The Substantive Bottom Line

Tyler Cowen, in his special unpublished chapter sent to buyers of Create Your Own Economy, lays the groundwork for what he plans to do the rest of his book-in-progress:

I will focus on clashing arguments and the substantive bottom line. I do not devote much time to building consensus on familiar material, literature survey, or other niceties. I do not retread familiar ground, offering some “suggestive remarks” on the tough problems at the very end. I do not “argue by elimination” by focusing on the weaknesses in other views and downplaying the weaknesses of my own. Instead I seek to start with tough questions and spend the rest of the book trying to pick up the pieces. That is the kind of book I like to read and thus that is the sort of book I am trying to write.

…If you are the kind of reader I want, no matter how hard I push, you will feel I have not pushed hard enough on the tough questions.

In other words, he rejects timid, “on the one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand” argumentative narratives. He likes deliberate provocation. He wants to focus on the most contentious issues of an argument.

I like people who focus on the substantive bottom line. People like Marty Nemko.

I like people who think seriously without apologizing, and feel deeply without hedging. Add humility and a strong sense of humor, and you’ve got a winning combination for a stimulating, fun person or book.

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I’m soon speaking in Sioux City, IA and Nicosia, Cyprus (the country). I’ll also be passing through Boston and D.C., among other places, so if we should be meeting up and breaking bread over a glass of tap water or pulp-heavy orange juice, email me!

7 Responses to The Substantive Bottom Line

  1. Jackie Dobbler says:

    I agree with you in that you should feel strongly about the conclusions that you’ve come to- I would add the caution that you shouldn’t stick to these opinions unnecessarily. Robert Cialdini rephrased Emerson’s quote in Influence: (roughly) “unjustified consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

    Feel strongly about your opinions but don’t be afraid to change them if the evidence presents otherwise.

  2. Isak says:

    I agree with that approach. But how can you not hedge if you add in humility?

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    Being self-aware and explicit about the fact that you’re not hedging, and
    then everything else that goes along with humility.

  4. Lisa K. says:

    I go to school in Des Moines, IA…so I must ask, what brings you to Sioux City? Currently away from Iowa so I wouldnt be able to make it, but am still curious. I discovered your blog this summer and it is quickly becoming part of my regular web-surfing routine!

  5. Ben Casnocha says:

    Speaking at a university in Sioux City. Thanks for reading!

  6. Simon Halliday says:

    One of the problems I find with this kind of thing is that it requires you to be resolved on an issue, or almost any issue. I remember you writing previously about how you were happy ‘not to know’ about certain things (I think it was on the healthcare debate in the US), or not to have a strong opinion on it either way.

    I am not convinced that we can continuously ask ‘the tough questions’ because inevitably you’ll get to something about which you don’t know much, or something about which you’re unresolved, don’t know much about, or don’t care about. But, I think it is far better to say ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I don’t care’, and be confident in those positions than to equivocate. I just worry about dogmatically taking strong positions for the sake of it.

    Also, I think that it would be difficult, if not irresponsible, to read only ‘tough questions’ books/articles as you might get a skewed view of the scientific consensus, or those who hedge more readily than the author you’re reading. In which case ‘hedged’ reading should be seen as complementary to ‘tough questions’ reading.

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Absolutely. And I’ve blogged about uncertainty in the past…

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