This was somewhat of an odd book for a couple of reasons: first, based on the title, I was expecting something on the order of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich or The Joy of Not Working: A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked- 21st Century Edition; in other words, a book that gave advice on how to exploit the new economy (create your own economy) to prosper (the path to prosperity in a disordered world). The book is not about either of these. What the book is actually about is hard to pin down, however.
If I understand Cowen, creating your own economy is what you can now do in the world of the internet and new technology, where the number, diversity and accesibility of goods and services has sky-rocketed, particularly those goods and services related to the production of information. You can today decide to listen to very select songs on your I-Pod; read only blogs and receive feeds that suit your very unique tastes; and participate in online groups and activities that also satisfy your own individualized, quirky and even eccentric tastes, all at a fantastically reduced cost and ease of access. At the same time you can contribute to this hyper-personal economy by adding goods and services to it via your own input and participation, like by writing book reviews on Amazon.com, I suppose. As far as I understand it, that's what creating your own economy is about.
Second, Cowen envelops his economic point in a broader discussion of autism and its cognitive strengths, suggesting that these strengths are particularly important in this model of economy creation, and advocating for more use and acknowledgement of these strengths, particularly ordering and sequencing of specialized information, as well as a bias toward objectivity over emotionalism. Cowen also states the case that autism is not a separate condition out there from which a few suffer, but rather one point on the scale of what he calls neurodiversity, a scale on which all of us obviously must fall, some finding themselves closer to the autism point, others further.
In the end, you are left with an ambigous feeling about the subject and purpose of the book: should I identify my autistic side and apply it? should I create my own economy more consciously? I admire Mr. Cowen, as I am a fan of his blog. I particularly envy his ability to read so much. I just wish he had goven his work some more structure and tied it all together in a better way. Nevertheless, I gave the book four stars because, despite the detours and jumps, the material is still interesting and Cowen has an easy writing style that makes it quick reading.
on August 3, 2009
Tyler Cowen should have followed his own advice and reduced this meandering 228 page book to a 6000 word essay.
What exactly is this book about, and what has it got to do with economics? The main thread of the book is that "autistic cognitive style", by which is meant an ability to focus on details and ordering or arrangement bits of information, is an under appreciated virtue. Cowen suggests that most formal education is about inculcating that approach anyway. Cowen further suggests that a number of real and fictional people (like Sherlock Holmes) are extreme users of that cognitive style and have been very successful. What is the connection with economics? Very little indeed. Cowen touches upon behavioral economics, mainly to suggest that Adam Smith, the father of modern economics might have been a tad autistic and that autistics are less prone to make irrational choices. As regards how to use this style to make a living, well Cowen doesn't have much to say about that, although as a self-diagnosed "autistic" he makes a good living as an economist.
Firstly I do not buy the idea that people who are good with ordering their universe must have an autistic cognitive style. This presumes that people cannot use this style for work and other styles for other activities. There are an awful lot of scientists and engineers who are very good at what they do, yet would not be characterized as being more autistic overall than the average person in the population.
Secondly, does this idea of autistic style actually translate into something useful? While there is a lot of talk about the value of data analysis, to a large extent much of it is relatively easy to do, and hence automate. This means that jobs in this area will be transferable to low wage countries. Conversely, it is possible that the sort of jobs that will be in demand will be more high-touch, more right brain dominated.
Bottom line for me was that this book says nothing substantial about economics, nothing substantial about how an autistic cognitive style would be of value in making a living and becoming prosperous. It is very hard not to see this as Cowen's self justification about how he became prosperous because he associates himself with borderline autism.
on August 8, 2013
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.
on June 1, 2011
This entire book could have been condensed to a Tweet.
Embrace your autistic side and bring order to your life.
What a waste of $3.65.
I visit Tyler's blog every day and find it very useful and insightful.
This book, however, should never have been published.
on July 19, 2009
As other reviewers have noted, this book is difficult to summarize. Prof. Cowen insightfully touches on topics ranging from Adam Smith, to contemporary classical music, to facebook. Unlike some books that present one idea in the introduction, then repeat it endlessly, nearly page in prof. Cowen's book contains something new and thought-provoking. I found it difficult to put down.
Most exciting for me was the idea that internet, far from making us more impatient, may allow us to assemble long and valuable narratives from 'small bits'. This idea changed how I think about my time spent online. Rather than feeling vaguely guilty about the time I 'waste' reading blogs, I am thinking about the stories that each individual blog post adds to.
Cowen's notes that the internet (and computers, ipods, etc.) are exceptionally good at helping us to organize information. Intriguingly, Cowen argues that this may in a positive sense be making us all more autistic. Far from a being a distraction, the internet may be enabling us to appreciate culture in individual ways that were not previously possible. (For the economists out there, you need to read the book to see how much of this is explained by the most important theorem you've probably never heard of: the Alchian-Allen theorem.)
Whether or not you agree with all of Cowen's arguments, this book is likely to make you see the world - and yourself - differently. Highly recommended.
on July 27, 2009
After Discover Your Inner Economist, I was really looking forward to this book. I found it to be very self indulgent, with a lot of Cowen's views on autism and not much on economics. I found the linkage to be tenuous at best. Why does the reader have to wade through 14 pages about why Sherlock Holmes, a fictional character, was probably autistic? I'm sorry. I really tried to connect the dots from the author's point of view, but I was ultimately unsuccessful.
on April 26, 2010
How can you survive in a bad economic time? Will you surrender or change the way you lived? How can we improve our internal worlds to lead a better life? The book "Create your own economy: the path to prosperity in a disordered world" wrote by Tyler Cowen is a guide to help you discover yourself and improve your potential to live a better life.
Cowen believes that it is the value and the creative power of the individual that drives the world to be prosperous. How to discover the internal world for ourselves? Cowen answers the question from an autistic way. He emphasizes the cognitive strength of autistic people and their contribution to the society. The contents can be divided into four parts. In the first part, Cowen explains that because of the improvement of technologies, the world is filled with bits of information. This requires mental ordering to make these bits into a coherent vision. In the second part, he introduces the advantages of autistic people which are good to create your own economy in your internal world. The main advantage is the cognitive strengths, which include strong skills in ordering knowledge and perceiving small bit of information in preferred areas. The third part is concerned on what we need to learn from autistic people. In the last part, Cowen describes the future world and suggests showing respect to individuals and diversity of human beings.
In the book, Cowen discusses the advantages autistic people possess over non-autistic people in certain fields. Examples of successful autistic people are provided so that readers can better understand his argument. The main message Cowen hopes to deliver is that non-autistic people should learn something from autistics in this chaotic world.
With the development of the internet, and technologies like instant messaging, cell phones and internet programs like facebook, the world has become information-centered. We are constantly saturated by new information. This necessitates the development of a framework that allows us to internally relate information and order the information we receive. This is what Cowen refers to as the process of creating your own economy. Cowen argues that autistics typically have significant cognitive strengths which emerge from autism. These include abilities in ordering knowledge and interpreting bits of information in the areas they are interested in.
Cognitive skills associated with autism help to self-assembly of bits of information and create an ordered mental world; people possessing such skills are well suited to the present information-heavy landscape. Cowen explores "autism" in nearly every chapter of the book and discusses the advantages of autism on cognitive skills by answering the following questions. Why autism engenders "big-picture thinking"? How cognition provide insights into aesthetics? What we can learn from an autistic interpretation of politics.
This book offers a fresh and interesting view on how the culture of autism affect people's internal world when facing a world with cultural blends. I mainly agree with Cowen's point that strong cognitive abilities are helpful to accurately develop a "sense" of the world. Cowen makes effort too, to correct the prevailing doubt on the lack of "big-picture thinking". He believes that autistic people care much on the big picture as well as on details.
Admittedly, autistics are talented individuals, especially when it comes to cognitive abilities. Statistic shows that 10%-15% of autistic individuals have superior intelligence measured by high IQs. Also, many great figures in history are autistic; they have made significant contributions to the improvement of human society. From a macro perspective, it is hard to detangle the development of the society with the contributions of autistic people as possible who have devoted themselves to their preferred fields. However, from a micro perspective, things are somewhat different. I think leading a happy and desirable life should be the most important thing for every individual. Autistic characteristics prevent people from pursuing a satisfying and complete life. Cowen repeatedly emphasizes the strengths of autism; however, he neglects to discuss the drawbacks of being an autistic.
Two obvious weaknesses of autistic individuals are unnecessary anxiety and strong impulses. Autistic individuals become anxious due to the conflicts between their internal world and the external circumstances. Their cognitive strength leads the autistic to develop special ideas on subjects which buck the social trends. When successful, autistic individuals are regard as revolutionary with inventions that bring social progress. However, failures can drive autistic individuals to insanity or disintegrated personality. Moreover, autistic people tend to insist on what they are interested in and desire, which produce strong impulses in their internal world. Such impulses are strong enough to make them ignore other aspects of life which may manifest as an inability to behave in line with societal expectations.
Another weakness of autism is the absence of practical thinking. In other words, autistic individuals are likely to pay too much attention on certain sensations while ignoring the important and concrete issues in the external world. Maybe it is a significant factor that people in fields such as entertainment, art and literature have higher risks to be autism. The intense focus on sensations can be involved with their acre about details.
Cowen provides some opinions on education system. He says that "I view education as a means of accumulation into a particular mind-set". I agree with this idea, because the purpose of education is to form individuals' personalities and allow them to develop their own assessment of the world. Flesh-and-blood instructor better motivate students and the presence of other students will make the classroom vivid which allows better absorption of knowledge. However, I have issues when Cowen says, "Education is using social influences to encourage autistic cognitive skills". The truth is, schools may be not a good way to cultivate students' autistic cognitive skills. Further, the role of education must surely be far more than just that.
If our purpose is to cultivate students' autistic cognitive skills, other forms of education (besides schools) may be more efficient such as home schooling. The reason is that taking classes with classmates in schools can be distracting, which makes it hard to focus on learning. In other word, they have more incentives to play games and not learn. Moreover, they have the freedom to engage in naughty behavior which should not be encouraged. Taking these two aspects into account, schools are not necessarily the best way for everyone to learn cognitive skills. Furthermore, the purpose of education is far beyond developing cognitive skills. Cognitive skills should undoubtedly be cultivated; however, other purposes of education are also important such as communication skills, cooperation skills which cannot be cultivated by home schooling.
The autism issue leads me to let me think about the social difference between the Western and the Eastern. In the Western world, the values of democracy and meritocracy are trumpeted. In an atmosphere where society is more diverse and receptive, autistics are free to pursue their own interests and are not stifled from achievement. In the East however, cultures have evolved along different ideas of what is socially acceptable, People tend to be less receptive. Conservative ideas dictate what is right or wrong. For example, Chinese children believe in Confucianism and are educated to be ideologically identical. They are told to study well, get along well with their friends and get into a top university. They are expected to give up their own dreams in order to satisfy their parents' expectations. Autism is also NOT an acceptable way of life. In most parents' eyes, autism is a somewhat shameful state. Under such circumstances, the strengths of autistics cannot be utilized. I think this book has the potential to inform eastern parents so that they do not reject autistic children but seek ways to nurture their autistic child so that she/he will one day contribute to the society.
Overall, Cowen provides two good points about autism. One is that autistic people have some typical personalities that should be encouraged. Cowen also challenges the reader to discover the potentially autistic parts inside themselves so as to enhance their mental ordering. He argues that despite the fact that autistic people are a minority in the world, they have contributed a lot to the world and will continues to do so in the future given they will benefit more from the enhanced information flow present today. This is really an interesting book that worth reading. I heavily recommend people from eastern countries to read this book and refresh their dated opinions on nurturing autistic children.
on April 7, 2016
Offers no tangible advice for creating one's own economy. If anything, advises adapting oneself to status quo economy. Very bait and switch. Also, author's speculations about autistic people are so far off base as to be risible.
on August 10, 2010
This book was interesting, but I was pretty disappointed when about halfway through the book I realized the book had trailed off from the topics that had been most interesting to me - how we begin to organize and understand information in the context of our relatively new access to information. I expected a little more depth and detail into what "mental ordering" might actually look like, and different examples of ordinary people undertaking this activity. Instead, this book focuses on autism and neurodiversity, and Cowen definitely covered the topic with flair, discussing how autistics processing of information leads to different outcomes. I guess, in a way, I walked away having learned more, just because the topic was completely unexpected.
on September 7, 2011
This book has nothing to do with its title. Halfway through, I found myself wondering, "Why did he write this book?" Some haphazardly organized ponderings about mild autism mixed up with other unrelated information, that's about it. I guess I'll take it to Goodwill, but in a way I feel guilty about someone wasting their time with it.