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Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals Hardcover – October 16, 2018
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From the Publisher
Advance praise for Stubborn Attachments:
'A magnificent achievement'
"Tyler Cowen is a national treasure, and Stubborn Attachments is brimming with deep insights-about the immense importance of economic growth, moral obligations, rights, and how to think about the future. It's a book for right now, and a book for all times. A magnificent achievement."
-Cass R. Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University, and author of The Cost-Benefit Revolution.
'A deeply honest accounting of what matters'
"Stubborn Attachments is a deeply honest accounting of what matters, and the process by which we can determine what matters. Assumptions are laid bare from the outset, counter-claims are provided. The book invites you to fight it.”
-Mason Hartman, webdevMason.
'Stubborn Attachments might well change the way you see the world'
“Most of Tyler’s books will change the way you see the world in myriad small ways. Stubborn Attachments might well change the way you see the world in one very big way. Whether you agree or disagree (with Tyler’s argument), I think you’ll find that following the logic in Stubborn Attachments is as fun as it is intellectually provocative.”
-Cardiff Garcia, cohost of the NPR podcast, The Indicator from Planet Money.
'His best, most ambitious and most personal work'
"Tyler Cowen is one of the most intriguing and eclectic thinkers on the planet—like many people, I read something by him every day. In Stubborn Attachments he combines economics and philosophy in a truly important achievement. His best, most ambitious and most personal work.”
-Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist.
From Tyler Cowen:
Think of this book as my attempt to defend and explain why a free society is objectively better in terms of ethics, political philosophy, and economics. No punches are pulled, this is my account of what I strongly believe you should believe too. My bottom lines, so to speak. If you think of the publication of this book as a form of economic growth/gdp enhancement, I want to boost its positive global effects. I also argue that we should be more charitable and altruistic at the margin. That includes me and I now wish to live the book, so to speak. I am donating the royalties from the book to a man I met in Ethiopia earlier this year. Those who buy the book are directly contributing to economic development and human betterment and the multiplication of possibilities.
About Stripe Press
Stripe Press publishes books about economic and technological advancement. Stripe partners with hundreds of thousands of the world’s most innovative businesses—organizations that will shape the world of tomorrow. These businesses are the result of many different inputs. Perhaps the most important ingredient is 'ideas.' Stripe Press highlights ideas that we think can be broadly useful. Some books contain entirely new material, some are collections of existing work reimagined, and others are republications of previous works that have remained relevant over time or have renewed relevance today.
Other titles by Stripe Press:
- High Growth Handbook, by Elad Gil
- The Dream Machine, by M. Mitchell Waldrop
- Revolt of the Public, by Martin Gurri
- An Elegant Puzzle, by Will Larson
"Tyler Cowen is a national treasure, and Stubborn Attachments is brimming with deep insights about the immense importance of economic growth, moral obligations, rights, and how to think about the future. It's a book for right now, and a book for all times. A magnificent achievement." --Cass R. Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University, and author of The Cost-Benefit Revolution
"Stubborn Attachments is a deeply honest accounting of what matters, and the process by which we can determine what matters. Assumptions are laid bare from the outset, counter-claims are provided. The book invites you to fight it." --Mason Hartman
About the Author
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‘Ideas create wealth’. Not gold, oil, silicon or hard work. Thought is primary. Not always understood.
“First, I do not take the productive powers of economies for granted. Production could be much greater than it is today, and our lives could be more splendid. Or, if we make some big mistakes, production could be much lower, and we could all be much poorer. This simple observation allows us to put the idea of production at the center of our moral theory, because without production, value is problematic.’’
‘Production could be more or less’ than now. Oddly, this absolutely certain statement, seems difficult to absorb.
Another uncommon thought . . .
“Science is our main path to knowledge, and yet so often science tells us that we don’t know. That is all the more true for social science, and macroeconomics may well stand at the summit of our epistemic limitations.’’
‘Science teaches ignorance’! What? Yep, and Cowen accepts this.
One of the key insights . . .
“We can also see the importance of faith to the overall argument. To fully grasp the import of doing the right thing, and the importance of creating wealth and strengthening institutions, we must look very deeply into the distant future. As I have argued at length, this is a conclusion suggested by reason. But in the real world of actual human motivations, the application of abstract reason across such long time horizons is both rare and unhelpful when it comes to getting people to do the right thing.’’
Who buys life insurance when a teenager? Huge financial reward!
“The actual attitudes required to induce an acceptance of such long time horizons are, in psychological terms, much closer to a kind of faith. We cannot see these very distant expected gains, but we must believe in them nonetheless, and we must hold those beliefs near and dear to our hearts. In this sense, we should strongly reject the modern secular tendency to claim that a good politics can or should be devoid of faith.’’
“There are, of course, many bad forms of faith in politics, and we should not encourage political (or other) beliefs in willful disregard of reason. But we cannot kick away faith itself as a motivational tool, as politics is of necessity built on some kind of faith. The lack—and, indeed, the sometimes conscious rejection—of the notion of faith, as is common in secular rationalism, is one of the most troubling features of the contemporary world. It has brought us some very real gains in terms of personal freedom, but it also threatens to diminish our ability to make the very best choices.’’
‘Lack of faith brings problems’. Not usually considered.
2 Wealth makes the world go round
3 Overcoming disagreement
4 Is time a moral illusion?
5 What about redistribution?
6 Must uncertainty paralyze us?
Conclusion—where have we landed?
Cowan writing for general reader. Not shallow, but offers clear insights without obscurity. Provides more technical, mathematical detail in appendix.
He does not avoid the philosophical, epistemological questions that arise. However, offers clear, short practical explanations. Well done.
Probably the most appealing facet is his modesty. He has integrated the sense that human reason, human science have real limits. Not all writers remember or even believe that.
This work appeals to morality or ethics. Works hard to find a solid basis for decisions. Does a fair job. But this is an age old problem. A secular, materialistic, physical universe does not provide a obvious foundation for right and wrong, good and bad, etc., etc..
He analyzes the problems of utilitarianism. His alternative . . .
About two hundred references (not linked)
Briefly, here are some takeaways:
-The two main things society should focus on: Compounded Economic Growth and Human Rights.
-When given a choice, a society should prioritize economic growth over distribution of wealth. This makes a big difference over time, thanks to compounding.
-Without wealth and savings, there is nothing to redistribute
-We should be more concerned with the fragility of civilization (and not take continued prosperity for granted)
Stubborn Attachments is not a long book, but it packs many ideas.
This book took Tyler almost 20 years to write. It's worth reading.
We must have faith that economic growth will solve all the world's problems without one scrap of evidence that has ever been the case. Economic growth does not make inequality obsolete, phase out race and sex discrimination due to their irrationality, nor does it do anything to religate genocide to be only something read in history books. Those victories will only be won by much struggle and actual work for social justice, not pontification. That this book could be published just as fascism is yet again on the rise in economically prosperous countries is a sad joke.
Top international reviews
Cowen's main caveat is that we shouldn't pursue growth at the expense of human rights and the book grapples a lot with what these rights are. In the end the discussion of morality as it relates to growth is quite contrarian and uncomfortable, you will need to check your pre-conceived ideas as the door and be prepared as Cowen takes his philosophical examples to some interesting and unexpected logical extremes. For example, if we want Medical Doctors to do the most good in the world, shouldn't we enslave them and force them to save as many lives as possible in the poorest parts of Africa? Whilst that may lead to longer run growth, ultimately, enslavement of those MDs is a violation of their human rights and we should choose not enslaving people over economic growth.
I did not agree with every argument in the book, most notably the proposition we should value future people more highly than we current do - but Cowen's arguments in favour are compelling non the less. All in all I very much recommend this book.
The main message I take from the book is that governments should be showing greater regard for future generations. Tyler argues persuasively that politics should be about finding the best means to boost economic growth, make civilisation more stable and deal with environmental problems.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that is likely to happen any time soon.