Philosophy & Other Big Ideas

Conversations with Tyler

Mercatus Center

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Tyler Cowen engages today’s deepest thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between. New conversations every other Wednesday. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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Sam Altman on Loving Community, Hating Coworking, and the Hunt for Talent

1:08:12 | Feb 27th

Founders aren’t superheroes, says Sam Altman.They may play extreme sports, respond to emails within seconds, and start billion-dollar companies, but they are rarely the product of extraordinary circumstance. In fact, they tend to be solidly upper-mid...Show More

42 - David Brooks on Youth, Morality, and Loneliness (Live at Mason)

1:22:30 | Jun 6th, 2018

For two hours every morning, David Brooks crawls around his living room floor, organizing piles of research. Then, the piles become paragraphs, the paragraphs become columns or chapters, and the process - which he calls "writing" - is complete. Afte...Show More

41 - Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Self-Education and Doing the Math (Plus special guest Bryan Caplan)

1:37:20 | May 23rd, 2018

Though what Taleb was really after was a discussion with Bryan Caplan (which starts at 51:50), the philosopher, mathematician, and author most recently of *Skin in the Game* also generously agreed to a conversation with Tyler.  They discuss the anci...Show More

39 - Balaji Srinivasan on the Power and Promise of the Blockchain

54:53 | Apr 25th, 2018

When Balaji Srinivasan sat down for his conversation with Tyler he was the CEO of Today he is the CTO at Coinbase, which acquired his company in the intervening weeks (congrats Balaji!). But while his job title has changed, his passion rema...Show More

31 - Andy Weir on the Economics of Sci-Fi and Space

52:38 | Dec 20th, 2017

Before writing a single word of his new book Artemis, Andy Weir worked out the economics of a lunar colony. Without the economics, how could the story hew to the hard sci-fi style Weir cornered the market on with The Martian? And, more importantly, h...Show More

29 - Mary Roach on Disgust, Death, and Danger

1:15:52 | Oct 18th, 2017

Legal writing was never Mary Roach’s thing. She describes that short-lived stint as an inscrutable “bringing forth of multisyllabic words.” Instead, she’s forged a career by letting curiosity lead the way. The result has been a series of successful ...Show More

25 - Ben Sasse on the Space between Nebraska and Neverland

1:21:27 | Jun 28th, 2017

The US senator and former college president joined Tyler for a conversation on adolescence, adulthood, driving for Uber, loving Luther, hate-reading Rousseau, the decline of small towns, backpacking across Europe, America’s peculiar fondness for age-...Show More

Bonus – Edward Luce on The Retreat of Western Liberalism

54:22 | Jun 21st, 2017

Edward Luce has a new book out about the rising crisis in Western liberalism, so naturally Tyler’s first question to him dealt with James II and William of Orange. #gloriousrevolution In this bonus audio recorded at a Mercatus event last week, Tyler...Show More

Raghuram Rajan on Understanding Community

56:17 | Mar 13th

Raghuram Rajan thinks a lot about how to empower individuals, both at the community and international level. In his new book, Rajan draws upon experience both as an academic and policymaker to break down how the three pillars of society — the state, ...Show More

Jordan Peterson on Mythology, Fame, and Reading People

53:06 | Feb 13th

Jordan Peterson joins Tyler to discuss collecting Soviet propaganda, why he’s so drawn to Jung, what the Exodus story can teach us about current events, his marriage and fame, what the Intellectual Dark Web gets wrong, immigration in America and Cana...Show More

Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama on *Persecution and Toleration*

1:16:11 | Jan 30th

How did religious freedom emerge — and why did it arrive so late? In their forthcoming book, fellow Mason economists Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama argue that while most focus on the role of liberal ideas in establishing religious freedom, it was inste...Show More

Larissa MacFarquhar on Getting Inside Someone's Head

1:00:05 | Jan 16th

As a writer of profiles, Larissa MacFarquhar is granted the privilege of listening to, learning from, and sharing the stories of extraordinary thinkers like Derik Parfit, Noam Chomsky, Hilary Mantel, and Paul Krugman. And she’s often drawn to write a...Show More

Rebecca Kukla on Moving through and Responding to the World

1:00:57 | Jan 2nd

Before she ever studied them as an academic, Rebecca Kukla was fascinated by cities. Growing up in the middle of Toronto, she spent her days walking the city and noticing the way people and place interact. That fascination stayed with her, and motion...Show More

Daniel Kahneman on Cutting Through the Noise

1:09:17 | Dec 19th, 2018

If you enjoy Conversation with Tyler, consider making a year-end donation at All gifts will support the show’s production, including future live podcast recordings like this one. You might be surprised by what occu...Show More

Paul Romer on the Unrivaled Joy of Scholarship

52:39 | Dec 5th, 2018

Throughout his career, Paul Romer has enjoyed sampling and sifting through an ever-growing body of knowledge. He sometimes jokingly refers to himself as a random idea generator, relying on others to filter out the bad ones so his contributions are go...Show More

John Nye on Revisionist Economic History and Having Too Many Hobbies

58:30 | Nov 21st, 2018

Is John Nye the finest polymath in the George Mason economics department? Raised in the Philippines and taught to be a well-rounded Catholic gentleman, John Nye learned the importance of a rigorous education from a young age. Indeed, according to Tyl...Show More

Eric Schmidt on the Life-Changing Magic of Systematizing, Scaling, and Saying "Thanks" (Live)

54:51 | Nov 7th, 2018

The son of an economist, Eric Schmidt eschewed his father’s profession, first studying architecture before settling on computer science and eventually earning a PhD. Now one of the most influential technology executives in the world, he still however...Show More

Ben Thompson on Business and Tech

1:00:08 | Oct 24th, 2018

Not only is Ben Thompson's Stratechery frequently mentioned on MR, but such is Tyler's fandom that the newsletter even made its way onto the reading list for one of his PhD courses. Ben's based in Taiwan, so when he recently visited DC, Tyler quickly...Show More

BONUS - Rob Wiblin interviews Tyler on *Stubborn Attachments*

2:30:41 | Oct 16th, 2018

In this special episode, Rob Wiblin of 80,000 Hours has the super-sized conversation he wants to have with Tyler about Stubborn Attachments. In addition to a deep examination of the ideas in the book, the conversation ranges far and wide across Tyler...Show More

51 - Paul Krugman on Politics, Inequality, and Following Your Curiosity

52:56 | Oct 10th, 2018

After winning the Nobel, Paul Krugman found himself at the "end of ambition," with no more achievements left to unlock. That could be a depressing place, but Krugman avoids complacency by doing what he's always done: following his curiosity and worki...Show More

50 - Bruno Maçães on the Spirit of Adventure

57:44 | Sep 26th, 2018

Political scientist Bruno Maçães has built a career out of crossing the globe teaching, advising, writing, and talking to people. His recent book, born out of a six-month journey across Eurasia, is one of Tyler's favorites.  So how does it feel to f...Show More

49 - Michele Gelfand on Tight and Loose Cultures

56:05 | Sep 12th, 2018

Michele Gelfand is professor of psychology at the University of Maryland and author of the just-released Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World. In her conversation with Tyler, Michele unpacks the concept of tight and...Show More

48 - Claire Lehmann on Speaking Freely

47:04 | Aug 29th, 2018

Claire Lehmann is the founding editor of Quillette, an online magazine dedicated to free thought and open inquiry. Founded in 2015, the magazine has already developed a large and growing readership that values Quillette's promise to treat all ideas w...Show More

47 - Michael Pollan on the Science and Sublimity of Psychedelics

59:20 | Aug 15th, 2018

Michael Pollan has long been fascinated by nature and the ways we connect and clash with it, with decades of writing covering food, farming, cooking, and architecture. Pollan's latest fascination? Our widespread and ancient desire to use nature to ch...Show More

46 - Michelle Dawson on Autism and Atypicality

53:35 | Aug 1st, 2018

Perhaps no one else in the world more appreciates the challenges facing a better understanding of autism than Michelle Dawson. An autistic herself, she began researching her condition after experiencing discrimination at her job. "Because I had to ad...Show More

45 - Vitalik Buterin on Cryptoeconomics and Markets in Everything

52:33 | Jul 18th, 2018

At the intersection of programming, economics, cryptography, distributed systems, information theory, and math, you will find Vitalik Buterin, who has managed to synthesize insights across those fields into successful, real-world applications like Et...Show More

44 - Juan Pablo Villarino on Travel and Trust

1:01:26 | Jul 3rd, 2018

Travel writer Juan Pablo Villarino had visited 90 countries before making the trek to exotic Arlington, Virginia for this chat with Tyler. Amazingly enough, this recording marked his first trip to the mainland United States, which is now the 91st cou...Show More

43 - Elisa New on Poetry in America and Beyond

54:09 | Jun 20th, 2018

Elisa New believes anyone can have fun reading a poem. And that if you really want to have a blast, you shouldn't limit poetry to silent, solitary reading  - why not sing, recite, or perform it as has been the case for most of its history? The Harva...Show More

40 - Bryan Caplan on Learning across Disciplines (Live at Mason Econ)

1:11:56 | May 9th, 2018

"No single paper is that good", says Bryan Caplan. To really understand a topic, you need to read the entire literature in the field. And to do the kind of scholarship Bryan's work requires, you need to cover multiple fields. Only that way can you as...Show More

38 - Agnes Callard on the Theory of Everything

59:46 | Apr 11th, 2018

Is a written dialogue the best way to learn from philosopher Agnes Callard? If so, what does that say about philosophy? Is Plato’s Symposium about love or mere intoxication? If good people lived forever, would they be less bored than the bad people?...Show More

37 - Martina Navratilova on Shaping Herself (Live at Mason)

1:05:47 | Mar 28th, 2018

Martina Navratilova is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. No one has won more matches than her thanks to an astonishing 87 percent win rate in a long and dominant career. In their conversation, she and Tyler cover her illustrious tennis...Show More

36 - Chris Blattman on Development, Conflict, and Doing What’s Interesting

1:00:48 | Mar 14th, 2018

Chris Blattman’s made his career as a development economist by finding a place he likes and finding a reason to live there. Not a bad strategy considering the impact of the work he’s done in Liberia, Uganda, and most recently, Colombia. He joins Tyle...Show More

35 - Robin Hanson on Signaling and Self-Deception

1:05:46 | Feb 28th, 2018

If intros aren’t about introductions, then what’s this here for? Is not including one a countersignal? Either way, you’ll enjoy this conversation — and that says a lot about you. This episode was recorded live at Mason for econ grad students. If you...Show More

34 - Matt Levine Live at Bloomberg HQ

1:06:02 | Feb 14th, 2018

Is Matt Levine a modern-day Horace? Like Matt, Horace has a preoccupation with wealth and the law. There’s a playful humor as he segues from topic to topic. An ability to read Latin. And many of Horace’s letters are about the length of a Bloomberg Vi...Show More

33 - Charles C. Mann on Shaping Tomorrow’s World and the Limits to Growth

55:41 | Jan 31st, 2018

At the beginning of their conversation, Tyler dubs Charles C. Mann a tlamatini, or ‘he who knows things.’ And oh, the things he knows, effortlessly weaving together, history, anthropology, economics, and a half-dozen other disciplines into enthrallin...Show More

32 - Ross Douthat on Narrative and Religion

1:25:16 | Jan 17th, 2018

Last year, Tyler asked his readers “What Is the Strongest Argument for the Existence of God?” and followed up a few days later with a post outlining why he doesn’t believe in God. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat accepted the implicit challenge,...Show More

BONUS - Doug Irwin on US Trade Policy

57:05 | Nov 29th, 2017

Tyler thinks Douglas Irwin has just released the best history of American trade policy ever written. So for this conversation Tyler went easy on Doug, asking softball questions like: Have tariffs ever driven growth? What trade exceptions should there...Show More

30 - Sujatha Gidla on being an Ant amongst the Elephants

1:02:43 | Nov 15th, 2017

Sujatha Gidla was an untouchable in India, but moved to the United States at the age of 26 and is now the first Indian woman to be employed as a conductor on the New York City Subway. In her memoir Ants Among Elephants, she explores the antiquities ...Show More

BONUS - Steve Teles and Brink Lindsey on *The Captured Economy*

52:42 | Nov 1st, 2017

What happens when a liberal and a libertarian get together?  In the case of Steve Teles and Brink Lindsey, they write a book. And then Tyler separates them for a podcast interview about that book, prisoner’s dilemma style. How much inequality is du...Show More

28 - Larry Summers on Macroeconomics, Mentorship, and Avoiding Complacency

1:13:38 | Sep 20th, 2017

The economist, President Emeritus at Harvard University, and former Treasury Secretary joins Tyler to discuss innovation in higher education, Herman Melville, the Fed, Mexico, Russia, China, the Larry Summers production function, philanthropy and L...Show More

27 - Dave Barry on Humor, Writing, and Life as a Florida Man

57:56 | Aug 16th, 2017

Though most know him first as a humor columnist, Dave Barry’s career has spanned many forms of media, including books, movies, TV, and music. Driving this relentless output, says Barry, is the constant worry he’ll find himself stuck in a rut — or wor...Show More

BONUS - Dave Rubin on Digital Media, Crowdfunding, and Comedy

32:44 | Aug 2nd, 2017

Today many YouTube channels have more influence than traditional TV shows. This fact is not lost on Dave Rubin, who started his talk show career in traditional media, but soon decided to strike out on his own. He now hosts The Rubin Report, which has...Show More

26 - Atul Gawande on Priorities, Big and Small

57:32 | Jul 19th, 2017

The surgeon, researcher, and celebrated writer joined Tyler for a conversation on why Watson will never diagnose your illness, what George Church’s narcolepsy teaches us about CRISPR, what’s missing in medical education, Michael Crichton’s cultural i...Show More

24 - Jill Lepore on Traveling through Time

1:08:50 | Jun 14th, 2017

Is time like a line, a stretched out accordion, buried silos, or a flat circle? We concoct many ways to think about the relationship between the present and the past, but according to Jill Lepore one constant endures: “When you’re writing history, yo...Show More

BONUS - Tyler Cowen and Steve Davies talk Theresa May, Brexit, and Europe

24:01 | Jun 7th, 2017

The UK is holding a big election on June 8, so today we’re bringing you some bonus audio on that topic featuring Tyler and Steve Davies of the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs. They talk about how the general election could shape the ter...Show More

23 - Raj Chetty on Teachers, Social Mobility, and How to Find Answers to Big Questions

1:02:29 | May 24th, 2017

A high school teacher once told Raj Chetty he’d some day serve on the Federal Reserve Board. At the the time Raj thought the comment was silly, since he was busy working in the laboratory on staining techniques for electron microscopy and was set to ...Show More

22 - Garry Kasparov on AI, Chess, and the Future of Creativity

1:07:39 | May 10th, 2017

The chess grandmaster, political activist, and author joins Tyler for a conversation on artificial intelligence, Russia, Putin, how education must change, favorite cities for chess, the most likely challenger to Magnus Carlsen, Tolstoy v. Dostoevsky,...Show More

21 - Patrick Collison has a Few Questions for Tyler

1:33:45 | Apr 12th, 2017

A few months ago, Tyler asked Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe, to be on the show. Patrick agreed, but only under the condition that the be the one to do the interviewing. Thus, what follows is the conversation Patrick wanted to have with Tyler, not t...Show More

20 - Malcolm Gladwell Wants to Make the World Safe for Mediocrity

1:32:11 | Mar 15th, 2017

Journalist, author, and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell joins Tyler for a conversation on Joyce Gladwell, Caribbean identity, satire as a weapon, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Harvard’s under-theorized endowment, why early childhood intervention is...Show More

BONUS - *The Complacent Class* with Katherine Mangu-Ward

56:18 | Mar 13th, 2017

In this bonus episode, Editor-in-chief of Reason Katherine Mangu-Ward interviews Tyler about *The Complacent Class.* Make sure to listen all the way to the end for an answer Katherine describes as #PeakTyler. Follow us on social: FB: More

19 - Rabbi David Wolpe on leadership, religion, and identity

1:20:27 | Feb 15th, 2017

Named one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of our time, Rabbi David Wolpe joins Tyler in a conversation on flawed leaders, Jewish identity in the modern world, the many portrayals of David, what’s missing in rabbinical training, playing chess ...Show More

18 - Chef Mark Miller on food as the ultimate intellectual exploration

1:16:03 | Jan 25th, 2017

Mark Miller is often called the founder of modern southwestern cuisine, but his unique anthropological approach to food has led him to explore cuisines in over 100 countries around the world. He joins Tyler for a conversation on all that he’s learned...Show More

17 - Jhumpa Lahiri on writing, translation, and crossing between cultures

1:26:44 | Jan 11th, 2017

Author, teacher, and translator Jhumpa Lahiri joins Tyler for a conversation on identity, Rhode Island, writing as problem solving, reading across languages, the badness of book covers, Elena Ferrante, Bengali culture, the magic of Calcutta, Italian...Show More

16 - Joseph Henrich on cultural evolution, WEIRD societies, and life among two strange tribes

1:25:20 | Dec 14th, 2016

To anthropologist Joseph Henrich, intelligence is overrated. Social learning, and its ability to influence biological evolution over time, is what really sets our species apart. He joined Tyler for a conversation on his work on cultural evolution, as...Show More

15 - Fuchsia Dunlop on Chinese food, culture, and travel

1:15:10 | Nov 16th, 2016

For centuries, China has treated its cuisine with a reverence and delight that is only just starting to emerge with Western “foodie” culture. No one understands this better than Fuchsia Dunlop, who has spent her career learning about the fantastic di...Show More

14 - Steven Pinker on Language, Reason, and the Future of Violence

1:26:53 | Nov 2nd, 2016

Steven Pinker has spent an entire academic career thinking deeply about language, cognition, and human nature. Driving it all, he says, is an Enlightenment belief that the world is intelligible, science can progress, and through rational inquiry we c...Show More

13 – Ezra Klein on Media, Politics, and Models of the World

1:17:11 | Oct 6th, 2016

Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief of, joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on biases in digital media, the morality of meat-eating, how working for large organizations has changed his worldview, the psychographics of CEOs, what’s missing in public ...Show More

12- Margalit Fox on Life, Death, and the Best Job in Journalism

47:58 | Aug 24th, 2016

The stereotypical obituary is a formulaic recitation of facts — dry, boring, and without craft. But Margalit Fox has shown the genre can produce some of the most memorable and moving stories in journalism. Exploiting its “pure narrative arc,” Fox has...Show More

11 - Michael Orthofer on Why Fiction Matters

56:59 | Jul 27th, 2016

Michael Orthofer, one of the world’s most prolific book reviewers, joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on — what else? — books. Read to discover why Michael believes everyone should read more fiction, how we should choose books, why American popular...Show More

10 - Cass Sunstein

1:17:28 | Jun 22nd, 2016

Cass Sunstein joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on judicial minimalism, Bob Dylan’s best album, the metaphysics of nudging, Byatt's Possession, the ideal size of the Supreme Court, Hayek, why people should choose their own path, the benefits of a...Show More

09 - Camille Paglia

1:26:53 | Apr 25th, 2016

Camille Paglia joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on the brilliance of Bowie, lamb vindaloo, her lifestyle of observation, why writers need real jobs, Star Wars, Harold Bloom, Amelia Earhart, Edmund Spenser, Brazil, why she is most definitely not a...Show More

08 - Jonathan Haidt

1:02:05 | Mar 28th, 2016

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on morality, politics, disgust, how to maintain free speech on campus, the enriching effects of LSD, antiparsimonialism, and why economists set all the interesting variables to z...Show More

07 - Nate Silver

1:21:27 | Feb 23rd, 2016

Nate Silver joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on data, forecasting, My Bloody Valentine, the social value of gambling, Donald Trump and the presidential field, vacation advice, Supreme Court picks, the wisdom of Björk, and the most underrated stat...Show More

06 - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

1:22:22 | Feb 2nd, 2016

Transcript: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on segregation, Islam, Harlem vs. LA, Earl Manigault, jazz, fightin...Show More

05 - Cliff Asness

1:22:42 | Nov 18th, 2015

Tyler and investment strategist Cliff Asness discuss momentum and value investing strategies, disagreeing with Eugene Fama, Marvel vs. DC, the inscrutability of risk, high frequency trading, the economics of Ayn Rand, bubble logic, and why never to s...Show More

04 - Dani Rodrik

1:24:58 | Oct 1st, 2015

Tyler and Dani Rodrik discuss premature deindustrialization, the world’s trilemmas, the political economy of John le Carré, what’s so special about manufacturing, Orhan Pamuk, RCTs, and why the world is second best at best. Video and transcript: htt...Show More

03 - Luigi Zingales

1:16:41 | Sep 16th, 2015

In the third event of this series, Tyler and Luigi Zingales discuss Italy, Donald Trump, Antonio Gramsci, Google and conglomeration, Luchino Visconti, Starbucks, and the surprisingly high productivity of Italian cafés. Video and transcript: https://...Show More

The Conversation Continues This Fall

01:16 | Jul 1st, 2015

Tyler is hosting three more top thinkers this fall. Seats are limited, so don’t miss your chance to catch each conversation in person! RSVP: Luigi Zingales o...Show More

02 - Jeffrey Sachs

1:32:16 | Apr 5th, 2015

Tyler Cowen and Jeffrey Sachs discuss the resource curse, why Russia failed and Poland succeeded, charter cities, Sach's China optimism, JFK, Paul Rosenstein-Rodan, whether Africa will be able to overcome the middle income trap, Paul Krugman, Sach's ...Show More

01 - Peter Thiel

1:20:40 | Mar 30th, 2015

Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen, both New York Times bestselling authors, are among today’s top global thought leaders and influential innovators. Listen as these two engage in a serious dialogue on the ideas and policies that will shape the future of in...Show More