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Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,108 ratings  ·  133 reviews
Growth is good. Through history, economic growth, in particular, has alleviated human misery, improved human happiness and opportunity, and lengthened human lives. Wealthier societies are more stable, offer better living standards, produce better medicines, and ensure greater autonomy, greater fulfillment, and more sources of fun. If we want to continue on our trends of gr ...more
Kindle Edition, 127 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Stripe Press
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Charles Haywood
Finally, the age of sophisters and calculators has fully arrived, and its herald is Tyler Cowen. He, economist and blogger, is here to tell us the purpose of life. It is to die with the most toys. Well, that, plus maximum freedom to do whatever we want with our toys while we are still alive. "Stubborn Attachments" is just about the sort of thing you’d expect from a left-libertarian philosopher, namely a clever and partially accurate construct that is internally coherent, but floats free of human ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: eco
I dislike Cowen's books relative to his podcast, but in Stubborn Attachments he ditches the coy playfulness of his other works and just outlines his priors. More people should take on, or should attempt, this difficult project.

Haidt argues we're not particularly rational: we have impulsive values and rationalize how they shape our decisions. Cowen's top priority is economic growth, but he feels he is rationally and objectively right. As much as he loves growth, he also values rights (individual
Ian Simon
May 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
All authors should write a philosophical treatise like this to give the rest of their work a proper foundation. Since they don't, I'm left with just this one and a few others. And Tyler Cowen's is more densely packed with insight than perhaps any other document I've read, addressing questions like:

-How should you weight the well-being of future people compared to present ones?

-How should you wander through the epistemic fog that makes it exceedingly difficult to know the effects of your actions?
Javier Lorenzana
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
A foundation for Cowen's philosophy: one that places utmost value on sustained economic growth for a utopia where individualism, autonomy, and happiness reign.

Cowen's economic, political, and ethical stances are consistent and well-argued. His main point is that sustained economic growth (which also includes leisure and environmental amenities), constrained by a respect for basic human rights, should always be the standard to which we judge our actions. I'd like to see more practical examples t
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
A concise, lucid summary of Cowen's general philosophical outlook. The most interesting/novel part is probably his belief that there should be little or no "time discounting" applied in consequentialist moral reasoning - that future people are just as important as those in the present, which implies an emphasis on investment, economic growth, environmental preservation, and resilience to rare but devastating risks. This was all pretty interesting, coherent, and well argued. I'm not sure I'm comp ...more
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I look forward to seeing this as a “The Good Place” episode one day!

Short and mostly clearly written although readers of Cowen’s blog will probably know to expect that not everything is spelled out for the reader. Definitely full of interesting ideas and even if you are not convinced it still makes you look at the world differently.
Anuj Sharma
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I came across this book after I heard Tyler Cowen’s interview with Amit Varma on The Seen & The Unseen podcast. It was my first book on moral philosophy and it is a good place to start if you’re a newbie like me in this genre.

Even though the book is small in size it took me a while to read as the content was a bit heavy for me.

Overall, I Enjoyed reading the book and it poses some really interesting questions which would make you sit and think about them.

However, I think that I will have to re
Todd Martin
Jun 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: culture-politics
I heard economist Tyler Cowen on a podcast not so long ago (Sean Carrol’s Mindscape to be exact) and he struck me as a smart guy with somewhat unconventional ideas, so I decided to read his book.

In Stubborn Attachments Cowen proposes a philosophical/moral system based on the idea of long term sustainable growth. I know what you’re thinking … “Oh great, another emotionally stunted Ayn Rand fan-boy bleating Gordon Gecko’s ‘greed is good’ mantra”. But no, Cowen’s arguments are considerably more s
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fast and interesting read. Tyler Cowen is admirably clear in what he is proposing, and it is hard to argue with in the abstract. He thinks we undervalue future generations, that we should try to improve economic growth (sustainably), and also respect human rights.

I definitely like that Cowen puts out what his thoughts and goals are with the book. The ideals are hard to argue with in the abstract and he does a good job of defending them in more concrete situations as well. They make a g
Kruti Munot
Feb 27, 2020 rated it liked it
The key point of Cowen's book is that sustainable economic growth is good - and that this economic growth, "Wealth Plus", is the only way towards improving quality of life and prosperity for humans.

He explores this idea a little further breaking down what economic growth considering sustainability and human rights really entails - but in my opinion this book was too short to substantiate any of his points sufficiently. Interesting arguments, but lacks depth and coherence to make these points we
Feb 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Tyler Cowen makes a surprisingly compelling argument about why economic growth is a good proxy for overall progress, while defining human rights as the circuit breakers for balancing feedback loops on runaway compounding of growth. I was largely convinced with his reasoning in comparing utilitarianism to common sense morality, something that was a recurring theme and a struggle for me through my 20s and 30s. "Deep concern for the distant future" is a good articulation of the baseline manifestati ...more
Sandy Maguire
I just read this a few days ago and can't even remember enough of it to write a real review. Not a good sign. The entire book is an argument that a strong economy is the only thing that matters, and it presents it pretty OK. I wasn't convinced, but did move slightly towards his point of view. I originally rated this 3/5 when I finished it, but in retrospect am giving it a 2/5 because if it were so good I probably would have remembered it. ...more
Aaron Gertler
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Note: I read this when it was still available on Medium for free, so my quotes may be worded differently from those you'll find in the published work.)

This has many, many reviews from intellectual types already (there's even an arch-conservative review from one of the most erudite citizens of Goodreads). My points here won't be original, but they are what stuck with me most, more than a year after I first read the online-essay version of the book.

Stubborn Attachments is unusual in that it think
Ryan McGuine
Tyler Cowen is one of my favorite thinkers, and I listen to his podcast religiously. However, this book was disappointing - not much more substance than an essay on Medium defending economic growth.

One star higher than I would otherwise give it because of Tyler's Straussian subtext, and because such a book is important today.
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, nonfiction
Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals (2018) by Tyler Cowen is a book where the author, a Libertarian leaning academic economist who also writes the Marginal Revolution blog and the podcast Conversations with Tyler.

In Stubborn Attachments Cowen writes a sort of philosophical treatise. As a philosopher, Cowen is a very good economist. His philosophy wouldn't get far with serious philosophers however the book provides a very thoughtful and in
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
I agonized a little about what rating to leave this book. I was inspired to read this book by the 80000 Hours podcast episode in which Cowen promoted this book and talked about a lot of the key ideas. You'll get most of the key ideas if you listen to that podcast, which is available here:

Those key ideas are basically: The most important priority for human civilization is to ensure our survival into the future, and the best things we can do to ensure that
Mathew Madsen
Nov 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I recently reread this after being left uninspired by Paul Collier's The Future of Capitalism, an important book but not one that resonated with me like this one does. This is a book that challenges your assumptions about the world while challenging you to think bigger to make it better.

I have long been a fan of Tyler Cowen since being introduced to him in high school via an old interview with philosopher Peter Singer in an intro to ethics class. Since then his blog Marginal Revolution has been
Nov 02, 2020 rated it liked it
This was definitely a book I read. It was ok. Probably more like 3.5 stars. I think in a lot of ways I agree with his premise/conclusions that we should care a lot more about long term growth, future investments, and the future in general, in ways that we currently don't. His ways of getting there are mostly philosophical thought exercises, which I am not terribly interested in.

There's a few thought lines he uses that don't make a lot of sense to me, but overall I don't think it's terribly mind
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This book is like 60% of a brilliant book. Cowen starts a few different interesting ideas about how to make choices between competing policy alternatives. The book is fairly short, ~125 pages, so I still think it's worth reading just for exposure to these ideas.

The main takeaways are:
1. Even small economic growth of 1% a year has huge impacts on overall human wellbeing in the long run, so we should give lots of weight to policies which enable economic growth.
2. Economic growth isn't inherently
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Cowen provides some interesting perspectives around thinking about questions that I tend to normally neglect as ones being too complex to wrap my head around. For instance, the talk around how to arrive at a compromise between optimising for the now versus thinking big is a battle that I fight on a day to day basis. Cowen provides some comfort by alluding to natural human tendencies towards weighing the present much higher than the future even if it is the immediate future.

It is a dense topic, t
Shane Hawk
A philosophical treatise from one of the more interesting economists out there. Cowen mainly argues that our future should not be disregarded or "discounted." To be effective in making ourselves prosperous in the long run we should work hard to prevent existential risks, encourage investing in both the private and public sectors, and making our institutions more stable. Expanding on this he also argues we should shift focus away from short-term political problems and many forms of redistribution ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Style & engagement: (2.5/5)
I liked that Cowen laid out the premises of his arguments clearly right at the beginning of the book in (mostly) unambiguous terms. I wish more authors took time at the beginning of their books to list relevant assumptions before making their arguments. That said, as the book progressed Cowen used increasing amounts of economic and philosophical jargon that he explained with mildly frustrating inconsistency. I enjoyed the read but at times wanted him to provide more co
Tim Black
Oct 26, 2020 rated it liked it
As someone who has read Marginal Revolution and listened to Conversations with Tyler on and off over the past several years, I was looking forward to diving into one of his books to better understand how he sees the world (and was very much open to being persuaded by this viewpoint). Although there are some interesting ideas in this book, the core argument felt a bit vague and incomplete.

Cowen’s guiding principle for thinking about the development of a county is "Growth Plus Rights", meaning tha
Grant Lacey
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book that provides intellectually stimulating questions on how to view society. Tyler challenges you in ways that you maybe haven’t considered before.

He draws out these questions a little too much at times, but all in all: a very good read.
Michael Siliski
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
The philosophical foundations for Tyler Cowen's view of economics, life, etc. I found it pretty inscrutable, mired in arcane details. As someone who generally goes for philosophical foundations AND arcane details, I don't know what went wrong here for me. ...more
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Intriguing book by economist Tyler Cowen (Conversations with Tyler Cowen podcast) which argues that sustained economic growth is the best way to improve human well being. He does thisnot just by economically arguing the point, but philosophically. The book is more philosophy than it is economics. He defines a term called “Wealth Plus” which is GDP but also added variables for leisure time, environmental impact, etc. I especially liked the discussion on happiness, which brought up some thoughts o ...more
Alasdair Reads
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Maybe the best book on "Effective Morality" ever written. ...more
Ivan Vendrov
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
How do we decide what is right in a world full of contradictory ideologies and ethical frameworks?

Cowen's answer is both laughably obvious and deeply subversive: the overriding ethical principle is to maximize sustainable economic growth.

Sustained economic growth provides a solution to "aggregation problems" - disagreements about how to aggregate value across individuals, how to distribute resources and arrange society - because sustained growth means almost all of us get more of what we want, i
Fraser Kinnear
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, philosophy
Before everything else, I really appreciated the format of the book. I wish more books were written this way. As Cowen puts it:
As I consider the questions outlined above, I will focus on clashing arguments and the substantive bottom line. I do not devote much time to building consensus on familiar material, surveying what everyone has said on a particular topic, or other such niceties. I do not retread familiar ground and then offer tentative suggestions for tackling these tough problems at the
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Cowen's prose is understandable and direct, and his point about making policy decisions with a view toward a longer timeframe is well-taken. But I ultimately agree with many criticisms levied towards this book (the article "Stubborn Detachment" in Current Affairs is one example).

Beyond the excellent points made there, what struck me again and again as the author used terms like "our civilization," "rational," and most cringeworthy of all, "the thinking man's equivalent of the savage's short-run
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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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