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Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist
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Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  977 ratings  ·  140 reviews
In Discover Your Inner Economist one of America’s most respected economists presents a quirky, incisive romp through everyday life that reveals how you can turn economic reasoning to your advantage—often when you least expect it to be relevant.

Like no other economist, Tyler Cowen shows how economic notions--such as incentives, signals, and markets--apply far more widely
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 2nd 2007 by Dutton Adult (first published 2007)
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I enjoyed this book immensely! The title is very misleading--it is not about economics from a sociology perspective, but about applying rational, logical thinking to everyday (and not so-everyday) situations. In this book, Tyler Cowen describes how one might better enjoy going to an art gallery. In each room in the gallery, pretend to be an art thief--choose the single art object that you would prefer to own yourself, above all others. Think critically about why you would prefer it.

Cowen descri
What a thorough disappointment. I love books in this genre, so I was really surprised not to enjoy this one. The writing and subject matter was very ADD, jumping all over the place. The only chapter that really tied to economics was the penultimate on charitable giving. No real insights here.
Well, I thought this was going to tell me how to use incentives on _myself_ to get me to do the things I should be doing. And it was disappointing in that it did not tell me how to do that. I can't say it really did too much of what the subtitle said either. How to motivate your dentist? Compliment them on a job well done, and give them Christmas presents.

I think the author revealed far more about himself than he did about economics. He takes pride in seeing like 40 movies a year, and walking ou
This is the closest thing to economics-as-organizing-life-philosophy that I've read. It was particularly validating to read a book written by somone who obviously thinks about the seemingly trivial (tipping, gift giving, consumption of culture, what to eat in restaurants vs what to make at home) as analytically as I feel I do. There are some bold ideas to be found in here to be sure and I'm going to keep this book at eye level on my bookshelf because I know I will want to reread a chapter at a t ...more
I chose to read this book after reading a review of it in New York magazine. I was hoping for more, but I appreciated the book's overall premise and did learn a few new concepts. Most interesting was learning what truly gratifies people (it's not money), how to best enjoy culture, how to order from restuarants, the power of self-deception, and how to be a better altruist. The book meanders and seems to lack a solid structure. It wasn't hard to follow, but I found it annoying. In the end, my "inn ...more
First, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn't finish this book. Tyler Cowen is apparently attempting to emulate the success of books like "Blink" and "Freakonomics" but in my opinion, fails miserably. It's apparent that the author only wants to tell us about how wonderful he is using examples from his life whereever possible. When he boasted about only finishing-at most-one book of every ten he picks up, I took that as permission to stop wasting my time with this tiresome braggart and let ...more
Catherine Gillespie
Tyler Cowen’s book Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist didn’t teach me anything new about love, meetings, or manipulating my dentist, but it was an interesting manifesto of sorts. Since the book was written by an economist, his musings on various facets of life have a sort of econ feel, even if I didn’t really find it to be all that life-changing.

Cowen is interested in the various sorts of incentives we use and are m

The subtitle of the book is quite misleading. There are maybe two sentences about motivating your dentist. The bulk of the book focused on self-improvement through culture: art, music, cuisine and literature. It did contain some pretty radical ideas worth thinking about, and I laughed most of the way through. Apparently the author only finishes about 10% of the books he starts, but he argues that this is okay because it means that at any given moment he feels like he’s reading the best possible
I’ve seen some reviewers lament that this book is a disorganized hodgepodge of random topics that reads more like a collection of blog posts than a book. I can’t really deny that. That said, I’d argue the following themes run throughout: (1) a response to economists who treat people like utility maximizing robots and try to infect every facet of human life with markets (2) an exploration of signaling and self-deception (3) self-help advice.

This book is, partially, a reaction to other pop economi
Cowen seems more eager to show us just how awesome and worldly he is than to help us discover our inner economist (not to mention that the title is overly self-help-y).

Then I reached this paragraph:
"When should we finish a book we have started?...Is this book the best possible book I can be reading right now, of all the books in the world?...Whatever is that best possible book to be reading, I am willing to buy it or otherwise track it down. Most other books don't make the cut."

Sorry Mr. Cowen,
Muriel Fang
This is Tyler Cowen at his usual good flowing writing.

I do find a few topics to be overlapping with other popular books. The example that on converting late-picking up social embarrassment to monetary fines, parents become more prolific in getting late in an Isreali kindergarten. I have read the story in Michael Sandle's book 'What Money Can Not Buy?', Dan Ariely's book on cheating, perhaps in David Brooks' 'Social Animal' and definitely somewhere in the Freakonomics franchise. This is good new
Only 80 pages in and I strongly disagreed with 5 assumptions, methods, and conclusions. Not as interesting as assumed it would be I bought it. I wanted a book on how to think. Instead I got a random collection anecdotes on how to live which seemed severely flawed.
Aug 07, 2007 Josh marked it as to-read
This book looks great, like "Freakonomics" only with a more How-To bent. Too bad I'm so cheap that I'll have to wait until it comes out in paperback.
Ignore the subtitle of the book, it makes it sound like a self-help/life-hack type of book, which it is not.

Very wide selection of topics (incentivization, signaling, food & art enjoyment, charity) through a microeconomical lens, while avoiding the usual worn out microecon examples/experiments.

This had probably the best intro to Hanson's signaling work I've read.

Three stars only because as a reader of Cowen's (and Hanson's) blog I was familiar with 90% of the content... if you don't I'd reco
Justin Tapp
This is one of the few non-ebooks that I have left, which is sad because I would have liked to have had notes and highlights from this book saved in the Cloud for all posterity.

Here is a recent profile on Tyler Cowen in BusinessWeek, which tells you what you need to know about him and this book. Cowen has what my family calls a "mature palate." He has been to over 70 countries and has sampled more food, books, art, and ideas than just about anyone alive. A "cultural billionaire," as he says. (I
Tyler Cowen é meu econ blogger preferido (Marginal Revolution). Sempre fui induzido a pensar nele em contraposição ao seu colega na George Mason University, Robin Hanson, que também escreve em renomado (e também indicado) blog de nome Overcoming Bias, um physican-and-computer-scientist-turned-social-scientist com idéias bem mais ousadas e um viés claramente futurista e "é realmente possível mudar as pessoas por meio de arranjos institucionais absolutamente inovadores". Como suposto libertário, T ...more
Deborah Flores
All in all, it's a fun and fast read. The book jumps around various topics, mostly ones that interest the author. I apparently have somewhat similar tastes, so I enjoyed it, but it might be less engaging for someone with different interests. I liked the section about food stalls and dining and how quirky food options tend to get pushed to the margins due to high rents and other factors - I bet the author is tickled by the gourmet food truck revolution since the book was published. :) I found the ...more
Tim Watts
“Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist”, Tyler Cowen
August 24th, 2009 · Economics, Non-Fiction

Synopsis: The greatest economics writer in the blogosphere switches medium to offer an extended treatise on the use of economic principles to improve the non-economic aspects of your life. Utility is maximised.

My Take: Tyler Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution, is hands down one of the best blogs on the ‘net. Not because he is t
Sep 11, 2008 Thomas rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those with no common sense
Shelves: audiobook
This book is an odd duck. There's plenty of self-help based on economic theories, but most of it is along the lines of What Would Adam Smith Do?: How to Crush Your Competitors and Make $3 Billion in 3 Days. Unlike the standard airport fare, Cowen spends almost half of the book describing on how an economics professor decides which restaurants to visit. He also considers such instructive questions as, Which kinds of econ profs flaunt their degrees, and which don't?

At this point in the review, it
Some good quotes from the book - worth a reread. Will start of with I think the best quote (and the concluding one).

"So go ahead, use that Inner Economist to do better for yourself, your friends, and your family. Society depends on it."

"1. Start by asking "What is scarce?" Is it time, attention, or in the case of owning a Picasso, money?

2. Admit that we don't care as much about culture - at least any particular piece of culture - as we like to think we do. If we force ourselves to enjoy everythi
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 31, 2013 Brian rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: David
(2.0) Jumped around so much, disorganized

There were some interesting topics (see Dave Rubenstein's review for better coverage:, such as how to pick the restaurant to eat at anywhere in the world, how to select what to order, how to enjoy an art museum, how to give to the poor/charity to maximize impact.

But he just jumped around a lot. He sets up a framework to evaluate decisions to make using your "Inner Economist" but then seems to largely abandon them
Not a review, but a few gems from the book:

Quoting economist Robert Hall as saying "If you haven't ever missed a plane, you spend too much time waiting around in airports."

"[W]riters need to invest in a self-image as people who get something done every day, and self-deception helps us achieve that."

"Brainstorming sessions are a counterproductive way of spending time."

"Encouraging innovation [in medicine] -- a long-term source of immense health gains -- does not give us that same feeling of contr
Noe Nava
I'm unfortunately very deep into economics already, so I did not buy this book to learn but to complement: incentives. It does not provide a clear sense of how (generally) incentives work but gives you an idea of how SOME incentives work. I don't think you will find your inner economist. Despite this, it is a very good reading for a weekend.
Donnie Edgemon
Where is the economics in this book, Mr. Cowen? Cowen bases the book on an important economic principle - that incentives drive behavior. To his credit, that might be THE most important principle of economics. Instead of using economic analysis to demonstrate the power of incentives, however, Cowen uses the next couple hundred pages to extoll his own personal philosophies and impress the reader with the sophistication of his own tastes. Unlike Freakonomics or Wisdom of Crowds, Discover Your Inne ...more

Economists are an odd sort. Though I can understand a lot of their thinking, it's like they're the type of person that make their decisions comparing the lists of pro and cons. The author at least pays heed to this fact and laughs about it.

The chapter on sins excited me most. Are there really companies who you could pay to use for an alibi? Yes. Are there companies that you could pa yto be your girlfriend? Yes.

But I guess he lost me with the chapter on food. I consider myself an expert on eating
Evan H
This was better than most "economic thinking applied to everyday life" kinds of books I've read. Cowen covers some interesting topics such as life as an economist foodie, the art world, and charitable giving. As in many other pop economics books, Cowen discusses pure economic incentives in mundane situations. However, he goes one step further to examine the social norms and agreements implicit in everyday interactions. These temper the concept of utility maximization and explain why economic inc ...more
Eh... I think I've read too many books like this recently, so this one was just kind of meh. Given that I look at Marginal Revolution a few times a day, nothing that I read was especially novel. Also, since I am a completely different sort of person than Tyler Cowen, I had very little interest in a good chunk of the book. I have no interest in becoming a "cultural billionaire"-- while I am not proud of being a Philistine, I'm pretty comfortable with who i am, and I am the sort of person who has ...more
I wouldn't suggest Discover Your Inner Economist to someone looking for a book that discusses basic economic concepts in plain language using real-world examples. (Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist fills that spot quite nicely.) But, if you enjoy taking economic reasoning and applying in all different walks of life, or you read Tyler Cowen's blog, which is being redundant, than this is the book for you.
Oct 30, 2008 Lu rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Economist
I honestly like Freakonomics much better. I love Tyler Cowan's blog - Marginal Revolution, but this book reads like his blog, a lot of interesting ideas but nothing tied together. A lot of the studies he quoted were from social sciences and psychology, but not economic data.

The best section is on restaurant and how one should optimize cooking and choosing the right dishes when eating out. The charity/begger section is also interesting. The last couple of chapters (especially on micro-lending) we
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Tyler Cowen (born January 21, 1962) occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and is co-author, with Alex Tabarrok, of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. He currently writes the "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times and writes for such magazines as The New Republic and The Wilson Quarterly.

Cowen's primary research interest is
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