Celebrating Marginal Revolution's 20th Anniversary (Ep. 187 - BONUS)

MR co-founders Tyler and Alex Tabarrok reflect on the blog’s legacy with long-time readers Vitalik Buterin, Ben Casnocha, and Jeff Holmes.

When Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen launched Marginal Revolution in August of 2003, they saw attracting a few thousand academic-minded readers as a runaway success. To their astonishment, the blog soon eclipsed that goal, and within a decade had become one of the most widely read economics blogs in the world. Just as remarkably, the blog maintained its relevance in its second decade, bringing in a new generation of readers without a dip in the pace or quality of the posts. As Alex and Tyler jest, only the onset of senility could possibly rein them in.

To mark MR’s entrance into its third decade, long-time readers Ben Casnocha, Vitalik Buterin, and Jeff Holmes joined Alex and Tyler to talk about MR’s legacy, including the golden age of blogging in the mid-2000s, the decline of independent blogs and the rise of social media, why Tyler usually has a post at 1 AM, the consistent design of the site, the peak of the blogosphere in the Great Recession, the robust community — and even marriage — forged through MR, the site’s most underrated feature, Alex and Tyler’s favorite commenters, how MR catalyzed separate real-world pandemic responses by each of them, the cessation of book clubs, Alex and Tyler’s distinct writing style, iconic MR memes, what’s happened to Tyrone, whether the site’s popularity has tempted them into self-censoring, why it was Alex and Tyler who paired up amongst the other Mason econ bloggers, and more.

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Recorded August 5th, 2023.

Read the full transcript

JEFF HOLMES: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a special episode of Conversations with Tyler. My name is Jeff Holmes, and I’m here in my capacity as a producer of Conversations with Tyler, but I’m here in another capacity as well, as a reader of Marginal Revolution, the economics blog that Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen started in August of 2003.

We’re recording this in August of 2023, which, of course, marks the 20th anniversary of Marginal Revolution. Today, for the podcast, we will be talking about the now 20-year history of the blog. First, welcome to the two co-founders of Marginal Revolution. Alex Tabarrok, welcome.

ALEX TABARROK: Thanks. Great to be here.

HOLMES: Tyler, welcome.

TYLER COWEN: Thank you for all the great work, Jeff.

HOLMES: In addition to the co-founders and writers of Marginal Revolution, we’re joined by two other long-time readers of the blog. First, Ben Casnocha. Ben is an author, writer, and investor. He’s founded and run several businesses, blogged, written best-selling books, and is the co-founder and partner of Village Global, which invests in early-stage start-ups. Ben, welcome.

BEN CASNOCHA: Thanks, Jeff.

HOLMES: Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum and one of the most influential thinkers and writers in crypto. Vitalik, welcome.


On MR’s success over the last 20 years

HOLMES: To start off, we’re here in Chennai, India. We’re here for a Mercatus Center conference. Twenty years ago, would you have thought that the growth of the blog would lead to the rising prominence and influence of George Mason economics, the rising prominence and influence of the Mercatus Center, which I work for, such that we would now be sitting here in Chennai, India, running a conference, in part because of the success of the blog? What does that say to you?

COWEN: My original vision was, if we were lucky, we would have 5,000 readers, and I thought it would be mostly academics, people like Timur Kuran who wanted something more interesting. I didn’t understand we would end up in a world where Timur Kuran’s wife reads Marginal Revolution. The reach of not just blogs, but just online writing — now it’s maybe Substack or Twitter or whatever — I always knew it was going to happen, but it’s gone far past what I ever expected.

TABARROK: There was definitely an inflection point. At the very beginning, when we started out, blogging was something that other academics looked down upon, turned their noses down, [laughs] “Oh, you’re just speaking to the public.” Then maybe about five years in, beginning with the start of the empirical revolution, people like theorists and the high-named people would start sending us their papers. “Could you put this on the blog?” That was a real shift in the vibe, as it were.

On MR’s ’03 to ’08 era

HOLMES: Speaking of that, I think about different eras of Marginal Revolution but I think the first era of Marginal Revolution is ’03 to ’08. It’s the rise of new media, podcasting, and blogging, and also the rise of popular economics. A lot of the younger readers to MR may not even be aware of Freakonomics being released in 2005, and there was just this onslaught of popular economics books. Would you agree that that’s a distinct era in MR? And what are your thoughts on that time period?

TABARROK: Yes, absolutely. I think it is part of the rise of popular economics, so we timed that well. There were the grandfathers like Steven Landsburg and people like that. Then with the Freakonomics phenomena, I remember seeing Steve Levitt on the Daily Show, and Jon Stewart was like, “Freakonomics!” Oh my God, it was very, very strange, but you knew something had changed.

COWEN: We covered no macroeconomics then. There just wasn’t much to say. There weren’t that many interesting debates. That, too, was part of it.

HOLMES: Ben, you started reading MR in that era. How did you discover Marginal Revolution? What’s the story there?

CASNOCHA: I can’t remember how I discovered it, but I remember being struck by the incredible curiosity on display in the blog, but also the relentless optimism that infused all of the posts. I think what was striking about that era of the blogosphere was how civil and polite it all was. That’s clearly changed a great deal, and I wonder, when you look back on that era, is there a wistfulness for the tone and the camaraderie of the blogosphere? Now it feels like such a toxic social media ecosystem and so much noisier.

You’ve maintained the tone — both of you — over all these years, which I think is really impressive. But is there something about that era that you feel was different in terms of the other blogs you were reading, the commenters, the quality of the comments and so on?

COWEN: When I look back to that era, it seems like a golden age, but I suspect if I had to go back and read everyone’s posts, I’d be pretty bored. That people get more to the point now is a good thing. There is something about Twitter and other social media that encouraged jabs and nastiness, but I actually prefer the world we’re in now. The fact that you have all these repeated interactions — it made people nicer, but repeated interactions are themselves a little problematic.

Well, it’s not quite collusive, but maybe it’s better that it’s sharper, even though we remain sunny and optimistic, as always. We get to work with each other. That’s what they don’t have.

TABARROK: That’s true. It is a little bit sad, but what has been sad, actually, is that we’re almost the last man standing, right? All of those blogs — as you get older, your friends die. So we haven’t quite gotten there, but in terms of blogs, the blogs have just disappeared and faded away, and we are the last ones still remaining from that era. That’s a little bit wistful.

HOLMES: Vitalik, Ben, do you consider yourself bloggers?

BUTERIN: I have a blog, so I guess so.

HOLMES: Versus, say, an essayist or something maybe a little more pompous.

BUTERIN: What is the difference?

HOLMES: I don’t know.

COWEN: Paul Graham’s an essayist.

HOLMES: Yes, Paul Graham would be an essayist.

COWEN: But I would say Vitalik’s a blogger somehow.

BUTERIN: Interesting. To me, an essay is something you write in high school in exchange for getting grades.

HOLMES: Ben, what about you, do you self-identify?

CASNOCHA: I do, but when MR started, when I was blogging in 2004, there were RSS readers. You would read every post. You really felt like you had a connection with the person you were reading. It was a smaller community. When Google killed Google Reader, I felt like that was also a distinct end to a chapter in the blogosphere because suddenly all the distribution went to Twitter and Facebook, and you didn’t read every post anymore.

I used to consider myself a blogger when I felt like there was a dedicated readership that read every post. But now it feels like you’re a publisher on Facebook or something, as the identity. You really have to bow down to those algorithms to ensure that your posts get distribution.

HOLMES: I aggregated a lot of my blogs in those days in Google Reader, but I saved Marginal Revolution as a bookmark because I wanted to check Marginal Revolution. For some reason, I didn’t want it to be in that kind of stream. I wanted to check it as a destination, and I still do, actually.

CASNOCHA: It’s because of the frequency. I think it’s so rare for a blog to publish multiple times a day, so that if you click refresh in the browser, you actually get new content. You don’t have to wait for it to syndicate to RSS.

COWEN: We average four to five a day for most of the history of the blog. When they come up is timed somewhat strategically. I think it’s why —

CASNOCHA: You schedule post-ins?

COWEN: Oh, absolutely.

CASNOCHA: Ah, okay.

COWEN: The death of the blogosphere — there are just not that many internet sites you can go to that are at all interesting and also not gated. We’ve just picked up a lot of people. Oh, they’ve been to New York Times already, or they’ve been to Financial Times, and how many other places can they go? They come to Marginal Revolution.

CASNOCHA: You optimize post-ins based on what, Western-reader time zone? We’re in India today. If you’re going to write something this afternoon, it’s the middle of the night in California. Are you thinking about the timing of a post?

COWEN: I spread mine out so they come during the Western workday in North America. But the very first post or two I have come up at 1:00 a.m. because this way, people in Europe can see it for lunch, but the people waking up, say, at 7:00 in New York City, that it’s been stale for six hours, they don’t really know.

CASNOCHA: Very generous with the Europeans to give them at least something over lunch to read.


HOLMES: I think that is one. As someone who has access to Marginal Revolution’s back end, I think their model is, you guys write the post and smash that publish button, and a lot of these posters are scheduled —

TABARROK: Yes. It’s really strange when people ask you, “Were you up at 1:00 a.m. in the morning posting that?” No.

BUTERIN: I’m the opposite. I don’t schedule. The publish time is the time it’s published.

HOLMES: Very good. I was going to ask all of you, while we’re on this, what are some independent blogs that you still read, or what’s your favorite independent blog? Not Substack, not the analogs, but an actual blog blog.

BUTERIN: I was going to say Slate Star Codex, but then I guess it became a Substack.

COWEN: Ben and Vitalik, obviously, and not just being polite. Scott Sumner, I definitely still read.

TABARROK: Yes. I got Paul Krugman, sort of a blog.

COWEN: It’s not a blog anymore, though. It’s just a periodic column.

TABARROK: Yes, periodic column.

COWEN: It doesn’t sound like a blog anymore.


HOLMES: You guys really have been the last hangers-on.

TABARROK: Correct.

On MR’s format

HOLMES: Do you have any plans to change the format? Would you move to Substack or something like that?

COWEN: We have no plans to change.

TABARROK: Yes. People ask us periodically to do something else, and should we price it, right? Should we do a Substack model, subscription model, and so forth. But we’ve always kept it free, always kept it open.

COWEN: No ads for a long time.

TABARROK: Yes, and we’re happy with that. That’s part of the reason why we’re here in Chennai. It’s about distributing the ideas. It’s about reaching as many people as possible, and we’re just much more interested in doing that than monetizing something.

CASNOCHA: Also, there’s a remarkable consistency to the design and layout. I think I’ve been giving grief to Tyler for years on, “Hey, you might think about redesigning this portion.” I think the best analogy that I have for MR on the internet is Craigslist.


Incredibly successful, incredibly well-trafficked, hasn’t changed one pixel in 20-plus years. Weirdly, for as much as people hate on Craigslist’s design, the familiarity is so rare on the internet today. Companies everywhere hire brand marketers, and they can’t help themselves to do a brand refresh every five years. The fact that MR — the same two people, same design, same format, same style of posts — it’s stunning in a world of constant change. I think people take refuge in the MR approach.

COWEN: Alex, didn’t you pick the shade of green from George Mason University green?

TABARROK: Yes, correct.

COWEN: Yes. That’s our little Straussian allegiance to our own school, but people don’t know that somehow.

HOLMES: George Mason itself has rebranded at least once or twice, I think, in that time.

COWEN: The subheading, “Small Steps Toward a Much Better World” — Alex and I argued. I thought it should say “Small Steps Toward a Better World.” He thought it should say “Much Better World,” and he was totally right.


It’s an important point, actually. Do you agree, Alex?

TABARROK: [laughs] I’m not sure.


TABARROK: I know you like that point.

COWEN: Just how I like asking people, “How ambitious are you?”

BUTERIN: “Small steps toward a giant leap forward” would’ve been better parallelism with the moon, but it would’ve also had another association.



On MR’s 2008 to 2016 era

HOLMES: That was the first era. We’re talking a little bit about the first era in Marginal Revolution. The second one, I would say, is 2008 to 2016. You have the Great Recession, the financial crisis of ’08, which after the rise of popular economics, suddenly a huge crisis that everyone has to talk about right now. It’s clearly the biggest economic issue in the world. That leads on to great stagnation, and how do we bounce back because it was such a long recovery.

Again, do you agree that that’s the right way to think about that era? And what do you think of that time in MR history?

TABARROK: Yes, 2008–2010, the financial crisis, I think, was the peak of the blogosphere. To me, watching in real time, people trying to figure out what is going on and actually not having a clue, but seeing people like Tyler, Scott Sumner, Paul Krugman, Mark Thoma, really a bunch of macroeconomists, top people, the very best people in the world were literally, in real time, struggling to understand what was going on and trading ideas with one another. We were invited to the Treasury to talk with —

COWEN: Geithner.

TABARROK: Yes, exactly. That was incredible. The bloggers were talking with top Treasury officials, and that made sense because, really, so few people understood what was going on, and everyone was trying to help one another and get different perspectives on it. That was really a remarkable time.

COWEN: That was the era when the blogosphere, or more generally, internet as a tool of intellectual calculation became developed. The notion that it’s a computer of its own and that if you learn how to play the keys, you could figure out the best sense of what was going on, but not from any one blog. A lot of MR in those eras, you need to think of it as part of this larger organ of intellectual calculation. We were a cog in that machine. It’s not true now, it wasn’t true in the earlier popular-economics years, but that’s how I think of that time.

CASNOCHA: Why isn’t it true now anymore?

COWEN: Well, there aren’t many other blogs and back and forth between us and Twitter. There is a little of it, but I think you can use Twitter.

CASNOCHA: EconTwitter doesn’t count?

COWEN: No, it does, but it’s not —

CASNOCHA: It’s migrated. Isn’t that sad? Because we’ve moved from the long format that you all pioneered in MR that allowed for substantive exploration. Is the quality of the conversation as good on EconTwitter today?

COWEN: You get better helpful suggestions about how to, say, run a particular kind of regression. But the debate is much worse, and EconTwitter has tended to lean somewhat left, and it’s less balanced than the older blogosphere was.

TABARROK: The debate is worse, but I would say, actually, as we’re speaking right now, we’re seeing something sort of parallel, not with blogs, but understanding superconductivity and seeing all of these people around the world trying to replicate these Korean results. That feels, to me, very similar to the blogosphere in 2008 — everyone trying to figure out, what is this shadow banking system? What is happening to credit? Is this when the banks are still giving out credit? Why are people saying we can’t get any money? What’s going on? That was like the replication of the superconductivity today.

HOLMES: I believe you started reading MR in the second era, ’08 to 2016. Is that about when you started reading Marginal Revolution?

BUTERIN: Yes, sometime between 2010 and 2012. Not sure exactly when.

HOLMES: How old were you?

BUTERIN: Somewhere between 16 and 18. Not sure exactly how old.

HOLMES: What were you reading? Do you remember how you came across Marginal Revolution? Paint us a picture. What was your intellectual ecosystem?

BUTERIN: This was the time when I was really getting into what was, back then, the Bitcoin world. Because back then, Bitcoin was basically the only crypto out there, and it was very closely connected with Austrian economics, libertarianism, rationalism, effective altruism, that whole bubble of . . . Well, there’s multiple bubbles in there.

CASNOCHA: All the most important isms in the world, right?


BUTERIN: Those whole bubbles of movements. MR was definitely in the mesh. It was something that I would see links to from other places. I probably would have seen links to it from Twitter as well, though I think my Twitter usage was definitely pretty low back then.

COWEN: We were one of the first places to report on Bitcoin at all. Someone sent it to me as a link, and I didn’t understand it. Not just I didn’t understand it in a deep way; I didn’t even understand it in a superficial way. But I thought, “Well, this sounds interesting. We’re like a forum for new ideas. This is a new idea. Let’s put it up.”

HOLMES: But you didn’t buy Bitcoin at the time?


HOLMES: That’s why we’re all still here in Chennai.


TABARROK: To see people who began reading us at a younger age and then turn into a Vitalik or something like that — that’s one of the biggest thrills Tyler and I can possibly have. I mean, it’s incredible. We’ve had students at George Mason who come and, “I’ve been reading you since I was 12.” Now they’re getting their PhDs. That’s mind-blowing.

BUTERIN: These things can make an influence. Outside of economics, the other one was, I read Aubrey’s book on anti-aging when I was around 13. That’s definitely stuck with me pretty much forever since then.

HOLMES: Would you say you were more influenced by blogs and internet thinking versus books?

BUTERIN: I definitely did all the standard round of books of the internet hive mind, at least what the libertarian hive mind told you to read back then. I went through Ayn Rand. I went through Human Action. Went through all of the standard good stuff at the time. I definitely, yes, probably moved over to being more blog-driven somewhat later. I think nearer the beginning, I was more seeking out one or a very small number of big ideas that would explain a whole bunch of things. I guess I became somewhat more intellectually pluralist over time.

CASNOCHA: I think to Alex’s point about the folks who’ve been influenced — like Vitalik and myself — I think it’s not just the direct influence, but it’s also the community of readers. There are so many people who are now close friends of mine, who first discovered me via MR, and now, in a very offline way, we’re good friends. There’s this second- and third-order effect of these communities.

I do think that’s what’s rare about MR — Jeff, you’ve pointed this out — just the richness in the comment section. It’s its own social network. The layers of influence is not just one degree. It’s the offline communities that get built, the genuine friendships. Have there been any marriages that have come out of MR?

COWEN: There’s an MR marriage.

CASNOCHA: There is an MR marriage.

COWEN: Kathleen and Eric, who at the time lived in the state of Texas. I think they still do. It turns out it’s legal in Texas, that if you pledge marriage through a backtrack feature of blogging which goes back, that it counts as a legally binding pledge, and they literally legally married on Marginal Revolution.


I think they met through Marginal Revolution also.

BUTERIN: Wow, you guys are almost beating the blockchain here.


CASNOCHA: What is the state of their marriage? Are they trending well? Do we know?

COWEN: I visited them a few years ago. They seemed very happy, but that’s a while back now.

On MR’s comment section

HOLMES: Ben opened the door to commenters and readers and readership. Let’s go into that right now. If we snapped our fingers and removed the comment section, how would MR change? How would it have dealt historically, or if you did it now, how do you think it would change?

COWEN: I tried doing that for two weeks a few years ago, just to be arbitrary, and a lot of people complained to me that they no longer had context for the posts. My style, in particular, is to assume the reader knows everything and give them nothing. They all think it’s Straussian or some secret code. It’s not. You don’t know what I’m talking about.

That’s fine, but readers use the comments to norm and hone in on what I’m saying, like to see who gets upset by it, for instance. When the comments were gone, they felt rudderless and at sea, and that was more or less the correct reaction. The only thing worse than the comment section is no comment section.

TABARROK: The comment section could be hit or miss. It usually misses on theory. People are not good at that, but you can sometimes find the one person in the world who knows more facts about the issue that you’re writing about. The ability of the blog to bubble that person to the top who has this really specific knowledge about this tiny, tiny area of the world, and then you can learn from them — that, I think, is very valuable about the comments.

BUTERIN: Do you guys read the Twitter responses to the MR posts?

COWEN: No, I don’t.

TABARROK: If I see it on Twitter, I would read it, but —

COWEN: If it’s @tylercowen, I do, but if it’s @MargRev, I don’t because I just do one click to my mentions.

TABARROK: We would look on the blog. We look at the comments, but we don’t get upset by them.

CASNOCHA: It’s almost become a Reddit-style repository of knowledge as it relates to travel. One of the things that I’ve learned to do when searching the internet for stuff is just to add the word Reddit to the end of a query to avoid all the SEO-ed crap at the top of the results and just get right to the Reddit page on a given topic, and for certain travel resources because how would Tyler know where to eat if there wasn’t a bleg on the blog about where to eat in some random city in the middle of nowhere?

Now, after 20 years, there’re so many of these open comment threads about food recommendations, hotel recommendations, things to do in Singapore, things to do in Bolivia, wherever. It’s remarkable. I found myself years later just going on to MR, searching some country or city, and using that to guide travel planning.

COWEN: I do that too, and it might’ve been my post. The MR search function is the most underrated part of the blog, I think.

CASNOCHA: That you call it the MR search function, which is the quintessential Tyler phrase that you’ve been using since the beginning.

HOLMES: Marginal Revolution has been going for 20 years. You’re posting three, five times a day for 20 years. Now, people are jumping in just in the past couple of years. It’s almost like The Simpsons. Where do you even start? Is a 15-year-old — ?

TABARROK: The first blog post ever.

CASNOCHA: Is there a greatest-hits list anywhere?

COWEN: No, I’ve deliberately not done that. For one thing, I might change my mind, but I don’t want people to feel there’s some easy way of skimming the cream. They just have to keep on riding along with us.

CASNOCHA: Don’t make it too easy. Make them work for the insight now.

COWEN: Exactly. It’s not about them. It’s about me and Alex.

CASNOCHA: It’s not the blog they want to read.


COWEN: Exactly.

HOLMES: You have no plans to somehow get out of that flow model and provide the best-of or the stock. At first, it was relatively easy to get the stock of MR. Now it’s just a river. You’ve got to jump in and let it carry you away.

COWEN: Let people play around with the MR search function.

TABARROK: Maybe we’ll do a book or something like that. I had looked at this at one point, and just to get a PDF of the blog post — read them and see them — it broke all of the . . . It was just too big. We had to do it year by year. You think about that. That’s thousands of posts, and the whole thing — just to read it all to find the best posts — it’s going to take some time.

BUTERIN: I wonder if ChatGPT is going to change it. What happens if you type in, “What does Marginal Revolution say about what you should do in Singapore?” Does that work? At some point, it will.

COWEN: Yes. I think some point soon, in the next two years.

CASNOCHA: Maybe the MR search function is not as important as we thought it was.


COWEN: Well, it may become less important, but until then —

CASNOCHA: For now, it remains the most underrated feature.

COWEN: It’s still easier to use than, say, GPT-4. It’s just right there, and it’s free, and it’s pretty quick.

TABARROK: At some point, we’ll be able to ask, even for a city that Tyler has never been to, where we could say, “What restaurant would Tyler Cowen want to eat at?”


COWEN: No, I’ve done that. GPT-4 is pretty good at that. I do that, actually, fairly often. “Where would you tell Tyler Cowen to go eat?” That’s the prompt you need.

BUTERIN: This works better for you than for me. If I did this, it would just answer, “Oh, Vitalik Buterin would obviously want to go to a decentralized restaurant.”

COWEN: Or Eastern European food, right?

BUTERIN: It’ll take decentralized. It’ll say I like eating cryptographically verifiable hash.


TABARROK: It’ll tell you to go to a chain restaurant.


HOLMES: That’s some good jokes, guys. I’m really impressed with that. Just off the dome.

All right. Favorite MR commenters? I’ll throw out one notable one: J. Barkley Rosser. He passed away in early 2023. When he passed away, you called him out as a long-time commenter. I went and looked. He left nearly 4,000 comments on Marginal Revolution, the first in May 2005 and the last in December of 2022. That averages to about a comment every other day for 17 and a half years.

COWEN: He was a very good polymath, super smart. Every 50th comment or so, he’d just call his intellectual opponent a total moron, followed by some obscenities, and then he’d be back to totally cool and smooth.

CASNOCHA: He needed to get it out of his system, like all of us, every 50 comments.


COWEN: That’s right.

CASNOCHA: What did this guy do? Did he have a job or — ?

COWEN: Oh, professor.

TABARROK: Yes. He was a professor of economics, but chaos theory mathematician.

COWEN: Soviet economy. Yes.

TABARROK: Yes. Soviet economy. Yes.

HOLMES: Well, here’s your chance to lift up the best commenter. Who in your mind — right now or throughout the history of MR — who stands out to you as a good commenter? Someone who always —

COWEN: Right now ‘Sure’ is the best commenter. I don’t know who he or she is; probably it’s a he, given our comment section. But just a lot of concrete points, especially about the healthcare sector.

TABARROK: About the medical system, yes. Probably a doctor. Very knowledgeable. ‘Sure’ is good, ‘dan1111’ or 111 — I don’t know which one — good. It definitely changes over the years. Not everybody has come as long. It changes.

COWEN: It’s like the intellectual calculation of the comment section. There will be lists of comments. Maybe every comment is bad, but actually, in the aggregate, you learn a lot from triangulating against it. Well, here’s what these people would say.

CASNOCHA: Adding the upvote feature, to me, was long overdue but has substantially improved the quality of the comment section. The Reddit style, being able to just see the top comments versus wading through it all, I think has been a big improvement.

COWEN: There’s a lot of manipulation, though. I think it’s an improvement, but a modest one.

CASNOCHA: Are people coordinating among their friends and family to upvote their comment to manipulate — ?

COWEN: They write scripts, I believe.


COWEN: It’s possible to do, but it’s a sign of how “seriously” they take it.

CASNOCHA: People are spending their free time writing scripts to hack the comment section of MR. Wow.

COWEN: The most critical people are our biggest fans, in my view. It’s like, you’re bothering to go after us? I feel really flattered.

CASNOCHA: The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.

COWEN: That’s right.

CASNOCHA: Very close together.

TABARROK: Exactly.

On MR behind-the-scenes

HOLMES: There are people who are very invested in the maintenance and operation of the Marginal Revolution comment system. Much to the chagrin of some people, you can put any name you want. People who have probably commented maybe as long as Rosser did want their identity protected. It really bothers some people when they can’t do that, and anyone can claim to be who they are. Have you thought about giving people that ability or changing it in a way that it’s a little less gameable in that sense?

COWEN: If people register, it can be hacked, or maybe they don’t trust us. I don’t want to force people to have these identities. There’s this one fellow, actually, when he was a kid, he trademarked the name Bill. He has IP in the name Bill. There’s another Bill who comes along, violates this guy’s property rights. So, the first Bill calls the second one Fake Bill and they slug this out. First Bill, the guy with all the IP rights to the name — he’s convinced Fake Bill is actually Equestrian [blog commentator].


TABARROK: He writes us and tells us, “Look at the posting and the timing, and look how it was. You guys need to get rid of Fake Bill.”

HOLMES: There’s no grand conspiracy. It’s just, there are many Bills.

Let’s go back to eras of MR. We did ’06 to 2016, and I think the third era of MR is 2016 to 2020, which is the rise of populism, Trump. It’s a smaller, shorter period because of COVID and things that happened around 2020. But what about that specific time, both for MR and, again, the intellectual discourse online?

TABARROK: It definitely fell. The thing which marked it to me was actually our most commented — I believe it’s our most commented-on post — was just Tyler’s post, and it just said “Sarah Palin.” That was it. That is the most commented —


CASNOCHA: The title was Sarah Palin? Nothing about it?

TABARROK: Nothing else.

COWEN: McCain had just picked her. I hadn’t heard of her. I just wondered, “What are you people going to say?” It was very innocent on my part.

TABARROK: The comment section just went nuts. Everybody has got an opinion. It was a little distressing in the sense that that’s precisely the sort of thing that Tyler and I don’t want to do. But at the same time, if you don’t give the comment section an opportunity to speak on the so-called issue of the day, they will take some other post, which is on something entirely different, and say, “But what about Sarah Palin?” So, you have to give them that outlet.

COWEN: That’s right.

CASNOCHA: They sound like children.


COWEN: I think we’re the children. We’re giggling about them. They may be disturbed sometimes, or just very smart people wasting their time.

CASNOCHA: I think in this era of the political discourse, the level-headedness of MR, which sounds both truly reflective of your natures but also an intentional norm that you try to establish, was as needed as ever. The cool-headedness. Even in the Trump era, I can’t recall any posts that were over the top in their emotion.

COWEN: We had some very good think pieces in that era, I thought — both of us.

CASNOCHA: What is a think piece? Like longer?

COWEN: Well, longer, but about politics, not candidates, about politics at a conceptual level. “What is going on here? How can this be happening?” sort of pieces.

BUTERIN: MR’s market share of my mind definitely increased during that period. I think I definitely saw other spaces declining in quality, and MR didn’t, to its great credit, which I think was great.

On MR’s 2020 COVID-19 era

HOLMES: Now, a short-lived era because in 2020, obviously, pandemic, and then, somewhat resulting from that — though some of this stuff was seeded before — you have these big essays on progress, state capacity, libertarianism, but also, of course, pandemic response.

Maybe we separate those two. COVID and just becoming, similar to the financial crisis, similar to other examples like this, where everyone’s learning in public, everyone’s trying to figure out what’s going on. What was that like for you two?

COWEN: We were stuck inside, for one thing, so we put up more posts. Links would have ten rather than five or six.

TABARROK: Definitely a strange era. I found I was invited to give this talk to the White House, the domestic policy. I’m using incentives to accelerate vaccine development. I get on the call, and turns out that they had invited me and Michael Kremer, who’s the №1 world expert on precisely this question. I was very direct. I said, “You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this.” It’s when the economy was losing like $200 billion, $250 billion a month, so there was almost nowhere you could go wrong.

I was promoting an Operation Warp, what turned into Operation Warp Speed, saying, “Look, you’ve got to spend some money here.” I said, “Look, I’m known as a conservative free-market-economist guy. I’ve never said these words in my entire life before, but now is the time to throw money at the problem.” Michael Kremer, it turned out, was in complete agreement, which was good. It gave me a lot of credibility. He was more soft-spoken, but that was good teamwork.

Then afterwards, they asked us to write a report. Then Michael got a bunch of other people, like Susan Athey and Chris Snyder — top economists — and we wrote this report. But promoting something like what became Operation Warp Speed — I have no idea what influence we had, but we certainly put it out there. Then, because of the blog, I became the spokesperson for some of these ideas.

COWEN: First Doses First.

TABARROK: First Doses First and fractional dosing and using incentives, Operation Warp Speed, all that kind of stuff. Then what was peculiar, I think strange — so I had that role, and then Tyler started Fast Grants. So, we both had this tremendous involvement in one way or another, but in a very different respect.

COWEN: MR became an information clearinghouse with other blogs gone. Clearly, there was Twitter for the pandemic, but if you wanted one website where you didn’t have to scroll or fend off other things, we made that the place to go. It’s amazing to me, in retrospect, how many people have held that against us, because a lot of what we did was just covering different facts.

CASNOCHA: Held what against you?

COWEN: That we gave so much attention to the pandemic. They think we’re like Dr. Fauci or something.

TABARROK: The fake pandemic.

CASNOCHA: Oh, I see. Got you.

COWEN: The fake pandemic. The one where the vaccines killed the people while there was nothing. Remember?


HOLMES: I hadn’t really thought about it in that way, that Marginal Revolution enabled both of you to have applied real-world responses to the pandemic, but in separate ways.

TABARROK: Exactly.

HOLMES: It allowed you both to do your independent thing. You’re both on the blog, obviously covering this stuff, getting your ideas out there. Then, Alex, you’re much more giving policymakers a very specific idea of something to do, and Tyler goes for, “Let’s get grants out there as quickly as we can.”

COWEN: Fast Grants raised over $50 million, and most of the donors were MR readers. I think, in part, they felt they trusted me in the operation because they had known of MR for so long, and they knew Alex was doing Operation Warp Speed, and it felt very credible.

CASNOCHA: I wonder if this is a good time to talk about the differences between the two of you, and the way that you write, and the way that you engage with the world, because you’re co-authors and obviously share so much, but the differences are sometimes amusing to see.

I was telling Alex earlier, I always know when I’m in my RSS reader looking at MR posts that I have to click on the ones where the capitalization is proper in the title of the post. I know Alex will capitalize the words in a post, whereas Tyler will do lowercase words in the title. Then, obviously, Alex posts infrequently in longer form, usually; Tyler’s relentless daily output.

Talk about some of the differences between the two of you in terms of how you think, how you write. And are these subtle differences that show up at MR revealing of any deeper difference in your approach to life, worldview, work style, et cetera?

COWEN: You wrote a post on this. Do you remember what you said?

TABARROK: I said something like, if the post has got five different explanations for the same phenomena, then it’s a Tyler post. If it has one explanation, simplifying everything down, then it’s an Alex post. If you don’t understand what the post says, it’s a Tyler post.


TABARROK: If you do understand what the post says, and you hate it, that’s an Alex post.


TABARROK: I think that rules pretty well. The way I put it is that the first thing I do when coming to a problem is, strip away as much complexity as I possibly can and get down to what I think is the nut of the problem and try and deal with that. While the first thing that Tyler does is, “Let’s think about the five or six or seven things which could influence this, and then we’ll work with those seven different things and try and come up with a solution.” We’re very different in that way.

Then, if you force me to add in some complexity — What about this? What about this and this period of time? If you were to force Tyler to take away some complexity, which is really hard to do — so you have to get Tyler, you have to gang up on him with, like, Bryan Caplan and Garett Jones, people at lunch. If you gang up on Tyler and make him strip away the complexity, and you make me add complexity, then actually, we come to the same place, but from very different thinking styles.

CASNOCHA: How about the cadence of the output? Alex, are you ever tempted or inspired to publish more frequently? Or Tyler, have you ever thought about doing twice a week? Or what’s that about the difference?

COWEN: No, I have no plan on changing. I think one thing I try to do in many of my posts is to mix moods. I presented this notion of mood affiliation. People are optimistic or pessimistic, or they have their loyalty to the mood, and that’s usually a cognitive mistake. I found if you mix moods in a post, you can say things that are entirely correct, and people will just get angry. They’ll think you’re confusing them, you’re messing with their minds. This is deliberate, but I think it’s trying to teach people a lesson.

I wrote the book The Great Stagnation. The title Great Stagnation, okay, but the whole last chapter of the book is about how we’re going to get out of it. All these wonderful breakthroughs will be coming because of the internet. No one ever mentions that last chapter. They only take one mood away from a book. I’m happy with the post if I feel I’ve sent mixed moods, and what I’m saying I think is true, and it’s going to bug people and confuse them, then I’m like, “Yes.”


BUTERIN: Interesting. It reminds me of the post that I wrote last week on WorldCoin, where I think —

COWEN: Yes, it’s a good example.

BUTERIN: One of the things that happened is that the people who are pro-WorldCoin basically said, “Look, the haters are crazy. Vitalik explains it really clearly.” Then the people who are anti basically said, “Look, here’s the section where he outlines what the four crazy risks are.”

It seems like everyone just walked away — I hope some people, and I think lots of people did get interesting information, but definitely, many walked away just certain that their existing opinion is correct, which is, unfortunately, the default response to most writing anywhere.

TABARROK: To answer your question, Ben, it’s not about me being tempted to write more often. The production function just doesn’t encompass that ability. People — they don’t believe Tyler reads as much as he does, but he honestly does. It’s true.

COWEN: I only cover a small fraction of what I read. That’s the funny thing.


TABARROK: It’s true, Tyler skims, but the way I would put it is this: that he very quickly is able to find something in a book which he doesn’t know, and then he reads that section. What this means is that the more Tyler reads, the faster he can read because he just skips the stuff he already knows [laughs]. He just has a unique ability, and there’s nobody else, I think, in the world who can produce as much original, interesting new content as Tyler. I’m very grateful for that since I feel I don’t have to feed the blog quite as much.

On MR’s mysteries

HOLMES: Speaking of reading, let’s move to a segment I’m calling Mysteries of MR. A couple of times, I think from ’06 to ’08, you hosted book clubs. There were maybe two or three. There was a Keynes book club on The General Theory, and it just stopped halfway through. Why did it stop?

COWEN: I’m not sure I remember. I was happy with it. The comments section on those posts was often quite good.

HOLMES: It stopped at chapter 12, and your last post is basically a long quote of an excerpt of the chapter. Then you say, “A lot of insights in here.” [laughs]

COWEN: Chapter 12 is the best chapter of The General Theory. Maybe I just felt it would be going downhill.

HOLMES: Okay. Not a satisfactory —


HOLMES: I feel like I’m the only one in the world who’s wondering. I was participating at the time, and to me, it just ended. And it was never spoken of again.

COWEN: Maybe 13 will be coming soon. Who knows?

HOLMES: All right. Why no more book clubs?

COWEN: The comments section is worse. I think we’re also not in an era of that many seminal books, so there aren’t books I’m tempted to cover. I think there’s a large number of excellent history books coming out, but they don’t make sense for book clubs. You need some theory in a book for it to fit into a book club, so that everyone can say something.

BUTERIN: What do you think is the last book that was even on the level of things like Human Action or the stuff that animated a lot of people in the last century?

COWEN: I feel there was a 15- to 20-year period — maybe starting with Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel — where you have at least 30 or 40 books. I couldn’t remember which was the last, but things like The Red Queen.

TABARROK: Selfish Gene.


COWEN: Many different — Freakonomics, and everyone had to read all those books to be intellectually literate. I don’t think we’re in that time anymore.

BUTERIN: Yes. I’ve definitely found, for myself, having a harder and harder time answering the question, “What’s the most interesting book that you’ve read?”

COWEN: I just mainly read history, and those are interesting, especially if you read them in clusters or clumps. I’ll read about the history of Ireland for six to nine months, but there’s not any single book like, “Oh, you have to read this book.”

Everyone’s still trying to write books like the Jared Diamond kind of book. I’m not saying they’re all bad books, but I don’t think they’re really succeeding in grabbing anyone’s attention. It feels played out, that genre.

BUTERIN: Do you think we’re just in less of a big-idea age and in more of many-small-ideas age? Is there such a thing?

COWEN: The big ideas are things people do, like large language models, Ethereum, and so on. Those are the big ideas. They’re fantastic, but they’re not books. In a sense, the books were a poor substitute for the actual big ideas. That’s the way I look at it. I’d rather have the big ideas. If superconductivity comes through, how many books is that worth?

HOLMES: For a long time, you’ve made the claim that you’ve never missed a day of posting at Marginal Revolution.

COWEN: It’s not a claim. It’s a fact, please.


HOLMES: No. I’ve often wondered if anyone checked that factual.

COWEN: I’ve checked.

HOLMES: Well, I’ve checked too, and it’s not true.


HOLMES: Alex, your first post was on August 21st. There was no post on August 22nd. Tyler, you hadn’t started yet, so maybe you can still keep this claim. But there is one day that I’ve only been able to find, where there was no MR post.

CASNOCHA: Have there been any close calls, like, plane got delayed, it’s 11:50 p.m., a post hasn’t gone up? Or is the scheduling function —


BUTERIN: This is what scheduling is for.

TABARROK: It’s not actually a thing that we try.

COWEN: I’ve evolved into trying, but I just have had a lot to say.

TABARROK: It’s just Tyler’s natural pace.

HOLMES: You wrote the first post on the 21st, and then, Tyler, you just started two days later. Do you have any memory of why Alex started first or there was the two-day delay?

COWEN: We were doing all these practice posts, thinking no one would read them and we would just get up to speed. Then we learned, people were writing us like, “Oh, loved your post.”


TABARROK: Wondering, oh, what did we say yesterday? You have also to understand, Tyler is not that good at technology.

COWEN: It’s an understatement.


TABARROK: I set the blog up, right? Then I had to, “Here’s your password, Tyler. Here’s how you post.” It took Tyler a week or two before he really hit stride.

COWEN: No, I still come to Alex with very simple questions. “How does this work?”

BUTERIN: Yet at the same time, you’ve been a more active user of Chat GPT than probably the great majority of other people.

COWEN: I don’t think I’m good at the technological side of it. The conceptual side, maybe there are things I grasp because of my background in the humanities. That would be it.

On MR’s recurring segments and memes

HOLMES: Let’s move to probably the last official segment of the conversation, but this is the recurring segments and memes of Marginal Revolution. I’ll throw out a few that I’ve noticed, and Vitalik and Ben, you can jump in with any you know. But throughout the history of the blog, there’ve been these recurring things. “The best sentence I read today.” A very early one, “Claims my Russian wife laughs at.” I don’t know if you remember that sentence.


COWEN: She won’t let me call her Russian anymore. That’s one reason that one disappeared.

HOLMES: “Sentences to ponder,” “Shout it from the rooftops,” pictures of puffins.

Alex, I don’t know how long you’ve done this, but at the end of the year now, you do a stats rundown where you show off the most popular posts of Marginal Revolution. To me, when I read it, I think this is Alex’s way of saying, “I don’t write nearly as many posts as Tyler, but I usually have the top-ranking posts on Marginal Revolution.” Am I correct in that? Or is it you’re just providing a public service?

TABARROK: That’s fair.


TABARROK: Yes, it’s tough. But also, to be fair, to have the top posts — which I don’t always do by any means — that’s not necessarily a good thing. That goes back to “If you understand the post and you hate it, it’s an Alex post.” Those tend to get a lot of comments.

CASNOCHA: I think one of my favorite points of levity in MR is when, I think, Tyler, you once wrote a post after all these assorted links, of course, which is a standby on the blog. One day, you just did “Assorted link,” and the whole post was just №1 with a link. It was like, what a clever reversal.

I think it’d be remiss — if we’re talking about memes, Jeff, I feel like we have to honor the third co-author of the blog, who’s not here with us in this conversation. That’s Tyrone. He’s given a lot to Marginal Revolution over the years. Just curious — Tyler, just be honest with us, where is he? What have you done with him?

COWEN: He lives in the attic, Tyrone. There hasn’t been that much Tyrone in the last six or seven years. I think the reason for that is, the real world itself has become so weird and bizarre that what is a Tyrone post or what is funny in a Tyrone post — it’s changed, and it’s somehow more tragic.

I would like to let Tyrone out of the attic, but I also find it’s a lot of emotional energy to write a Tyrone post, much more than to write a Tyler post, because you have to keep it within certain bounds, but you have to let the juices flow, and that’s really hard. It has to be plausible enough, but people should not think, as indeed they shouldn’t, that Tyrone’s view is Tyler’s because we all know that’s never true.

CASNOCHA: For the uninitiated, Tyrone’s worldview or essential style is what? For those who haven’t been part of the blog for a long time, they’ve heard about Tyrone only in the abstract. How would you characterize his — ?

COWEN: I’m so close to Tyrone, I think we have to let Alex answer that question.

TABARROK: I will say Tyrone will come to lunch, but he never announces himself.


TABARROK: The way that Tyrone operates is, he will say something outrageous, and then everyone at the lunch conversation will try, and (I would argue) overcome, and they will give a lot of good arguments for this. It’s very disturbing because then you go home and you think, “Oh my God, I noticed that’s on my mind. What was right seems totally wrong, and yet the arguments seem logically correct.”

Tyrone is a troublemaker. He’s troubled, and a troublemaker. That’s what I would say. Tyrone uses his gifts to do evil deeds. Tyler uses his gifts to benefit the world and to create Fast Grants and Emergent Ventures and to stimulate all kinds of people. Tyrone uses his gifts to confound people and confuse them and set them on the wrong paths. So, we want to keep Tyrone pretty boxed.

COWEN: My father wanted to name me Tyrone. That’s where the name comes from. My mother refused. She’s like, “Tyrone — that’s a terrible name.” She held firm. I became Tyler, but it’s some kind of modal realism in the David Lewis sense. Every now and then, readers should be allowed to peek behind that curtain.

CASNOCHA: We should all, I suppose, reflect in ourselves at this moment, who is our inner Tyrone and how do we get in touch with our shadow?

COWEN: That’s right. That’s part of the point of the posts.

HOLMES: It’s actually a tool from, I think, maybe cognitive behavioral therapy to give your negative thoughts a name and say, “Oh, that’s Tyrone talking. That’s not Jeff.’ Maybe I’ll steal yours.

BUTERIN: I feel like Straussianism kind of is a meme in itself.

COWEN: But I think a lot of people misread that. I feel I’ve expressed forthright opinions on more topics, possibly, than any economist ever. It is true that when I write a post, I never or hardly ever explain the references or give links. It’s super informationally dense. Partly, doing so bores me; partly, to mess with people’s minds a bit, but if they know all the references, it’s actually crystal clear.

There are plenty of topics for “here’s what Tyler thinks,” and I say it. I mean, hundreds, thousands of topics, and people think I’m the Straussian. I tell people how to find the Strauss in others. Right, Alex?


HOLMES: Some general questions to close. How much time per week, right now, do each of you spend directly writing, thinking about the blog?

COWEN: All of it. But, look, writing it takes way less time than people think. Way less.

HOLMES: All right, let’s say just writing. Just actually crafting the posts, getting them ready to go.

COWEN: I don’t know, two hours a day?

TABARROK: When I write, it does take some time because, I think, especially when you have a lot of readers and you think, “Well, if I can save a reader a few seconds of time,” and you do the expected altruism calculation, where “We’ve got thousands of readers, so if a minute for me saves them hours — “

COWEN: I don’t do that, by the way.


TABARROK: Yes, Tyler just likes to get it down.

CASNOCHA: As your audience has grown, do the stakes seem higher? Are you going to spend more time thinking and reviewing posts, perhaps even self-censoring, like, “Gosh, in the old days I would’ve published this, but now that I’ve got all these influential readers, I can’t just — ”

COWEN: You’ve got to resist that. There are a few recent times where I did resist that, and I’m glad I did. For me, a key thing is, can you ever sit there and still giggle? If that disappears, I feel I’m doing something wrong. But I definitely can still sit there and giggle.

TABARROK: Yes, I wouldn’t say we self-censor. I don’t feel I self-censor, except in the following sense. There are a bunch of topics that I think the world just does not need to know my opinion, right? It wouldn’t be useful for them, wouldn’t be useful for me, so why bother? There are things like that.

COWEN: And what do you think about this topic?


TABARROK: I’ll tell you.

HOLMES: The floor is yours.

The blog has allowed you to gain so much influence, notoriety. What’s kept you at Mason and Mercatus? Have you had offers? What’s kept you at this institutional home?

COWEN: I’ve had good offers or potential offers. But support for what I’m doing, great people to work with — Alex most of all, but not only — everyone at Mercatus. Where it is, I think it’s the best location in the United States to be for a number of reasons. At least for me, it’s been great.

TABARROK: I go to economics conferences, and you go hear some talks, and they’re often boring. It’s bizarre, but I find myself — I want to go hear Tyler’s talk or Robin Hanson’s talk or Bryan Caplan’s. I can speak to these guys every day. Why would I possibly do this? Yet it often turns out they’re the most interesting people on the agenda.

I can talk to Tyler every single day, but he’ll go present at a conference, and he’ll say things I’ve never heard him say before. I say Tyler is like a Heraclitian thinker. You can never enter the same waters twice because every single day it’s something different. What a joy. What a pleasure. What an honor it is for me to be in a department with just an amazing group of thinkers who stimulate, and you try and keep up even a little bit. It’s incredible.

COWEN: We never get sick of it. George Mason’s a good school for free speech, definitely.

TABARROK: Yes, we feel supported there.

HOLMES: What are the types of blog posts that you think have generated the most impact in the sense of cultural resonance or influence? Are they the very prescriptive policy things? Are they the philosophical treatises? What do you think? Is it one post, or is it actually more of the chorus?

COWEN: It’s very hard to know, but two things I would say. One is my post on state capacity libertarianism, which is still a good statement of where I am philosophically. I think that’s held up well. When I coined the term, that’s a case where I was sitting there, giggling, “Oh, this term is so absurd. No one will ever use it, so it’s just right.” People still use it.

I wrote a post about Emergent Ventures where, at the Emergent Ventures winners’ meetup, and I outlined the philosophy behind Emergent Ventures.

I don’t think it’s our most read post. I don’t think it’s our most cited post, but a lot of donors read that post and were persuaded. Without that post, I don’t think we would have Emergent Ventures as a large thing. Given how much talent we now have — over 400 winners have come through Emergent Ventures — that’s a super influential post, even though, at the surface level, it may not look that way.

TABARROK: We try and either increase the Overton window or try and stop the Overton window from shutting down. I think some of the COVID posts, like on First Doses First and things like that — even though in the United States, we didn’t do First Doses First, Britain and Canada did. Hopefully, I may have had some influence there. But what I think is interesting is that when we did Monkeypox, CDC went along with First Doses First for Monkeypox.

That’s what I mean by keeping that Overton window. Even though no one’s going to cite, “Oh, Tabarrok said this on first doses for COVID,” it made it possible for people to think that this is an idea we should be thinking about. The next time a virus came around, you had a bigger pot of ideas from which to pull. This idea, which once seemed totally radical, now seems, ‘‘Hey, maybe we could try this.’’ I think that has been —

COWEN: On First Doses First, there was a major decision-maker from an actual country who just sent me a message, ‘‘Hey, do you guys really mean this?’’ I said, “Yes.” The next day it happened. No, I’m not saying it happened because of that only thing, but people are really listening, to an extent that it’s scary sometimes.

CASNOCHA: I think there are two vectors of influence from MR. One is the specific, Jeff, posts, the specific ideas you’ve put forth in the world that had real impact. But there’s another vector of influence, which I think is more subtle but is probably how I would identify being influenced, because if you asked me what are the five posts that have most influenced me, I probably couldn’t tell you the five. But there’s this general mood, a temperament, an approach to the world, a way of thinking about ideas.

A levelheadedness that, like a fish in water, after hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of posts, just seep into every aspect of our worldview and way of thinking about the world. I think that’s the really profound legacy of MR to me as a reader. Hard to put my finger on exactly how or where, but I think it’s ultimately a much deeper level of influence on perhaps a smaller number of people. But it’s really, really incredible, and I’m so grateful for that.

HOLMES: Before I close, Vitalik, any general questions you had? Other things you’re curious about?

BUTERIN: How did it happen that the two of you are on the same blog, and Bryan and Robin are off in their separate playgrounds? Could things have ended up differently?

COWEN: I can speak to that. This is the origin story of MR. Correct me if I’m getting anything wrong, but Alex came into my office one day, and he said, “We ought to write a textbook.” And I said something like, “That’s a great idea, Alex, but first we need to write a blog and become much better known, and then we’ll write a textbook.” Without Alex, I wouldn’t have done it.

I love Bryan, I love Robin, but I wouldn’t have done it with them, and whether Alex might have done something with them, he could speak to. I’ve supported their writing a lot, but I don’t feel it meshes with mine somehow. The thing that Ben just outlined, this cumulative vision of a way to be, I think Alex’s take on that is different than mine, but I feel his doesn’t interfere with mine, and it supports it and complements it. For Bryan and Robin, it doesn’t, and that’s why I didn’t pick them.

TABARROK: Yes, I think that’s it. We both have pluralist ways of thinking in a slightly different way. That’s why I agree with that. It’s worked well for the blog. Tyler is obviously posting every day, and I’m giving people a little bit more of the red meat, which keeps it coming back as well. We’ve done the book. We’ve done Marginal Revolution University together. So, we have a long history of projects which have come out pretty good.

COWEN: We’ve worked together now 33 years, I believe, well before MR. Keep that in mind. We wrote a whole bunch of papers together.

HOLMES: What would be the reason to end Marginal Revolution?

COWEN: Death, senility. Not superconductivity, though.


HOLMES: Would senility actually end Marginal Revolution? I guess a sufficient amount of it would.

COWEN: Well, you could take away the keys from me, Jeff, and from Alex.


HOLMES: Okay. The responsibility lies in my hands. Congratulations on entering your third decade of Marginal Revolution. I think I speak for Ben and Vitalik and myself, and all the readers, that we look forward to continue reading and hearing your ideas and seeing your influence in the world. Thank you, Alex. Thank you, Tyler. Thank you, Ben, Vitalik, and thank you all for listening.

CASNOCHA: Let’s see another 20 years.

TABARROK: Thank you.

COWEN: Thank you.

Photo credit: Lathan Goumas/Office of Communications and Marketing at GMU