Tag Archives: tyler-cowen

Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Tips and Rules: An Economist’s Take on Eating Out

When it comes to finding, ordering, and eating at ethnic restaurants there’s only one place to look for advice: economist Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide. I’ve mentioned Cowen’s guide before (if only in passing), but it’s time I dedicated a post to this treasure trove of dining advice and, especially, the tips from Cowen’s General Remarks.

From an article in The Washington Post, four strategies for finding good restaurants and ordering well (click through for details):

  1. For good value, avoid high-rent areas (those will be expensive or chains).
  2. Look for competition (possibly a sign of a large immigrant population, providing expertise).
  3. Know how to order ‘strategically’  from waiters.
  4. Be aware of the restaurant cycle (from opening, to accolades, to mass production).

Four rules-of-thumb for choosing from the menu (be aware of the exceptions):

  1. Avoid “ingredients-intensive” dishes, opt for “composition-intensive” instead (i.e. contains sauces or complex ingredient mixes).
  2. Appetizers are superior to main courses in some cuisines; be willing to have a ‘side-dishes-only’ meal.
  3. Avoid desserts, especially Asian ones.
  4. Order for variety, not quantity (order more than you think necessary).

And finally, from a recent article by Cowen in The Atlantic, six rules for dining out:

  1. In the fanciest restaurants, order what sounds least appetising.
  2. Beware the beautiful, laughing women (you’re there for food, not the scene/drinks).
  3. Get out of the city.
  4. Admit what you don’t know, and search/ask intelligently.
  5. Exploit restaurant workers (if you see expensive labour, think about what your return is… family-run restaurants may offer the best return).
  6. Prefer Vietnamese to Thai, Pakistani to Indian.

Cowen can be a bit outspoken on the topic of food, so bear in mind this comment:

It all makes perfect sense if you like what Cowen likes, which is interesting food for a reasonable price without much ambiance. Which is not what everyone likes.

Whether that’s what you like or not, you’ll still definitely like Cowen’s book on the subject, An Economist Gets Lunch.

‘Bit Culture’ and the Benefits of Distraction

The information consumption habits of many in the younger generations–one feature of the ‘Internet information culture’–has many merits, despite its many detractors. So says Ban Casnocha in an article for The American that acts as both a review of Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy and a fairly positive and comprehensive overview of the “bit culture” and its affects on attention and learning.

Casnocha begins with a look at his own media consumption habits (that closely mirrors mine and, no doubt, many of yours, too) and a couple of theories for explaining this style:

The first is economic: when culture is free and a click away, as it is on blogs and Twitter and the broader Internet, we sample broadly and consume it in smaller chunks: “When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, the sweet, and the bitty. When access is difficult, we tend to look for large-scale productions, extravaganzas, and masterpieces,” […]

The second reason is the intellectual and emotional stimulation we experience by assembling a custom stream of bits. Cowen refers to this process as the “daily self-assembly of synthetic experiences.” My inputs appear a chaotic jumble of scattered information but to me they touch all my interest points. When I consume them as a blend, I see all-important connections between the different intellectual narratives I follow […]

When skeptics make sweeping negative claims about how the Web affects cognition, they are forgetting the people whose natural tendencies and strengths blossom in an information-rich environment. Cowen’s overriding point, delivered in a “can’t we all just get along” spirit, is that everyone processes the stimuli of the world differently. Everyone deploys attention in their own way. We should embrace the new tools—even if we do not personally benefit— that allow the infovores among us to perform tasks effectively and acquire knowledge rapidly.

On Being Wrong: Estimating Our Beliefs

Following the forced retirement of Helen Thomas following her controversial comments on Israel and Palestine, Felix Salmon discusses how being wrong–and more importantly, the willingness to be wrong–is an admirable trait that should be applauded.

In discussing this, Salmon points to a conversation between Tyler Cowen and Wil Wilkinson, where Cowen proposes:

Take whatever your political beliefs happen to be. Obviously the view you hold you think is most likely to be true, but I think you should give that something like 60-40, whereas in reality most people will give it 95 to 5 or 99 to 1 in terms of probability that it is correct. Or if you ask people what is the chance this view of yours is wrong, very few people are willing to assign it any number at all. Or if you ask people who believe in God or are atheists, what’s the chance you’re wrong – I’ve asked atheists what’s the chance you’re wrong and they’ll say something like a trillion to one, and that to me is absurd, that even if you think all of the strongest arguments for atheism are correct, your estimate that atheism is in fact the correct point of view shouldn’t be that high, maybe you know 90-10 or 95 to 5, at most.

Salmon continues:

I try hard to believe […] that many if not most of my opinions are wrong (although of course I have no idea which they are), and that many of the most interesting and useful things I write come out of my being wrong rather than being right. This is not, as Wilkinson noted to Cowen, an easy intellectual stance to hold: he calls it “a weird violation of the actual computational constraints of the human mind”.

via The Browser

Advice from Economists

Jim Rogers—co-founder of the Quantum Fund (with George Soros), economic commentator, guest professor of finance at Columbia University and author of A Gift to My Children—provided a short interview with the FT discussing his thoughts on making that first million, on travelling, and some general advice to the next generation.

What is the secret of your success?

As I was not smarter than most people, I was willing to work harder than most. I was prepared to examine conventional wisdom.

  • Do not underestimate the value of due diligence.
  • For [the next] generation, Mandarin and English will be the most important languages.
  • If you give children too much, you will ruin them. I want my children to be well-educated and experience the workplace. [On not passing much financial wealth to his children.]
  • Invest only in things you know something about. […] Stick to what [you] know and buy an investment in that area. That is how you get rich. You don’t get rich investing in things you know nothing about.

Further advice, this from Tyler Cowen:

I told [my stepdaughter] to take calculus and statistics; even if she hates them she’ll know what side of that divide she stands on.  I am encouraging of learning languages, driving modest Japanese cars, and ordering the most unappealing-sounding dish on the menu of a good restaurant.  On investing it’s buy and hold all the way.  Use TimeOut guides when you travel and when you are eating in third world countries avoid walls.  I’m not a big fan of debt; debt is worth it only if you’re earnings-obsessed and I don’t recommend that for most people.  Don’t expect to be too happy, that is counterproductive.  I’ve mentioned that future job descriptions may be quite fluid and unpredictable from today’s vantage point.  Being “good with people,” combined with smarts and a focus on execution, will never wear out.

As with all articles that dole out advice, there’s some gold in the comments.

Jim Rogers interview via Tim Coldwell

Observations on Dining

Ben Casnocha compiles a list of grievances and observations on “restaurants, tips, and bread baskets”. For example:

If I were a restaurant manager I would spend 30 minutes with each of my waiters explaining the research around how to maximize tips from patrons. For example, leaving a mint with the bill or drawing a smiley face on the bill have been shown to increase tip. Research also suggests that the tip amount is only marginally connected with the actual quality of wait service. Bottom line is that many waiters miss out on easy psychological hacks that would increase their tips.

And this; one of the four rules-of-thumb from Tyler Cowen’s recently updated Ethnic Dining Guide (via Kottke):

Avoid dishes that are “ingredients-intensive.” Raw ingredients in America [and likely the UK, too] – vegetables, butter, bread, meats, etc. – are below world standards. Even most underdeveloped countries have better raw ingredients than we do, at least if you have a U.S. income to spend there, and often even if one doesn’t. Ordering the plain steak in Latin America may be a great idea, but it is usually a mistake in Northern Virginia. Opt for dishes with sauces and complex mixes of ingredients. Go for dishes that are “composition-intensive.”