According to Tyler Cowen, it’s a great time to be alive. And who could disagree with that? Thanks to the digital economy we have more choices when it comes to what to consume and what to do for our work (although others like Barry Schwartz have argued that perhaps we have too many choices now). Anyway, Cowen’s book, Create Your Own Economy, is largely about how to navigate this new world and the digital economy.
The book, however, veered wildly from what I expected. The following quote from the preface is what I thought the book would be about.
In down times people exercise more, eat out less and cook more, and engage in more projects for self improvement and self education. Usage at public libraries is up and people are spending more time on the internet; once you’ve paid for your connection most of the surfing is free. These trends are more important than most of us realize and in this book I will tell you why. I will tell you why they are not just short-run trends but why they presage something much deeper about our future.
The book surely takes an interesting twist from the preface though. At the beginning of the first chapter, Cowen, who runs a popular economics blog called Marginal Revolution, states that a Marginal Revolution reader once asked him if he had Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism.
This question relates to one of the surprising, yet central themes of the book, i.e., autism. In one sense, the book can be read as a cultural defense of autism and with a focus on the general misconceptions about autism. I definitely wasn’t expecting to read a book focused on autism when I picked this book up; however, I still enjoyed it. Cowen claims that autism is not a separate condition out there from which a few suffer, but rather it’s one point on a scale he calls “neurodiversity”. We all fall on this scale to varying degrees and I was surprised to learn that I actually have some autistic like tendencies. Near the end of the book, Cowen states, “Many autistics might in fact do better socially or in their careers if the world views them as “eccentrics” rather than autistics.”
The other central theme of the book can be summed up by the claim that,” Fundamentally the relationship between human minds and human cultures is changing.” Cowen never uses the term, but he alludes to a world that is becoming a culturally predominant information economy. “Creating your own economy”, then, is about thriving in the world of the internet and modern technology. The diversity of informational and cultural products available via technology is startling. Cowen, however, argues that this is a great thing that ultimately enhances our freedom and our experiences of being human. Of course, he also argues that the cognitive strengths of autistic individuals allow them to thrive in this environment.
This book touches on a wide gamut of topics from economics, psychology, metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and astronomy. The end of the book leaves you with an ambiguous sense of the book’s ultimate purpose. Nonetheless, it’s worth reading.