Friday 2013-11-01

Create Your Own Economy by Tyler Cowen

Cowen frustrates by arguing for a more internal world of cheap internet pleasures. He seems to not see that this can end like the Sloth victim in Se7en. However, since he references Hesse's Glass Bead Game (in order to push against its satire of academia and of endless catalogs), he seems to have elected to not cover falling-off-the-deep-end in this book.

Over time Joseph develops a deeper appreciation of the rewards and drawbacks of a life devoted to the Glass Bead Game. At the end of the novel he suddenly resigns his high-status position as Magister and, in a scene patterned after Buddhist philosophy, goes on a lone voyage of self-discovery.

The best part of the book is Cowen's application of Alchian's Generalization to Internet consumption. E.g. as the Internet drops the cost of accessing books, we consume more books; Alchian then says our mix of good books and bad books will also shift to include relatively more bad books.

For the Alchian and Allen Theorem to apply in a simple and intuitive fashion, we need examples where the costs of access to a product fall rapidly and visibly. That's exactly what the internet has done and that is why the web and other innovations are bringing us what I call a culture of small bits.

The remainder of the book is a voyage of self-discovery, like Joseph in The Glass Bead Game. Whether it's into the poppy fields or not is up for you to decide.

It's not obvious what "the normal amount of collecting" is supposed to be. M. Fauron, onetime president of a cigar band collectors association, said that a person who does not collect something is "nothing but a moron, a pathetic human wreck." It is easy to laugh at that statement as a kind of joke or overstatement, but is it? A person who does not in some way order his mental and emotional existence perhaps has not much of an existence at all.
I'm not suggesting that the spread of the internet caused this boom in quality higher education, but it does indicate the internet will not displace such education.
Masterworks, such as Caravaggio paintings, are more accessible than ever before and it is easier to learn about them and learn to love them too. That makes masterworks more powerful, at least for those who care. At the same time, not everyone needs Caravaggio. If you don't look at his paintings, or if you don't experience other classic parts of the Western canon, your self-assembled aesthetic life still can be a rich one.