Tyler Cowen: Consider change at the ‘margin’

Does the world have too many writers, or not enough? What about comparative literature professors? How should we think about the future of literary culture when the written word is becoming so much more culturally dominant at the same time as books and journalism are falling apart?

What variable are we changing at the margin? If people watch less TV and write more, that is probably a plus. I also would favour fewer photographs and more writing. But I wouldn’t cut back on charity to increase the quantity of writing. If only comparative literature professors were people who simply loved books — at the margin a bit more like used book store owners and somewhat less like professors — and would compare them to each other…then I would want more of them. Until then, I don’t know how to keep the extra ones busy.

—Tyler Cowen in Theo asks, and I intersperse my answers

I loved this (underlined) bit. Merely evaluating ‘change’ can be too broad, too subjective to whims. Evaluating variables that are changing at ‘the margin’, is a way better approach.

‘Our way of life’

“Southern food has never been static…[Traditionalists] feared for the ‘southern way of life’, then stammered when asked to define it.”

Cooking in the American south, August 8, 2017 at 10:40AM

This is true of everyone, everywhere who pushes against change with a defence of ‘destroying our way of life’. And politicians understand it. It’s easy to get people to agree against a thing, especially change, than to agree for a thing – even their definition of ‘way of life’.

Asking the wrong questions

This isn’t exactly an uncommon observation – lots of people have pointed out that vintage sci-fi has plenty of rocket ships but all the pilots are men – 1950s society but with robots. Meanwhile, the interstellar liners have paper tickets, that you queue up to buy. With fundamental technology change, we don’t so much get our predictions wrong as make predictions about the wrong things.

Asking the wrong questions, January 24, 2017 at 12:08PM