Tyler’s begun a new interview series at GMU and his conversations with the first two guests, Peter Thiel and Jeffrey Sachs, are amazing. Available as transcripts, videos, or podcast episodes.
In each conversation, you feel like you’re in the presence of two first rate thinkers in honest exchange with each other about what’s happening in the world. There are lots of insights to take away from each, but the meta lesson for me — especially in the Sachs dialogue — is the level of expertise one develops after years of thinking about the same question. Sachs has been thinking about developmental economics for a long, long time, and the depth of his experiences and views — right or wrong — really comes through.
Some specific quotes. At one point, Sachs says the following, and there’s an interesting back-and-forth about different ways to solve global problems:
I believe that knowledge matters and that the more clarity, the more evidence, the more appropriate an analysis, the more likely we can find a good outcome to things. Many people are cynical. I tend not to be. I’m sometimes accused of being gullible as a result, or being too soft in the face of whatever. But I believe that there’s a way to reach an agreement, typically, among pretty conflictual and often pretty antagonistic actors.
Sachs also is bullish on China:
[China’s rise] is happening. That’s the story of our time. It’s happening.
One and a half billion, two billion people including other parts of Southeast Asia — they’re on an upswing. That’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s the most significant scaled improvement of material conditions in the history of the world in a short period of time. It’s deep. It’s great civilizations, great cultures, great capacity.
In the Thiel conversation, there’s the following:
TYLER COWEN: Let’s say you’re trying to select people for your Thiel fellowships, or maybe to work for one of your companies, or to start a new company with. Just you, Peter Thiel, as a judge of talent, what trait do you look for in that person that is being undervalued by others? The rest of the world out there is way too conformist, so there must then be unexploited profit opportunities in finding people. If you’re less conformist, which I’m very willing to believe, indeed would insist on that being the case, what is it you look for?
PETER THIEL: It’s very difficult to reduce it to any single traits, because a lot of what you’re looking for, are these almost Zen-like opposites. You want people who are both really stubborn and really open-minded. That’s a little bit contradictory. You want people who are idiosyncratic and really different, but then who can work well together in teams. And so, this is again, maybe not 180 degrees opposite, but like 175 degrees.
Later, Tyler reads a question someone sent him that could be summarized, essentially, as what should a person do today to be successful in the modern economy? Peter says:
I’m always super hesitant to answer questions that are so abstract. If there was some general answer to the question, it would almost certainly be wrong. If I give you some general answer, and everybody could follow it, then if everybody followed that answer, it would be the wrong thing to do.
It resonated with me because the “What’s the one thing I need to do to achieve XYZ?” is such a common question I hear asked of speakers and authors.