Cowen, Tyler 1962-

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COWEN, Tyler 1962-


Born January 21, 1962, in NJ; son of James and Nheiua (Bohan) Cowen; married Natasha Chernyak (a Russian-born lawyer). Education: George Mason University, B.S. (economics), 1983; Harvard University, Ph.D. (economics), 1987; attended Albert-Ludwig University (Freibrug, Germany), 1985-86. Hobbies and other interests: Art, music, travel.


Home—6347 Nicholson St., Falls Church, VA 22044. Office—MSN ID3, Carow Hall, James M. Buchanan Center, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030; fax: (703) 993-1133. E-mail[email protected]


Writer. University of California, Irvine, assistant professor of economics, 1987-89; George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, professor of economics, 1989—; adjunct scholar, Cato Institute, general director of Mercatus Center and James Buchanan Center.


(Editor) The Theory of Market Failure: A Critical Examination, George Mason University Press (Fairfax, VA), 1988.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand: Institutional Structure and Policy Choices (monograph), New Zealand Business Roundtable, 1991.

(Editor) Public Goods and Market Failures: A Critical Examination, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 1992.

(With Penelope Brook Cowen and Alex Tabarrok) An Analysis of Proposals for Constitutional Change in New Zealand (monograph), New Zealand Business Roundtable (Auckland, New Zealand), 1992.

(With Randall Kroszner) Explorations in New Monetary Economics, Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1994.

Risk and Business Cycles: New and Old Austrian Perspectives, Routledge (New York, NY), 1997.

(With David Parker) Markets in the Firm: A Market-Process Approach to Management, Institute for Economic Affairs (London, England), 1997.

In Praise of Commercial Culture, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

(Editor) Economic Welfare, Edward Elgar (Northampton, MA), 2000.

What Price Fame?, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

(Editor, with Eric Crampton) Market Failure or Success: The New Debate, Edward Elgar (Northampton, MA), 2002.

Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2002.

Cocreator (with Alexander Tabarrok) and contributor to the Marginal Revolution economics Web blog and contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy Web blog. Also writes and maintains his personal Web site, which includes a link to his popular ethnic dining guide for the Northern Virginia/Washington DC/Maryland area. Associate editor, Southern Economic Journal.


A book on the amate painters of Mexico.


Tyler Cowen's interest in economics may stem from his childhood in New Jersey, where his father served as the president of the Northern New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. Since then, he earned his doctorate degree in economics from Harvard, became a professor of economics at George Mason University in Virginia, and published many texts on topics such as market theory, globalization, cross-cultural exchange, and fame. In his first book, The Theory of Market Failure: A Critical Examination, he collected and edited seventeen theoretical and practical articles by economists on various economic issues. The book covers a wide range of topics, from public expenditures, market failures, public goods theory, property rights, and state-of-nature theories to private education, leisure and recreational services, and fire protection. "Faculty, advanced undergraduates, and graduate students will get good use from this timeless volume," concluded M. Veseth in Choice.

Cowen also edited Public Goods and Market Failures: A Critical Examination. The book's three sections cover various issues related to the private provision of public goods. The first part of the book covers market failures; the second examines developments in the theory of public goods; and the third part offers case studies. In Explorations in the New Monetary Economics, Cowen and coauthor Randall Kroszner plumb the depths of "New Monetary Economics," a specific theory of society's best approach to monetary systems. Sheila C. Dow of the Economic Journal called Explorations in the New Monetary Economics "a useful addition to the literature." Markets in the Firm: A Market-Process Approach to Management, coauthored by Cowen and David Parker for the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, promotes the use of market principles within business firms to increase their ability to adapt and learn. Economic Welfare offers insight on the three approaches to modern welfare economics. Another title, Market Failure or Success: The New Debate, discusses how market failure at the microeconomic level can impact economics on a larger level.

In his book In Praise of Commercial Culture, Cowen, who once told CA that his "research program is to use economic reasoning to explain artistic creativity and contemporary culture," refutes the theories advanced in the nineteenth century by French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, who argued that democracies foster mediocrity and throw-away art. In aristocratic societies, de Tocqueville argued, craftsmanship and quality were emphasized and art was accorded its rightful high place in society. Cowen counters de Tocqueville's theories with, according to Reason 's Nick Gillespie, "a detailed, compelling, and insightful" response to de Tocqueville's position on democracy and culture. The commercial culture spawned by democracy, Cowen argues, actually fosters art. To prove his point, Cowen offers case studies of how commercial transactions have worked to benefit artists and their audiences. The free market system in American democracy has brought popular artists like Michael Jackson and Stephen Spielberg to the fore, "while at the same time securing niches for more obscure visions, such as those of Brian Eno or Peter Greenaway."

According to Cowen, the free market economy has long created opportunities for artists. Cowen reaches back to Florence, Italy, during the Renaissance period and into seventeenth-century Amsterdam to prove his point that the free market fosters creativity. The result has been more art and a wider variety of art than was produced in aristocratic societies. A recent case in point is the upsetting of the four largest record companies—Columbia, Capitol, Decca, and RCA Victor—by competing companies, a growth that Cowen attributes to the free market.

Cowen gives tremendous credit to technology for furthering the cause of art and culture. The printing press, for example, made it possible for composers to score their music and this, says Cowen, gave rise to intricate classical music. Chris C. Mooney summarized Cowen's argument in the Boston Globe, commenting, "New technologies not only promote the dissemination and preservation of art, they also inspire innovation by creating new possibilities." According to Gillespie, Cowen succeeds by "contextualizing pessimism within a larger dynamic of cultural growth and by showing the beneficial effects of markets on art." Cowen's book "remaps the debate in a way that should greatly inform all future arguments." " In Praise of Commercial Culture, " remarked Mooney, "instantly defined Cowen as the leading proponent of a free-market position within the arts and culture."

In Creative Destruction, Cowen "once again salutes the marriage of fine art and free markets," wrote Mooney, and offers his optimistic view of globalization. The book, according to Institutional Investor writer Deepak Gopinath, "seeks to debunk the view that globalization leads to a loss of cultural diversity and what some have called the dumbing-down of world culture." Cowen willingly admits, wrote Gopinath, "that modern society is becoming more homogeneous between cultures but more heterogeneous within them." He also argues, however, that as indigenous cultures are assimilated into the collective world culture, they bring new ideas and new art to the forefront and introduce the world to new cultural experiences. symploke critic Jerry A. Varsava wrote in his review of Creative Destruction, "A common contemporary lament has it that globalization is a sort of dull, ambling leviathan that tramples cultural distinctiveness at every turn, and brings with it the destruction of nuance and identity.… [This book] questions this view, finding in it unwanted pessimism and a fundamentally misconceived view of culture's genesis and development." Varsava continued, " Creative Destruction adduces a great deal of empirical evidence to demonstrate that culture is inherently dynamic and typically hybrid, with cultural genres and media in a state of constant alteration."

Creative Destruction received mixed reviews from critics. Clifford Geertz of New Republic questioned Cowen's form in defending globalization—to "raise all the objections in parodic form and then shoot them down with quips and instances"—writing, "after a while, the same form of argument endlessly repeated with a new factoid plugged in begins to pall." Gopinath felt that Cowen "vastly overstates the benefits of Western influence on non-Western cultures while simultaneously minimizing the significance of cultural losses." "Most glaringly," continued Gopinath, "he doesn't mention the destruction colonialism wrought on many of the world's cultures." Library Journal contributor M. C. Duhig, however, found Creative Destruction to be "refreshingly candid and thorough about [the] negative effects" of globalization on world culture. Duhig noted that the "six well-documented lively chapters" are "impressively academic and thoroughly accessible." Mooney claimed that like In Praise of Commercial Cutlure, Creative Destruction "celebrate[s] the dynamism and creativity that market forces introduce into the arts and culture."

In Cowen's What Price Fame?, he presents a survey of how fame has changed from ancient Greece to the present focusing on the difference that exists between fame and merit, and outlining the economic forces behind the change. As Iuliana Ismailescu pointed out in American Economist, Cowen presents evidence that over the last one hundred years, the people that children admire have shifted from leaders, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to celebrities and other entertainers. According to Ismailescu, Cowen argues that this change was brought on by "the increasing importance of the media and the rising competition of information sources, as well as the technology revolution." Cowen presents both positive and negative aspects of fame. In the book, he argues that fame can create "a dazzling array of diverse and creative performances" and "mobilize the human propensity to talk in support of great achievements." However, he also writes that "a culture saturated with overfamiliarity becomes less hopeful, less interested, and less erotic." Cowen also argues that fame-obsessed societies tend to have lower moral standards citing, for example, former President Bill Clinton who "survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal with few reputational consequences, which was unprecedented in U.S. presidential history," wrote Ismailescu.

Biography 's Ann Larabee thought that What Price Fame? assumed an "elite audience" capable of recognizing merit. Larabee maintained, "the book ultimately fails because of its reductionism in representing stars and audiences, its ignorance of political influences in the marketplace, and its inability to grasp fully the social construction of merit." "Merit," Larabee continued, "remains elusive throughout and is often confused with morality." "The book poses an interesting question about the relationship between fame and merit, but it fails to define one of its key terms. It slips into an essentialist presentation of merit, while covertly eliciting a narrow, elitist judgment from academics positioning themselves as arbiters of culture. It is very difficult indeed to determine questions of value, especially without specific analysis of communities… who seek to define it for themselves," concluded Larabee. Ismailescu offered a more positive opinion, writing, "Tyler Cowen does an admirable job of answering questions such as why fame and merit are frequently separated or what principles govern who becomes famous and what the implications are of modern fame for one's creativity, privacy, and morality."



Cowen, Tyler, What Price Fame?, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.


American Economist, spring, 2003, Iuliana Ismailescu, review of What Price Fame?, p. 91.

American Prospect, February, 2004, Drake Bennett, "Our Mongrel Planet," review of Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures, p. 62.

Art in America, David L. Krantz, review of In Praise of Commercial Culture, p. 51.

Biography, summer, 2001, Ann Larabee, review of What Price Fame?, p. 675.

Boston Globe, November 24, 2002, Chris C. Mooney, "The Globalist Cookbook: Does Globalization Improve Culture, or Just Water It Down?," profile of Tyler Cowen.

Business Record (Des Moines, IA), February 23, 2004, "Marginal Revolution," article about Cowen's Marginal Revolution Web site, p. 33.

Choice, April, 1989, p. 1378.

Economic Journal, January, 1996, p. 284; June, 1999, James E. Hartley, review of Risk and Business Cycles: New and Old Austrian Perspectives, p. F484; November, 1999, Ruth Towse, review of In Praise of Commercial Culture, p. F832.

Fortune, April 26, 1999, David R. Henderson, "Filthy Lucre Is Good for the Soul," review of In Praise of Commercial Culture, p. 66.

Institutional Investor, November, 2002, Deepak Gopinath, "Culture Vulture," review of Creative Destruction, p. 132.

Journal of Economic Literature, December, 1989, p. 1732; December, 1992, p. 2234; March, 1998, p. 354; March, 1999, Angelo Mascaro, review of Risk and Business Cycles, p. 193; December, 1999, George Lipsitz, review of In Praise of Commercial Culture, p. 1741; March, 2001, review of What Price Fame?, p. 244; September, 2001, Philip Cook, review of What Price Fame?, p. 933.

Library Journal, June 1, 1998, p. 120; November 1, 2002, M. C. Duhig, review of Creative Destruction, p. 118.

London Review of Books, June 4, 1998, p. 8.

Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2003, Benjamin R. Barber, "Brave New McWorld," review of Creative Destruction, p. R-3.

Mid-Atlantic Journal of Business, April, 1989, Murray Sabrin, review of The Theory of Market Failure: A Critical Examination, p. 88.

New Republic, February 17, 2003, Clifford Geertz, "Off the Menu," review of Creative Destruction, p. 27.

Reason, October, 1998, p. 63; August, 2003, Nick Gillespie, "Really Creative Destruction: Economist Tyler Cowen Argues for the Cultural Benefits of Globalization," review of Creative Destruction, p. 56.

symploke, winter-spring, 2003, Jerry A. Varsava, review of Creative Destruction, p. 255.

Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2002, David R. Henderson, "An Invasion without Guns and a Welcome One," review of Creative Destruction, p. D10.

Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2000, A. J. Hewat, review of What Price Fame?, p. 142.


Marginal Revolution Web site, (June 16, 2004).

Tyler Cowen Web site, (June 16, 2004), Tyler Cowen's personal Web page.

Volokh Conspiracy Web site, (June 16, 2004).*