AcademicI am Tyler Cowen, blogger at Marginal Revolution, George Mason Economics Professor, and author of "The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream." Ask Me Anything!
Mar 6th 2017 by TylerCowen • 40 Questions • 377 Points
Using a throwaway for obvious reasons...I worked professionally as a flight attendant for a major airline and travelled all around the world. I've got plenty of stories to share so ask away!
Hi Tyler, When asked if they would rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses, many people say they would be more scared of a horse-sized duck. My question to you is, duck-sized horses, over-rated or under-rated?
What tangible benefits, if any, do you think Sweden gets from taking in so many refugees?
This is a very difficult question, because any answer I can give comes with a number of counterpoints.
You could argue that Sweden gets an economic benefit from an increased workforce. The population of ethnic Swedes shrinks every year and a large portion of Swedish citizens get University degrees and work in professions with high demands on skill and knowledge. An injection of people willing to work low-skill jobs can provide a boon for the Swedish economy and stave of stagnation.
On the other hand, the Swedish economy is very advanced, and as such the need for low-skill work is quite small. In the future it might very well shrink even more due to the robotization of manufacturing. Furthermore, what little low-skill work there is is protected by unions and collective bargaining that keeps wages high. As such it might be very difficult to find jobs, and unemployment rises. Studies show that after 7 years of being in the country not even half of refugees have found work.
You could argue that Sweden benefits on a social and cultural level. Multiculturalism can add value to Swedish culture, foster broader sympathy and understanding to foreign cultures and help create a more tolerant society.
On the other hand, Sweden was even before the crisis facing serious issues of segregation. Immigrants flooded into suburban areas with low housing costs as middle-class Swedes moved to more affluent areas. As most are aware, segregation leads to growing social woes, and the issues of the suburbs have expressed themselves with occasional rioting and increased hostility and even violence against police and social workers. These problems will be aggravated by taking in more refugees. The situation isn't help by an unhealthy housing market that keeps prices of houses high.
You could argue that Sweden benefits on a moral level. We provide a shining example of taking in as many as we can no matter the cost, showing human lives outweigh economic costs. We can help spearhead initiatives for more countries to to the same.
On the other hand, the inability of the Swedish government to act in any meaningful way against growing costs and increasing processing times, while also engaging in quite morally hypocritical behaviour such as suddenly guarding its borders after years of doing nothing comparable, has eroded much of the moral fiber of Sweden in the eyes of the world. Countries now point to Sweden as a bad example, a country that wouldn't take necessary measures and now has to pay the consequences. Furthermore, even before the crisis Sweden has been criticized for amongst other things not handling the cases of unaccompanied children with enough sensitivity. Last week Human Rights Watch strongly criticized Sweden for mot prioritizing children enough.
As you can tell, under current circumstances any benefit to Sweden, short- or longterm, is not terribly snificant. That's not to say these issues can't be turned around, but for them to be solved they must first be acknowledged. And to acknowledge these issues means acknowledging that the refugee crisis has a negative impact on the country. The government is unwilling to do this as it might sway public opinion against immigration and lead to a conservative victory next election.
So overall the current situation looks pretty bleak. Sweden needs to confront the truth that there are no easy solutions and try to act in the way that least damages the country. What this course of action would be I do not know, but we'll never find out if we don't actively search for it.
This was asked by someone and you answered from your previous AMA, after 8 months, has there been change? or is 8 months a bit short to comment on change?
What was protocol when your team would find passengers attempting to uhhh... join the club at an altitude of 5,280 ft?
Not a great danger. Remember all those large birds that used to roam around New Zealand? Where are they today? Hunted and eaten by the Maori. The small horses could nip at your heels, however.
More! The infovores are not the ones I worry about, it's everyone else. I hope that Reddit energizes you, why not?
Which modern commentator on economics, political philosophy, public policy, and/or current affairs do you agree with most often?
I'll guess Megan McArdle.
That's only during a three month period, from October-January. Most crimes are committed in the summer because more people are outside and its easier to travel and easier to get away too. It's very cold during those three months in Swedenso naturally there is less crimes committed. You should factor in the summer especially in these calculations.
Wheres the statistics over the whole year or maybe from January 2015-today? Would make more sense to have a bigger sample size over a year or a few years time and not just three months during the period where most people are inside.
This also factors in the whole country, if you would pick the bigger cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo where most refugees are at, do you end up with 1% as well?
On the IR, the role of coal is still underrated in my view, though I don't go for any of the monocausal theories. I don't think of the book you seek, maybe a few of those from Sweden, such as Johan Norberg? Germany seems to be moving away from Ordoliberalismus ein bisschen. My notion of historical cycles is pretty loose, simply that progress should not be so tightly expected. DSGE now underrated, too many critics who don't have anything better to offer. Mass automation lies in the future, TGS lies in our past, two phases of a broader story. I have never met Ray, and don't know how much of his story/persona is real vs. invented. Look for a good research assistant!
Danke fuer die Fragen! Bis demnaechst!
I suppose you could say that. I myself lived in one of the more, shall we say, "unstable" suburbs in Stockholm about two years ago, and there were times where you would definitely feel unsafe. But whether or not you can pin that on immigration is trickier. For instance, in the last few years we have had a complete restructuring of the police force in Sweden, which is generally considered to have made it less effective. There's also an argument to be made that the actual criminal element of these suburbs is made up of a very small amount of people, and that the majority of residents are law-abiding citizens. And of course, there's no such thing as no-go zones in Sweden.
There are other arguments, like how suburbs have become very segregated or how our school system doing worse, but discussing those might just be a bit overkill.
Planes exist. What do you mean?? I don't understand. EXIST?? Planes do exist. Yeah.
I have a fear of flying, especially during take off. What are some things I should know before my flight that'll comfort me?
Los Angeles is my favorite city in the whole world, just love driving around it, seeing the scenery, eating there. I still miss living in the area.
In a fistfight I don't know, but in a bathingsuit contest it'd be Dave hands down.
Honestly though, we're really well trained. We go through 6-7 weeks of just evacuation training. Every kind of emergency you can think of. We're so well trained.
Some smart and able people doing the hiring! I will leave it to you to guess who those might be. I don't know of a comparable cluster elsewhere, though of course there are many excellent departments, superb and world class along other dimensions. Harvard, Stanford, MIT would be tops these days.
We've all encountered "restaurant secret menu" type posts on social media that usually turn out to be 90% junk or isolated to one specific location of a chain or whatever. I've seen a few for airlines as well, but don't know how much of that is believable either.
That being said, what would you say are five tips for travelers that are legit and many people don't know to do, but would make their flight more enjoyable or more memorable?
Much influenced by it, that book was one force making me more of a liberaltarian. People will only tolerate so much instability, and Polanyi showed that pretty clearly.
1) As technology displaces more and more jobs in our economy what is the best way to (1) measure and (2) provide meaning in peoples' lives decoupled from work?
2) You've made a career by 'specializing in being a generalist.' For millennial polymaths who have diverse interests, do you have any career advice re: what to pursue that would allow you to learn about a diverse set of topics?
what is best and worst thing about this?
Not trying to be that guy or be a fun sucker here, just want to present the facts. Number 4 is technically true the way you wrote it, anyone can bring alcohol onboard the A/C, but drinking their own alcohol per the FAR's (Federal Aviation Regulations) is illegal.
14CFR § 121.575 Alcoholic beverages. (a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him. (Source: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=9d44397fe14f0fe4366f769cf9d2956c&r=SECTION&n=14y126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52)
Is the FA going to get a FAM or have the police meet the A/C because your drinking your mini, of course not (reportable for failure to comply however). But it is illegal.
"Let them eat internet" -- the modern Marie Antoinette.
I got black-out drunk and mained Hanzo all night long.
It was not my proudest moment.
As for your serious question, I think the most surprising thing has probably been just how normal you realize that these people are once the circumstances of their being here stop being as relevant to your interactions with them. Especially the minors. Before they are refugees, before they are Hazara or Syrian or Ethiopian, before they are Muslim or Christian, they are just kids. I double as a substitute teacher, and I see the exact same behaviours in school as I see in the accommodation. They have rebellious phases, they get depressed, they fall in love, they discover new hobbies and interests. They very quickly stop being refugees and start being simply people.
The most difficult thing I've had to deal with is kids who regress because their applications are rejected. Once you know you're not going to stay in the country much longer, you stop caring about anything. I've seen people lock themselves in their rooms for days on end, neglect school and work and friends, and sometimes even become suicidal. What's worse is that there is very little we can do to help them. We can't tell them everything will be alright and that they should hold out hope, because it won't. They've been rejected. It's over.
Take your shoes off, I just wouldn't walk to the restroom without them! The floors are the dirtiest!
I've had a very elderly lady with her care taken getting sick on herself, I literally thought she was dying, but her care taker said she was ok, and on the floor. We just put this powder over the mess then they vacuumed it between flights.
Babies get sick, grown men pee on themselves and the floor, and I've never seen anything but a vacuum used on those floors.
Flying through Chicago this month. What popcorn from where?
It forces thought onto a higher meta-level to ask about overrated vs. underrated. It's like asking about investments relative to the market price, and an economist who has studied a lot of finance naturally will have this inclination. Water and food are good! Yes, but which are the underrated restaurants...
What do you think about Peter Thiel's relationship with President Trump?
I haven’t done any real travel and would like to but don’t have a grasp even on the basics. At a really basic level, what do you do during the day to maximize your limited time in a foreign environment? Eating good food is obvious, but what else? If tourist sites are overrated, then what do you replace them with (for someone maybe not so interested in GDP tourism)? Are there any good books on how to travel?
I know you consider alcohol a social ill. What are your thoughts on marijuana or LSD?
What are your thoughts on the murder of Alexandra Mezher?
Do you remember your least favorite pilot/pilots to fly with? What'd they do to gain the title?
They should study the history of the Industrial Revolution, and all of its bumps, I had a recent Bloomberg column on this, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-02-16/industrial-revolution-comparisons-aren-t-comforting
Thanks for doing this AMA!
If you were in your mid twenties, what counter-to-the-conventional-wisdom life decisions would you make as a consequence of the picture you paint in The Complacent Class, Average is Over, and on your blog? Or, put another way: what life decisions for young people deserve to have their status raised, and which deserve to have their status lowered?
Separately, I wanted to thank you for writing the one blog I read religiously. One of the best metrics of whether I think someone is smart and interesting is whether I reflexively recommend that they read Marginal Revolution.
You said that the increase in sex crimes from 2015-2016 can be explained exclusively by Swedish legislative changes regarding sex crimes.
Could you please tell me exactly what sex crime laws were changed during that time period and how they would cause such a notable increase in comparison to previous years. How exactly do you believe that these specific legaslative changes had a larger effect on your countries crime rate than accepting in thousands of impoverished people who treat women like livestock?
Also, hypothetically, if you knew that migrants were committing rapes at much higher rates than native Swedes, would you feel any guilt about your compliance in it all?
For instance, in Sweden, multiple accounts of sexual assault will count as individual charges. If you rape someone multiple times, it will not be filed in court as one instance of rape but rather several.
Also, the definition of rape has been broadened considerably. For instance, if you feel unsure about sleeping with someone, and afterwards felt like you weren't okay with it, that can be considered rape.
Most rapes occur at home, and the guilty party is often someone in your circle of friends or family. That fact hasn't changed in Sweden.
Now, I'm intrigued by your phrasing of the hypothetical question. Why would I feel compliant in migrants committing rapes? It's not my fault that Sweden is complying with international law on accepting asylum seekers. Not only that, but my job is to actively help refugees integrate into society and become law-abiding citizens. In your hypothetical scenario, am I not fighting the good fight?
I would say just wear your seatbelt during it. We go through turbulence regularly. The pilots are aware and it happens all the time.
Almost anything by Bergman, most of all Persona and Scenes from a Marriage. Tarkovsky, most of all Stalker. The Star Wars films. John Woo and classic Asian cinema. Every year on MR I publish a list of my favorites from that year, most recently Toni Erdmann made a big impression on me.
It seems like neither source is discussing refugees, and both in fact support my overall position on immigration and crime. Socioeconomic factors are more important variables than ethnicity or country of origin in explaining crime rates.
Rita Ora! She was on a flight and
We're doing first class service. Rita's assistant is in the back of the plane and she keeps coming up to her in first class. So we're like, "okay you can't keep coming up". We understood but had to say "alright now that's enough". So we stuck her assistant in the back of the plane so she couldn't help with what happened next...
No one can really come up to the front bathroom in first class unless the back is blocked. Some guy goes rogue and walks up to the front and we see him just...staring...kind of...So we go up to check it out and we see that Rita's boob is just hanging right out.
Luckily no one saw besides him because she was in the very back of first class. We tried to put a blanket over to cover the boob. She had on this button up shirt. She's passed out...her boob fell out. It's literally just out. So we tried to put a blanket over her but she kept taking it off in her sleep. We kept coming back and the boob kept coming out.
Like...why? Why don't you want the blanket on you? Can't you tell it's out??
Thanks for doing an AMA! I've read MR for about 6 years and listened to your Conversations podcast for about 6 months. Both have taught me a lot.
My question: I've heard you ask some variant of this question on your podcast: given a billion (or 10 billion, if you like) dollars to attack a problem of your choosing, what problem do you choose to attack? How, and why?
Level with us... Why can't I have my tray table down during take-off or landing?
I don't know that you can do that much good with a billion dollars, not easily at least and not without great skill and also a good deal of luck. I know of a bunch of billionaires who have given away a billion or more. Maybe Andrew Carnegie was the most successful in terms of long-run impact?
Because if there's an emergency, you can't evacuate. Also that's why your seat can't be back. It's not for you, it's for the person behind you. Same reason you can't have anything in the aisle.
If there's something in the way, you can hit your head on it and that's how most accidents happen.
How do you pronounce Cowen, like Cow-en or like Co-wen?
Intellectually and logically I'm aware of all the safety facts. When up at 30,000ft I can't help but think about how high up I am and that I have ZERO control over what happens to me!
Yeah you don't have any control over what happens to you. Just wear your seatbelt.
Is it true that flight attendents get sick a lot because of being exposed to people with different germs in a confined space all the time? Any tips on how not to get sick travelling?
Some get sick, some build tolerance. If there is a cold or flu going around we usually get it right away. I wore gloves picking up trash sometimes to avoid getting sick.
I'm not sure if those Emergen-C or Airborne tablets work but that's the best advice I really have. You're crammed in to a small area with hundreds of people recycling the air... it's hard to avoid.
What are your tips for undegrduate students wanting to become a non-academic economists? What's the best way to study the philosophical questions in economics, like social choice theory or Rawls? They don't appear in undergrad programmes.
Do you have any flight attendant friends that had died in a plane crash?