but it seems to come down to an assessment of whether there is a pent-up willingness to sacrifice shorter-term gains for longer term, closer-to-optimal outcomes. If shown direction, does the social will exist to fight the long, arduous battle to curb the financial industry’s clear success at regulatory capture? I suspect that the average level of determination among American citizens in this direction is building, possibly but not probably inexorably. It will depend of the frequency and strength of political and economic catalysts.
It is also infinitely possible that we are “happy enough” with the status quo for all its faults, unable to let go of higher corporate profits, underwriting, big bonuses, televised drivel or Baconators in favor of some egghead-derived reflection of full-employment Utopia. Either way, the exercise of looking at finance, politics, media and anything else as potentially “exactly what we want to be doing right now” has been a really interesting one, at least for me.