Episodes
Daniel Carpenter is one of the world’s leading experts on regulation and the foremost expert on the US Food and Drug Administration. A professor of Government at Harvard University, he’s conducted extensive research on regulation and government organizations, as well as on the development of political institutions in the United States. His latest book Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, details the crucial role petitions played in expanding the franchise and shaping...
Published 05/05/21
A self-professed nerd, the young Shadi Bartsch could be found awake late at night, reading Latin under the covers of her bed by flashlight. Now a professor of Classics at the University of Chicago, Dr. Bartsch is one of the best-known classicists in America and recently published her own translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. Widely regarded for her writing on Seneca, Lucan, and Persius, her next book focuses on Chinese interpretations of classic literature and their influence on political thought...
Published 04/21/21
Before he was California Poet Laureate or leading the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia marketed Jell-O. Possessing both a Stanford MBA and a Harvard MA, he combined his creativity and facility with numbers to climb the corporate ladder at General Foods to the second highest rung before abruptly quitting to become a poet and writer. That unique professional experience and a lifelong “hunger for beauty” have made him into what Tyler calls an “information billionaire,” or someone who...
Published 04/07/21
What can new technology tell us about our ancient past? Archaeologist and remote sensing expert Sarah Parcak has used satellite imagery to discover over a dozen potential pyramids and thousands of tombs from ancient Egypt. A professor of anthropology and founding director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Sarah’s work combines technology, historical study, and cultural anthropology to advance discoveries about the past while navigating the...
Published 03/24/21
What unites John Cochrane the finance economist and “grumpy” policy blogger with John Cochrane the accomplished glider pilot? For John, the answer is that each derives from the same habit of mind which seeks to reduce things down to a few fundamental principles and a simple logical structure. And thus, piloting a glider can be understood as an application of optimal portfolio theory, and all of monetary policy can be made to fit within the structure of a single equation. John joined Tyler to...
Published 03/10/21
Patricia Fara is a historian of science at Cambridge University and well-known for her writings on women in science. Her forthcoming book, Life After Gravity: Isaac Newton's London Career, details the life of the titan of the so-called Scientific Revolution after his famous (though perhaps mythological) discovery under the apple tree. Her work emphasizes science as a long, continuous process composed of incremental contributions–in which women throughout history have taken a crucial...
Published 02/24/21
Brian Armstrong first recognized the potential of cryptocurrencies after witnessing firsthand the tragic consequences of hyperinflation in Argentina. Coinbase, the company he co-founded, aims to provide the primary financial accounts for the crypto economy. Their success in accomplishing this, he says, is due as much to their innovative approach to regulation as it is anything technological. Brian joined Tyler to discuss how he prevents Coinbase from being run by its lawyers, the value of...
Published 02/10/21
Benjamin Friedman has been a leading macroeconomist since the 1970s, whose accomplishments include writing 150 papers, producing more than dozen books, and teaching Tyler Cowen graduate macroeconomics at Harvard in 1985. In his latest book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Ben argues that contrary to the popular belief that Western economic ideas are a secular product of the Enlightenment, instead they are the result of hotly debated theological questions within the English-speaking...
Published 01/27/21
“The world of innovation is very much one of toggling between survival and then thriving,” says Noubar Afeyan. Co-founder of Moderna and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, the biomedical innovator, philanthropist, and entrepreneur credits his successes to his “paranoid optimism” shaped by his experiences as an Armenian-American. Exceptional achievements like the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine, he believes, aren’t usually unpredictable but rather the result of systematic processes that...
Published 01/13/21
Want to support the show? Visit conversationswithtyler.com/donate. On this special year-in-review episode, producer Jeff Holmes sat down with Tyler to talk about the most popular—and most underrated—episodes, Tyler's personal highlight of the year, how well state capacity libertarianism has fared, a new food rule for ordering well during the pandemic, how his production function changed this year, why he got sick of pickles, when he thinks the next face-to-face recording will be, the first...
Published 12/30/20
Want to support the show? Visit conversationswithtyler.com/donate. Growing up in a working-class city in New Jersey, John Brennan’s father was an Irish immigrant who always impressed upon his children how grateful they should be to be American citizens. That deeply-instilled patriotism and the sense of right and wrong emphasized by his Catholic upbringing would lead John first to become an intelligence officer and then eventually Director of the CIA. His new memoir, which Tyler found...
Published 12/16/20
After reading Zach Carter’s intellectual biography of Keynes earlier this year, Tyler declared that the book would qualify “without reservation” as one of the best of the year. Tyler’s assessment proved common, as the book would soon become a New York Times bestseller and later be declared one of the ten best books of the year by Publishers Weekly. In the book, Carter not only traces Keynes’ intellectual achievements throughout his lifetime, but also shows how those ideas have lasted long...
Published 12/02/20
Jimmy Wales used to joke that choosing to build Wikipedia on a non-profit, non-advertising model was either the best or worst decision he ever made—but he doesn’t joke about that anymore. “If you think about advertising-driven social media…it's driven them in many cases to prioritize agitation and argumentation in a negative sense over education and learning and thoughtfulness.” In his now ceremonial role, Jimmy spends a lot of time thinking about how to structure incentives so that the...
Published 11/18/20
Edwidge Danticat left Haiti when she was 12, she says, but Haiti never left her. At 14 she began writing stories about the people and culture she loved, and now is an internationally acclaimed novelist and short story writer as well a MacArthur Genius Fellow. Rather than holding herself out as an expert or sociologist on Haiti, she seeks to treat her characters and culture with nuance and show the beauty and complexity of the place she calls home. She joined Tyler to discuss the reasons...
Published 11/04/20
Michael Kremer is best known for his academic work researching global poverty, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2019 along with Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. Less known is that he is also the founder of five non-profits and in the process of creating a sixth. And Kremer doesn’t see anything unusual about embodying the dual archetypes of economist and founder. “I think there's a lot of relationship between the experimental method and the things that are needed to help found...
Published 10/21/20
Audrey Tang began reading classical works like the Shūjīng and Tao Te Ching at the age of 5 and learned the programming language Perl at the age of 12. Now, the autodidact and self-described “conservative anarchist” is a software engineer and the first non-binary digital minister of Taiwan. Their work focuses on how social and digital technologies can foster empathy, democracy, and human progress. Audrey joined Tyler to discuss how Taiwan approached regulating Chinese tech companies, the...
Published 10/07/20
To Alex Ross, good music critics must be well-rounded and have command of neighboring cultural areas. “When you're writing about opera, you're writing about literature as well as music, you're writing about staging, theater ideas, as well as music,” says the veteran music journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker. His most recent book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, explores the complicated legacy of Wagner, as well as how music shapes and is shaped by its cultural...
Published 09/22/20
Matt Yglesias joined Tyler for a wide-ranging conversation on his vision for a bigger, less politically polarized America outlined in his new book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. They discussed why it’s easier to grow Tokyo than New York City, the governance issues of increasing urban populations, what Tyler got right about pro-immigration arguments, how to respond to declining fertility rates, why he’d be happy to see more people going to church (even though he’s not...
Published 09/09/20
Note: This conversation was recorded in January 2020. Tyler credits Jason Furman’s intellectual breadth, real-world experience, and emphasis on policy for making him the best economist in the world. Furman, despite not initially being interested in public policy, ultimately served as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama thanks to a call from Joe Stiglitz while still in grad school. His perspective is as idiosyncratic as his career trajectory, seeing the world...
Published 08/26/20
What might the electrification of factories teach us about how quickly we’ll adapt to remote work? What gives American companies an edge over their competitors on the international stage? What value do management consultants really provide? Stanford professor Nick Bloom’s research studies how management practices, productivity techniques, and uncertainty shape outcomes across companies and countries. He joined Tyler for a conversation about which areas of science are making progress, the...
Published 08/12/20
Nathan Nunn’s work history includes automotive stores, a freight company, a paint factory, a ski hill, photography, book publishing, private tutoring, and more. Having grown up in a lower-income Canadian family, he recognizes the importance of having multiple pathways to climb the socioeconomic ladder. Now, as a development economist at Harvard, his research investigates how things like history, culture and contract enforcement shape the development paths of nations. Nathan joined Tyler for...
Published 07/29/20
Explaining 10 percent of something is not usually cause for celebration. And yet when it comes to economic development, where so many factors are in play—institutions, culture, geography, to name a few—it’s impressive indeed. And that’s just what Melissa Dell has accomplished in her pathbreaking work. From the impact of the Mexican Revolution to the different development paths of northern and southern Vietnam, her work exploits what are often accidents of history—whether a Peruvian village...
Published 07/15/20
For Annie Duke, the poker table is a perfect laboratory to study human decision-making — including her own. “It really exposes you to the way that you’re thinking,” she says, “how hard it is to avoid decision traps, even when you’re perfectly well aware that those decision traps exist. And how easy it is for like your mind to slip into those traps.” She’s spent a lot of time studying human cognition at the poker table and off it — her best-known academic article is about psycholinguistics and...
Published 07/01/20
Long before becoming a legal scholar focused on police reform, Rachel Harmon studied engineering at MIT and graduate philosophy at LSE. “You could call it a random walk,” she says, “or you could say that I’m really interested in the structure of things.” But despite her experience and training, even she can’t identify a single point of leverage that can radically reform the complicated system of policing in America. “We have been struggling with balancing the harms and benefits of policing...
Published 06/17/20
Ashley Mears is a former fashion model turned academic sociologist, and her book Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit  is one of Tyler’s favorites of the year. The book, the result of eighteen months of field research, describes how young women exchange “bodily capital” for free drinks and access to glamorous events, boosting the status of the big-spending men they accompany.   Ashley joined Tyler to discuss her book and experience as a model, including the...
Published 06/03/20