Posted by on August 28, 2016

Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen is an interesting guy.

His day job is teaching economics at George Mason University, which has one of the leading free-market programs in the country.  He is also the director general of the Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank associated with the university.  He writes for BloombergView, although far too rarely to balance out the left-wing drivel that dominates this outlet, and he is the co-founder of the economics blog Marginal Revolution.

He was also the youngest ever New Jersey state chess champion at the age of 15.  So, you probably don’t want to challenge him to a match.

But all of this is not what makes Cowen interesting.  It is the breadth of his mind that impresses me.  The Los Angeles Times has described Cowen as “a man who can talk about Haitian voodoo flags, Iranian cinema,  Hong Kong cuisine, Abstract Expressionism, Zairian music and Mexican folk art with seemingly equal facility.”  He has co-written papers on philosophy.  His guide to ethnic food in the Washington D.C. area has been reprinted in the Washington Post.  In a podcast that he did with Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and libertarian traitor who spoke for Trump at the Republican National Convention, he discussed everything from innovation to the philosophers Friedrich Hegel and Leo Strauss[1], while passing by opening chess moves.  Another podcast guest was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Cowen is obsessed with basketball.

A recent day’s posting on Marginal Revolution shows Cowen’s versatility.  There are links to his latest BloombergView article (about development economics), a shout out for the University of Chicago’s refusal to follow the PC crowd into intellectual cowardice and irrelevance, a list of the best films of the 21st century and a summary of his discussion with Margalit Fox, the obituary writer for the New York Times, in the Conversations with Tyler series of podcasts.

Cowen can be followed at Marginal Revolution and Conversations with Tyler.  This guy deserves a wide following.


This is certainly not an original idea, but I find the case that American politics may be undergoing a fundamental realignment is becoming increasingly plausible.

There was a Wall Street Journal article a couple of weeks ago[2] that argued that we may be seeing a splintering of American politics into three groups: a socialist group (à la Bernie Sanders), a right-wing populist group (à la Trump) and a centrist group that is fiscally conservative and socially liberal.  The last group is, of course, the libertarian movement, which has been uncomfortably lurking in both the Republican and the Democratic Parties.  The recent moves to the extremes of both of these parties may finally push the libertarians out.

This is consistent with longstanding polling from Gallup that categorizes the American population into different groups depending on their answers to questions like these:

  • Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?
  • Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

The largest single group sides with the first part of the first question and the second part of the second question.  This group has been steadily growing since they started asking the questions in 2000. It now equals 27%.  Gallup calls this group the “libertarians.”

The Wall Street Journal also reports that a recent poll by USA Today and Suffolk University finds that 54% of Americans are looking for third-party options.  The electorate may be ready for a change.

I can’t imagine how this realignment would change the map of political parties.  The simple thing would be that we would have a three-party system, with the Libertarian Party joining the Republicans and the Democrats.  But there is such a huge amount of momentum and structural bias behind the two-party system that this is difficult to believe.  Still, something has to give.  It is very hard to believe that the current system, particularly the Republican Party, comes out of this electoral cycle unchanged.

Tweet Nothings

For those of you who are not following me on Twitter (@EconomicManBlog), you don’t know what you are missing.  Here are a couple recent examples to whet your appetite[3]:

Still don’t get the math. Con dog whistle to whites=bad. Lib identity politics to POC=good. How about both=bad?

(In response to another nauseatingly hypocritical Paul Krugman tweet about the Republican Party “dog-whistling” to white racists.)

Is Farage becoming the Che Guevera of right-wing populism? Imagine the T-shirts.

(Re-tweeting a Trump tweet about the recent appearance of Nigel Farage, the Brexit leader, at one of his rallies.)

It’s not too late to sign up….

Canino Award

Regular readers with a particularly good memory might recognize the name “Canino.”  He is the character from The Big Sleep to whom Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is referring when he delivers this line:

You know what he’ll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.

The Economic Man blog has decided to name an award after him.  The award will honor politicians who blame the private sector for a problem caused by the government.

And the first winner is – how could it be anyone else? – Hillary Clinton.

Hillary has made big headlines with her attack on the pharmaceutical company Mylan for its 548% increase in the price of EpiPens[4] since 2007, to a little over $600 for two pens.  It is true that this increase is disgusting, particularly when the company dismisses criticism by pointing out that it is most often paid by insurers and not consumers.[5]

But, as John Cochrane pointed out in the op-ed I discussed in my last blog, the problem with Clinton is that, despite her vastly over-hyped intelligence, she never asks the question: Why?

The WSJ answers the question is an article entitled “Why EpiPen’s Price is High.”  The answer, of course, is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has done everything possible to eliminate any form of competition.

For example, Teva, the Israeli generics manufacturer, tried to come out with a competing product.  This has been blocked by the FDA.  The reason?  Because Teva’s delivery system might be confusing for people used to Mylan’s EpiPen.  But if Teva closely followed EpiPen’s system, then Mylan has made very clear that the next step would be a lawsuit for patent infringement.

Didn’t Joseph Heller have something to say about situations like these?

There are also at least three competing products on sale in Europe for about $32 a dose.  These are manufactured and approved in countries such as Switzerland, the UK and France.  Personally, I will take their judgment over the FDA’s all day long.  Simple reciprocity with other advanced countries, a common sense proposal made by Ted Cruz, is only now being considered.  Duh.

And here’s the best part: Mylan is a corporate donor to the Clinton Foundation and a partner in one of its programs.  The company is run by Heather Bresch, who was paid $18.9 million last year as the CEO for figuring out how to rip off the taxpayer and insurance companies.  Heather’s former job?  She was a Washington lobbyist for the company.  Heather’s dad?  West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat and a Clinton supporter.

I hope that all you young people out there are paying attention.  This is the way you do it, folks, in the world of American crony capitalism.


Interesting podcast from Cato, the libertarian think tank, on how Canada helps refugees.  Basically, instead of government programs, the country relies on voluntary actions by church organizations and charities.  These groups have to “sponsor” refugees to bring them over, giving them support and integrating them into Canadian society.  Not surprisingly, studies show that this works a lot better than faceless bureaucracies.

Bees Do It

Apparently there is a great deal of consternation in America about the alleged endangerment of the honeybee.  Activists are using this to try to ban a class of insecticides which is particularly effective and, at least to me, rather clever.[6]

A recent article in Forbes makes a pretty compelling case that this is all nonsense.  One observation that is pretty obvious when you think about it: Honeybees are now a domesticated species, not even native to North America, which are “farmed” like cows, pigs or chickens.  We don’t worry about running out of those and we probably shouldn’t worry much about the honeybees either.

You read an article like this and you wonder how these ideas ever gain any currency.  Oh, I forgot: the mainstream media is dominated by left-wing simpletons.  Now I understand.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom

I Wish That I Had Said That…

“If the government controls what can be bought and sold, the first thing to be bought and sold is the government,” a paraphrase of something that was floating around the libertarian twittersphere the other day


[1] I had to look Strauss up.

[2] Unfortunately, I can’t find the reference.

[3] Embedding actual tweets is way past my computer  abilities.

[4] This is a product that allows laymen to administer a precise dosage of epinephrine to someone suffering a severe allergy attack (like after a bee sting, or eating shell fish or peanuts).

[5] The tendency and the ability of pharma companies to circumvent co-pays, deductibles and other attempts to introduce market discipline into medical insurance is a topic for another day.

[6] The insecticide is used to treat seeds.  This leaves is highly concentrated while the plant is growing, when it is most at risk to attack, and highly diluted when the plant is mature, when it is most likely to be visited by beneficial insects like bees.  Clever, no?

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Sarah Marks

I love what you do. Carry on Roger, your writing is brain food for my soul.