How Different Are People? A Caplan-Cowen Dialogue
By Bryan Caplan
Here’s a true conversation between me and Tyler Cowen, filtered through several years of memory:
Tyler: People like to think they’re special, but we’re all pretty much the same.
Me: No we’re not. Some people are really great; others are simply awful.
Tyler: That’s just the kind of thing people say to make themselves feel special.
Me: You don’t really believe that.
Tyler: Do too.
Me: What if we use the metric of your willingness-to-pay to spend an hour with a person? There are a few awesome people you would pay thousands of dollars to meet. But you’d pay hundreds of dollars to avoid an hour with most people.
Tyler: [3-second hesitation.] Well, it’s not clear why that should be the relevant metric.
Me: But it’s your metric!
Tyler: What’s so special about my metric?
Me: What’s so special about it? By definition, that metric captures everything that you think matters. And by that very metric, people are not “pretty much the same.” They’re incredibly different.
I don’t remember what Tyler said next. I’m sure, though, that it wasn’t “You’re right, I take it all back!” But shouldn’t it have been?