Tyler Cowen: Create Your Own Economy: An Economics and Autism Book Interview

/

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with economist Tyler Cowen, author of Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World, an economics book that argues that the Internet is making our society more “autistic” and autistic individuals have a leg up in this new digital economy.

Tyler talks to me about Economcis, the way in which autistic individuals approach concepts differently than non-autistics, and how the autistic mode of thought can be more beneficial in certain situations. Read on for my interview with Tyler Cowen and you’ll find out what he thinks about everything from Autism, to the terms “low-functioning” vs. “high functioning,” and even bickering in the autism community.

Read on for the interview with Tyler Cowen!

Alex Plank: First I want to ask how you found out about autism and what got you into discovering it .


Tyler Cowen: There’s a woman named Kathleen Fascinella who wrote me an e-mail some years ago, was really about ways in which people process information and through corresponding with her, I realized, or thought I realized, that I have ways of processing information that have a lot in common with the autism spectrum, I don’t think of myself as autistic in the diagnosable sense, I’ve had a very easy life, which if you look in the diagnostic manuals would be incompatible with that, but I think in terms of autistic cognitive traits, I have quite a few. This extreme interest in absorbing ordering and processing information.

Alex Plank: So I was also wondering, what your thoughts were on the diagnosis itself. Like for me, I feel there are certain advantages and disadvantages to being diagnosed at an early age. What do you feel, based on your experiences, even not being diagnosed?


Tyler Cowen: I think people who are diagnosed, they get a lot of –sometimes, they get aid, sometimes they get efforts to help them that don’t help them at all, make it worse. they get a lot of stigma, and They get a lot of information, telling them they can’t possibly succeed. So I think one of the most striking things about autism is the extreme variance –within autism– variance of outcomes, variance of cognitive abilities and disabilities. So I don’t think there’s going to be any single answer to that question. Are there a lot of people who are diagnosed who would have been better off not being diagnosed, I think the answer is yes. The undiagnosed people, would they be better off being diagnosed, that’s harder to say.

Alex Plank: Do you think it depends on the person?


Tyler Cowen: It depends on the person, really. It depends on the kind of support services they’ll receive.

Alex Plank: Do you think there’s a certain level of people doing things because of the diagnosis that conforms to what they’re being told that they have, and then there’s also a level of people who want to prove everyone wrong, and go and try to do things that are against what the diagnosis says?


Tyler Cowen: I think on that, the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy is a strong one, so people who think of themselves as having been diagnosed, on of the things they’re hit with is that who are autistic, Asperger’s whatever, they don’t have empathy, they don’t have any social intelligence, and I think they adopt that as a model of themselves, and even if it may be true for some people, I think it’s much overrated as a correct model, and the number of people who have been diagnosed who start applying it to themselves,I think on the whole that’s harmful, because it’s not generally true in my opinion.

Alex Plank: Even social?


Tyler Cowen: I think that there is very plausibly a subset of autistics who have lower social intelligence,but people are told it’s a defining characteristic of autism, or of asperger’s, and i don’t think that’s the case. I think there are people who have above average social intelligence. It may be in unorthodox ways, but I’m not convinced, I think there’s a lot of strong evidence, including evidence from the lab that it is not and cannot be a defining characteristic.

Alex Plank: Asperger’s or even all autism?


Tyler Cowen: Yeah. Low social intelligence.


Tyler Cowen: So if you read like journal of autism and developmental disorders, there are plenty of papers showing autistics doing fine on tests of social intelligence. Maybe you can’t reach a global conclusion from those papers, but you certainly ought not have the global conclusion that that all lack social intelligence.

Alex Plank: I took that when I was I high school. To give me services they made me take all these tests and one of them was all these social stories you would have to answer, and I actually scored 100% correct. I don’t know how that would even correspond [to autism]. It seems simple to me. It’s logical, those kind of stories. Do you feel that the kind of teaching they do in schools is not beneficial to actually helping people who are autistic?


Tyler Cowen: Again, that’s a big question, and it’s hard for me to come to to terms with it. If you think of high variance, and differing cognitive abilities and disabilities, as being fundamental to autism, then it’s very hard to design a single overarching educational program for people on the autism spectrum. Repeat the question again I’m not sure I completely grasped it.

Alex Plank: I was saying that the types of teaching that the schools do [trying to] make people less autistic [which is probably not possible] and more social. Does it even work, to teach an autistc kid these social stories?


Tyler Cowen: I don’t have experience with it, so I couldn’t say, but I think autistics tend to be very good at self-education, so my suspicion is that autistics with high social intelligence, very often being self-taught in this area, and I think there are a lot of them.

Alex Plank: My job involved getting people to donate to a nonprofit.


Tyler Cowen: To your non-profit? Or to someone else’s nonprofit?

Alex Plank: To someone else’s nonprofit I used to work for. So what I do in that instance is I literally convince people to sign up for a monthly commitment 30 or 50 dollars a month, and I’ve been getting better and better at it than any of the other people who aren’t autistic. so I don’t know if you know anything about that kind of work, people with autism, literally once they learn it, they’re better at it.


Tyler Cowen: In the literature, there’s a notion of compensatory learning, that is if you don’t know something and you have to learn it explicitly, you can end up being better at it. But I’m not even convinced there’s a deficit in social understanding in the first place for many people. There may be or there may not be, but at the very least there’s the possibility of compensatory leaning, if you look at the things people, autistic or not, are capable of learning, it’s just astonishing. So to assume that autistics could never learn whatever it is that would be useful for them to learn, to me it just seems bizarre it’s an assumption that in few other areas of social science would be considered even broadly acceptable, yet it’s common in this area.

Alex Plank: Right, I would agree with you there. I was wondering, you had a whole section, a very long description of how you believe that story-based mental ordering is not an autistic tendency. How did you come to that conclusion?


Tyler Cowen: There is some evidence from the literature that a lot of autistics are better at remembering facts in a certain way, and if you test them by giving them stories, what they will remember about the story is often a bit different that what non-autistics will tend to remember. They’ll also remember less of what might be the mainstream narrative, and remember more about what other people or secondary details. So there seems to be a way in which the information is processed differently, and I think it’s a cognitive advantage that a lot of autistics have, that they don’t slide everything into the same simple stories, like us vs. them sorts of stories or just good vs. evil, and in some ways it’s a greater objectivity, and this can be useful in areas like science or being analytical. And again as with any laboratory tests with autistics you have to be careful the number of data points is small, it’s hard to know how fully general it is, but the evidence that I’ve seen, and it’s consistent with my intuitions having talked to people, is that mostly this is true.

Alex Plank: Have you known a lot of autistics in your life, that now that you know about it you’ve only realized that they were autistic after learning about it?


Tyler Cowen: I think it’s very hard to tell, who is and who isn’t, and I don’t think we have a consistent definition of what autism is, that everyone agrees upon. That said, I tend to think there are a lot of people out there in the world, very successful, that have autistic traits, would they count as autistic under DSM-IV, maybe not, probably not, but in some fundamental way, you can understand them by relating what they’re like to ideas about autism. Does that answer your question?

Alex Plank: Yeah, that definitely answers my question. Now something that I really liked from your book was the whole concept about the modes of thinking in the way that people approach social networking, and all this online content that we’re sharing and collecting, is more similar to the way that an autistic person thinks. I actually did a presentation on that myself. I was wondering what examples you have of where that has proven to be the case.


Tyler Cowen: Well using capital goods like computers, web, internet, people, autistic or not, can absorb a lot more information, order and process it more rapidly, manipulate small bits, and they can encode data in a more objective manner. All those correspond with the cognitive advantages of autism. And that’s what I meant with the point really. I think there’s pretty strong evidence today that’s what people do with computers, it’s not the only thing they do. And B, those are cognitive advantages held by a lot of autistics.

Alex Plank: In your book, you talked about bits of information being smaller. That was this book, right? I read them at the same time so it’s hard for me to break them up. But you did talk about that. Why doesn’t that contradict the whole notion that an autistic person is obsessed with one thing, and do you think that is a true contradiction or isn’t it true about autism where they’re only focused on one thing?


Tyler Cowen: I don’t think it’s a useful description to say autistics are only focused on on thing, but I would say there’s a lot of tasks you can give autistics, like picking out small details in locked patterns, or picking out different musical pitches, where autistics seem especially good at attention to small detail. So if you think of the web as giving us small bits, like a tweet or a blog post is shorter than a novel, if you think of that as the overall trend, like an iPod, a song is shorter than an album. It seems that we’re now all living in a world where we manipulate small bits effectively, it doesn’t mean any of us is just interested in one thing, but we manipulate these small bits to create bigger ideas that we’re interested in, and those bigger ideas are synthetic, and I think it’s another way in which we are using information technology to mirror or mimic capabilities of autistics without usually people knowing it.

Alex Plank: And you think that autistics also–and this is completely changing the topic, I’m sorry about that–do you believe that autistics (and I’m pretty sure that you do because it did say that), are less likely to fall victim to certain types of advertising?


Tyler Cowen: That is my belief, and I don’t think there’s been a formal, controlled study of that, but if you look at the other studies, it’s a likely conclusion, it’s a likely implied conclusion. Because simply if you process information differently, and advertisements are geared for non-autistics, they’re geared to be effective for non-autistics, my guess is advertisements will have less sway over autistics.

Alex Plank: Do you think in some ways certain advertisements, when they’re directed towards, or focused on a specific thing an autistic person is interested in, that the autistic person has more of an emotional attachment to the message, that they’re more likely to be swayed by the advertisements and make a purchase, because they already have this interest?


Tyler Cowen: That’s an interesting hypothesis, it’s possible, but I want to distinguish between two ways in which an advertisement can sway you. If you see an advertisement that says “Come Visit Switzerland” it might actually give you the idea of visiting Switzerland, and if that’s what you’re interested in, something like that could easily sway an autistic person more, or less. but the notion that the ad is somehow tricking you by associating Switzerland with some other mainstream social images or feelings, I don’t want to say that’s impossible, but again, my intuition is that that is less likely, with autistics, to be the case. Is that getting at your question?

Alex Plank: Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to say. So if there were an ad, and they had massive amounts of video of trains driving it would be better than if they had a woman smiling because her kids get to go on a train ride around the united states, if the ad were for train travel in the united states. Those are two different types of advertising, there’s one that’s an emotional message and one that’s a concrete message.


Tyler Cowen: That’s right, and I would say that’s my intuition, it’s not proven that I know of, but it’s what I think is likely the case.

Alex Plank: What do you believe is going to be the future in terms of the way that people interact, within twenty yeahrs, and then even longer than that?


Tyler Cowen: I think people who are just different in various ways, autistic or not, just people who are very different will find it much easier to hook up with other people who are very different, and become friends, or marry, or communicate, and I think people will become more different and more like who they really are and more distinct, and more creative. This is in my view very much a positive development, I mean there are some negative instances of this, like people who have destructive habits, terrorists, they hook with other terrorists, they destroy things, it’s not like I think it’s all positive, but I think that for the overwhelming majority of people this is a very positive development.

Alex Plank: So you’re saying that the negative costs of this is not substantial enough that we should not have this happen, right?


Tyler Cowen: It’s happened already, and we can’t hold it back, so the question is how to get it a better rather than worse version of it. But I also thing in net terms, it’s a big gain, science spreads much more rapidly, discourse is better and more critical, it’s much easier to learn, much easier to make human connection and just to have free fun. You’re sitting at home, it’s a recession, you don’t want to spend money, go to the web like it’s fun. Write other people, go to youtube, it’s great.

Alex Plank: Do you feel that in a way when you post to twitter, it’s more meaningful than if you spend an hour writing this long post. Do you think there’s more to be said about something short and getting to the point, than there is about something long and kind of winding, and not always getting to what you’re trying to say. Are you saying that’s a good thing?


Tyler Cowen: Well it depends, when you say write a long post. A long blog post is still really really short compared to what we used to do. I think today we have a greater capability to chose the mix we want of long and short. It used to just be people just did a lot of long. And the greater flexibility to chose the short when you want and need it, I think is very good. I wouldn’t say per se, short is better than long. Long has it’s place, I love Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I love to watch the Godfather, those are long events, I love to go to the opera. I can still do all those things, and often short complements the long. So you read about a movie on twitter and then you go see it, it’s not always short vs. long.

Alex Plank: Twitter kind of in a way– and I’m not sure if you were saying this or if I got the wrong impression– is a form of signaling.. what you say is actually a signal.


Tyler Cowen: You can use it to signal who you are and what your interests are, who you want to meet, what kind of information you want sent to you.

Alex Plank: Well let me ask you something about books. While having a whole book, I read your first book, the one before this, Unleash– Discover your inner Economist, I don’t know why unleash..

Well it’s very similar

Alex Plank: So Discover Your Inner Economist, I’ve read that all on the Kindle. I’ve also read other books, but I read them because I saw someone carrying them. So what do you think about signaling in the sense that now you just have that little block, that doesn’t have the cover. Do you think that’s a problem?


Tyler Cowen: Oh it is a problem, but I think it’s a problem that it’s solved. Kindle is a pretty primitive version of what it is. I have one, I like it, I love it, I’m happy with it, but ten yeahrs from now it’ll be a lot more advanced, to imagine a Kindle like the other side could be a glowing picture of the cover, or it sends off a wireless signal to other people’s iphones, what you’re reading, which people can pick up or refuse as they see fit. You already tweet it or put it on Facebook account, and we’ll come up with a lot more, and I think we’ll solve that problem. So yes, it’s a problem, but I think it’s an easy one to solve.

Alex Plank: Sure, I mean, for instance I recently saw someone walking down the street with a book that was blue and orange and said Predictably Irrational, and I thought that seemed interesting to me, and within a couple seconds, I started reading it on my iPhone, the iPhone Kindle, but then you can share that, through Facebook and stuff like that, so I guess there are other ways to share that, without the cover. But like you said, you could have the cover there while you’re reading it.


Tyler Cowen: So yeah, how people will do it, I don’t know. It could be sent through cell phones, and you’ll press a button on your cell phone, like let me look at all the books people were reading that I walked by today. And it’ll come up with some kind of aggregate, with pictures of the covers, a list of the titles, and that’ll be pretty neat.

Alex Plank: One thing I use is the Amazon iPhone app.


Tyler Cowen: I don’t’ know what that is, what is it?

Alex Plank: Basically you go into a bookstore, and you see a book and take a picture of it, and it knows what the book was, and sends back the actual book, not just the picture of it, so you have it on the wish list, which is really cool.


Tyler Cowen: I don’t know, I have an iPhone, but I don’t really use the apps, mostly an absence of time. I check my email, visit my blog, some other blogs, visit NewYorkTimes.com, and I’m so happy with those, I just haven’t gotten much farther than that.

Alex Plank: So you have an iPhone.


Tyler Cowen: Yes I do. I don’t have a single app. I guess it came with some. All I use it for is e-mail download and Safari web browser, and the music as an iPod.

Alex Plank: I love the Amazon Kindle app. I don’t even have a Kindle, and I don’t think I’ll ever get one, because I love having the smaller chunks of the page, only to see, so you don’t get lost and you can save your spot.


Tyler Cowen: There’s one problem I have with the Kindle, and I think I would have it with this ap, I read very fast, and I find the Kindle doesn’t put enough on the page for me. I can read faster than the Kindle can send me the stuff. With the things I want to read slowly, it’s not a problem, but with a lot of things, especially nonfiction, I want to absorb at a more rapid rate. My sense is that on an iPhone screen, I’d have that problem all the more.

Alex Plank: Well I guess 24 minutes it’s still recording. I’ve never done this before, my computer is in the shop.

Alex Plank: So you drive?


Tyler Cowen: yeah

Alex Plank: So what kind of car do you drive?


Tyler Cowen: Toyota Corolla.

Alex Plank: Is that something that matters to you?


Tyler Cowen: Having a fancy car is of no value to me. If I earned much more money, I wouldn’t buy a much better car. And to me it’s puzzling that people are so involved in having a nice car. I mean I see it–

Alex Plank: You don’t care about scratches?


Tyler Cowen: Yes I care about scratches, but the notion that I would spend whatever a Mercedes-Benz costs and get one, I just can’t imagine. I just don’t see why I would spend that much money on a nicer cause.

Alex Plank: Well the new Mercedes Benz if you’re driving it will brake, before you hit the person in front of you.


Tyler Cowen: yeah? Is that true? I don’t even know about that.

Alex Plank: that’s the only reason I can think of that someone would get that. That’s only the newest one. I don’t know what that has to do with your book, I just have this interest in cars, it’s one of my obsessions, I guess.


Tyler Cowen: It’s one of the things I know least about, I would say. Like a Toyota or Honda be perfectly happy with, and have been happy with.

Alex Plank: One thing I wanted to ask you about was, was– this was in your other book– ordering at restaurants. What was your technique on that?


Tyler Cowen: You need to think about what kind of restaurant you’re in. If you’re in what I’d call an ethnic restaurant, you need to look around at what people of that ethnicity are eating. Or speak to the waiter, but you need to convince the waiter that you can put up with the real stuff. So you need to signal the waiter that you’re a serious eater, familiar with his food culture. If you’re in a fancy, expensive restaurant, often the best thing to do is put yourself in their hands, and have them order for you. Again, you need to signal that you’re a serious food person, so they don’t bring you something safe and boring. That’s usually not that hard to do. So the general question of when should you delegate the decisions to others I think is a very interesting one, and one I’ve thought a lot about.

Alex Plank: Can you talk about that?


Tyler Cowen: Well people have an innate tendency, they want to feel in control, so they make a lot of decisions when I think often they would do better by delegating the decision to another person. But if you can become more aware of the fact that you have this tendency to always want to feel in control, you can overcome it. And other people’s heads,behavior, whatever, they have so much information. For the most part, we don’t use the information held by other people a whole lot, we tend to think we know more than we do. So I think most of is, probably all of us, could be come a lot more productive, just by becoming more meta rational, and using the information held in other heads in a better way.

Alex Plank: So ordering in a restaurant is just another way, an easy to show way to see when someone else’s opinion is better than your own. Cause you would be tempted to go with the normal thing, like if you’re going to a Thai restaurant, get the pad Thai, where in fact something with peanuts and something fancy sounding, might be better. That’s what the people who actually work there would order. But when you ask them, what should you get, they always say pad Thai, because that’s the popular dish, even though from what I’ve found, most of the restaurants do that not as well as some of the other things.


Tyler Cowen: Right. Or sometimes going to the public library, you might think “oh, I know what book I want to read” but to say I’m not going to pick the book today, I’m going to go to the return book cart and grab three books that other people thought were worth reading, not all the time, just some of the time, I find very few people ever think of doing this, but it’s potentially a very good way to get yourself to read things that are different, and someone thought they were good.

Alex Plank: So just one person thought they were good thought they were good, so you read them?


Tyler Cowen: Well if you have a better way of aggregating information, to see a lot of people

Alex Plank: Like Amazon.


Tyler Cowen: yeah

Alex Plank: Do you think that’s more effective, or less effective, because it’s a crowd doesn’t really deviate as much?


Tyler Cowen: I think trying a mix of different ways of picking out different books, and seeing what works over time. Obviously if you’re part of the crowd, then you should follow the crowd. If I just looked at Amazon and read best sellers, I don’t think my reading would be that happy, but for some people, it’s actually a pretty good recipe, to see what’s selling and read that.

Alex Plank: Some of the things on the bestseller list are pretty good.


Tyler Cowen: yeah

Alex Plank: Because, one of them, was called free and it was actually free, so I downloaded it.


Tyler Cowen: That was a good, that’s an interesting book book, by Chris Anderson. If you have a way of picking out what on the bestseller list that’s actually intellectual, like what’s on the Times bestseller list but not on the USA Today bestseller list

Alex Plank: So the things that are only on one you think will be more or less?


Tyler Cowen: I think if they’re only on some, they’re going to be more intellectual, depending on which one they’re on.

Alex Plank: What about, um, Sherlock Holmes? That was one of the really interesting parts of the book. I know I’m changing the subject, but that’s just how my mind works. I was really interesting in what you said about he doesn’t necessarily look at the important fact, but the small details.


Tyler Cowen: As I learned more about autism and the autism spectrum, it seemed to me that this fictional character was a classic example of what was being talked about. Especially cognitive strengths. He notices small details, he thinks very analytically about what he’s seeing, he sees things that other people don’t see. He’s also a very charismatic, and I think mostly likable character. So to me although of course he’s fictional, he’s not a real person. But it was a way of thinking about how one might visualize or explain to others some aspects of this whole topic. Because everybody knows Sherlock Holmes, and it’s remarkable what a positive image there is of him. Yet when you get a lot of those same traits, in people who are called autistic, it’s remarkable how negative that image can be. So that contrast is to me very interesting. There’s some evidence, as I say in the book, that Holmes was patterned after Doyle himself. Doyle said this, it’s hard to prove, of course, he’s long since gone, but I suspect it’s the case.

Alex Plank: Didn’t he say that at one point?


Tyler Cowen: He said it, absolutely. But can you always believe what an author says? No. But if you read Doyle’s son’s description of Doyle, it again sounds like Holmes was patterned after the author.

Alex Plank: How did you get such a good understanding of autism, that wasn’t biased in the way that most authors are? Reading this book was refreshing to me, because it wasn’t like a lot of what these books that I normally read about autism, where they’ll attach themselves to one thing, like how someone recovered because some sort of diet? Whereas all these people who “recovered” just learned certain things, and then were termed recovered because of the diet? How did you not fall into those sorts of traps, and how did you get such a good understanding? I don’t know how long you’ve been studying it, but it seems like you’ve been studying it your entire life.


Tyler Cowen: No, not that long. I read very quickly. My training of course is as an economist, and we’re trained to evaluate arguments for their scientific content. I’m not saying I always succeed, but when you read the Jenny McCarthys or whoever, they’re not even trying. So if you look at the literature and you try, and of course if you get feedback from others and you take that seriously, you can make some progress. You call that unbiased, but there are plenty of people who see my treatment as biased and don’t agree with me. So you’re just saying you agree with me. I hope it’s unbiased.

Alex Plank: Even in the instances where there are some things that I disagree with you, the way that you came to those conclusions, in most of the circumstances, it’s not like you’re holding those arguments as though you could never change your mind. Most arguments I hear are people who could never change their mind.


Tyler Cowen: Sure. It’s a very emotional topic. What’s an example where we disagree? I’m very interested.

Alex Plank: To be honest, I can’t recall a specific instance.


Tyler Cowen: It could also be that there were places that I didn’t express myself well.

Alex Plank: That’s probably it. It was only a few places, and I don’t believe it was in this book, I believe it might have been in your other book.


Tyler Cowen: Well some of every book is wrong, right?

Alex Plank: Do you believe that?


Tyler Cowen: Sure. If I didn’t say anything wrong in a book, it means I wrote down A equals A, fifty-thousand times in a row. That’s not very interesting.

Alex Plank: What are your views on relationships? I believe it was covered more in the other book, Discover Your Inner Economist. I felt like some of the things you said about relationships might be not what I’ve found. I look at them in a very logical and not as emotional matter.


Tyler Cowen: My view on relationships is different than that.

Alex Plank: Right. That’s what I was thinking, when I said that there were things I disagreed with. Especially after having experiencing the “traditional way” and it not working out. A lot of autistic people also don’t see social interactions in that way, because they’ve been alienated in that way.


Tyler Cowen: It’s clear that a lot of autistic people have been alienated, if I think of my own life, socially it’s been happy. Everyone has ups and downs, but I feel like I’ve genuinely had a happy life and that includes the social part of it. So when I think about autism, there are some aspects and descriptions that I see in myself, but there are a lot of aspects I don’t see in myself. And maybe one is never quite sure what to do with that variation.

Alex Plank: What do you think of my theory that the reason that people a lot of times with autistic tendencies have negative views of certain social interactions is because they’re told that their way of interacting is wrong. That if they had been raised in a different manner that celebrated the differences instead of trying to fix the differences. Do you have any thought on that?


Tyler Cowen: My view is that a lot of autistic people are extremely social, by temperament, and even extroverted. They may not behave in an extroverted manner, in mainstream society, but this almost definitional association with autism with introversion I think is a big mistake.

Alex Plank: So you agree with my theory?


Tyler Cowen: I think I agree with what you’re saying. If you get people together, maybe they’re both autistic, or maybe not, they can find a common understanding. One is autistic, the other not, but they understand the rules for exchanging information in a certain way. But they get going, and I find that many times autistic people are extremely open and gregarious and sharing and interested, and maybe even more enthusiastic than average, than non-autistic. That doesn’t mean the same autistic person can walk into a bar and charm everybody, and be outgoing in that traditional way. But to think just that person is an introvert, I think is a very bad misunderstanding.

Alex Plank: Do you think there’s something to say that if they learned how to do that, that they would be really good at it? If they used the compensatory learning, that you mentioned.


Tyler Cowen: I think a lot of autistics can learn and have learned to be social. And I think a lot of non-autistics can learn and have learned to deal better with autistics. That’s also hard, for a lot of non-autistics. I think for environmental reasons, probably autistic people will still generally behave in a less extroverted way, but going back to their personality temperament, I don’t think they’re any less keen to share, and be open and express themselves. There’s just a lot of environments, if you take the autistics who have hypersensitivities, those are due to the environment, not to their personality. but they’re just going to shy away from a lot of environments. And that means on average, they’ll be somewhat less “out-there” less outgoing, I think that’s a fact, I don’t think that will necessarily change soon.

Alex Plank: From my personal view, I try to put myself in situations that are really stressful for me, so I can get used to them. So in a way I feel like I’ve gotten to be doing things when there’s high-pitched noises and such. I still have to cover my ears any time a fire-engine goes by, and people ask me why I do that, and I say it’s loud. But other than that, I try weird-tasting foods, and watch things that might shatter my view of what things currently are, my world-view. So I try to open myself up.


Tyler Cowen: And precisely because you’re different, you’ll be led to learn more, and explore more, in a way that a lot of people wouldn’t. Because they take things more for granted. It’s like every autistic person in some way has to be a sociologist, or have a social theory.

Alex Plank: I agree. Like when I go to a bar, I’ll decide that I’ll literally talk to everyone there, even if it completely blows up. Where someone else might maybe once in a while talk to someone, and that would go well because they’re okay with it.


Tyler Cowen: I think that’s a common response. And the whole question of what’s a disability. It’s a very tricky word to use. I think the word disorder is a bad word. Disability can be descriptively correct, but it’s not the best word, either. It’d not the best way to think about the entire heterogeneity of possibilities, along with capabilities for learning.

Alex Plank: Have you been to Autreat?


Tyler Cowen: No. It would be interesting to go, but I haven’t had time, and a few of the times it’s been held– in New York State? Or Pennsylvania?

Alex Plank: It’s technically in Pennsylvania, but the part of Pennsylvania is closer to the upstate New York area– Bradford Pennsylvania– because they said meeting places charge too much in Philadelphia. Which is kinda ridiculous, because it’s hard to get there. I went once.


Tyler Cowen: What did you think?

Alex Plank: I liked it. It wasn’t what I expected.


Tyler Cowen: What do you mean?

Alex Plank: I guess I had this “romantic” vision of what Autreat would be. In some ways it was more exciting than I thought, and in some ways it was duller.


Tyler Cowen: I think there’s an awful lot of bickering within the autism community, and it’s also strident, and to me that’s unfortunate.

Alex Plank: yeah, that’s kinda the vibe I got from certain people, a negativity. But then there were other people that were great. I don’t know if that’s normal for an interaction.


Tyler Cowen: I don’t think most people are like that, but the ones who are are more vocal, more visible, almost by definition.

Alex Plank: I’m not going to ask you anymore questions, if that’s okay. You can ask me questions, if you have any.


Tyler Cowen: What do you see as your great cognitive strength?

Alex Plank: Mine? I stick with things.


Tyler Cowen: Persistence and focus.

Alex Plank: Also, I feel that I have a very open mind.


Tyler Cowen: A kind of objectivity.

Alex Plank: yeah. I don’t want to brag, but I feel like I have more of an open mind than most people. But at the same time, when I talk to people, I don’t know how to say things in a way that doesn’t sound completely self-centered. But when I think about it, it’s not self-centered, which is hard for me, the dichotomy between what I say. And I don’t even know why I’ll say certain things. It’s hard to adopt a certain type of social interaction, without going overboard with mimicing others.


Tyler Cowen: I have one question for you, I’m not sure how to phrase it. A lot of people object to a high-functioning/low-functioning distinction. I think in your writing you use that, and what’s your sense of the appropriateness of that?

Alex Plank: I believe that those labels are wrong, the reason that I use them is because other people use them, and I’m trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I’m afraid that if I say certain things and I say Autistic and don’t mention Asperger’s, when people Google Asperger’s, they won’t find my website.


Tyler Cowen: Why not write out some kind of statement, your true longer view, and put it somewhere. It wouldn’t be what comes up as the header in Google and then people would see that this is Alex Plank’s true view.

Alex Plank: That’s a good idea. Have you read anything, where people talk about me having the wrong view of it?


Tyler Cowen: Not you personally, but anybody who uses those phrases gets pilloried, by a whole set of people, whether they’re thinking of you or not.

Alex Plank: Oh, they are. I’ve been pilloried, but I’ve written clearly in some of my writings that there shouldn’t be a differentiation, and I’ve posted those, but they may not be easily findable. At the same time, a lot of people who use my website are parents, who don’t understand this yet, and I feel like by allowing them to find the site, it will help. I even wrote on the bottom of my website, on all the pages, “Asperger’s is not a disease” because I knew all these people found my website searching for “Asperger’s disease” found my website, so I thought I should say it’s not one.


Tyler Cowen: Sure, put that word there.

Alex Plank: yeah, just because I want to get the people who think that to see it. Because most of the people who would think that otherwise, I’ve heard parents say “If I’ve gotten to the Autism Speaks website instead of yours, I’d been in a completely different place now, we wouldn’t have come as far” Because it is a negative view, it’s not saying that it’s easy to raise a child when you’re being told that they need to be fixed. Whereas my site preaches the opposite of that, in the respect that we do preach anything. Do you agree with that?


Tyler Cowen: I agree with what you just said, that it should be a positive view.

Alex Plank: Have looked at my site?


Tyler Cowen: I have, but which site says exactly what, I don’t have all that organized in my head.

Alex Plank: That’s good, that you decided to not say one way or the other then, since you haven’t ordered them in your head.


Tyler Cowen: If you say “high functioning” and “low functioning” without a qualifier, I’d think there’s a better way to say that.

Alex Plank: But if you say “high functioning” and “low functioning” without a qualifier, I’d think that there’s a better way to say that. Well I don’t say that, unless I use the term “high-functioning autism,” HFA, which people use. But what are you functioning at? I work with someone at the Autism Self-Advocacy network, his name is Ari, we were friends. We worked together and published stuff about how you shouldn’t use functioning labels. Remember NYU’s child study center, they had those ads, the Ransom Note Campaign.


Tyler Cowen: Yes, I’ve read about that.

Alex Plank: That’s the stuff we’d speak out against. So I’d definitely not be in the category of people who would use those broader terms on a regular basis, other than in the keywords for the site.


Tyler Cowen:But I would say to repudiate them more directly.

Alex Plank: Is that what you think, from looking at my site?


Tyler Cowen: Well I haven’t clicked on every link on your site. So I could be misunderstanding what’s there.

Alex Plank: The welcome says high functioning autism and Asperger’s. Just because when people see the site, they have a label [for what they're looking for.]


Tyler Cowen: They need to find a label that they find acceptable to themselves, to get further.

Alex Plank: And then I can say “here is why we disagree about the labels that I’ve just used.” That’s actually a good idea.


Tyler Cowen: As you probably know better than I do, there’s autistics who don’t speak meaningfully, also feel excluded from a lot of things, even by other autistics.

Alex Plank: I would agree with that, I know a woman who has lots of YouTube videos, her name is Amanda. So I met her at Autreat for the first time, she’s one of those people who doesn’t like the labels. So she’s sympathetic to that view. And she’s a member of my website. But at the same time, we have people on the website who are parents, and start talking about all this mercury stuff, and that just makes me depressed.


Tyler Cowen: yeah, it’s hard to understand, but it’s remarkable how it has persisted. But overall I’m optimistic, and I think 20 yeahrs from now it’ll be a lot better.

Alex Plank: Hopefully. Unless there’s something else. (laughs) Like that Twitter caused the problem. Those short bits of information, people could say that it all started with Twitter!


Tyler Cowen: People say that about ADHD. That it’s all an illusion, caused by TV. There’s even a paper on autism being caused by TV. Some of this stuff is by smart people. And for me that’s hard to understand; I guess it’s one of many mysteries in this area.


Tyler Cowen: I agree with what you just said, that it should be a positive view.

Alex Plank: Have looked at my site?


Tyler Cowen: I have, but which site says exactly what, I don’t have all that organized in my head.

Alex Plank: That’s good, that you decided to not say one way or the other then, since you haven’t ordered them in your head.


Tyler Cowen: If you say “high functioning” and “low functioning” without a qualifier, I’d think there’s a better way to say that.

Alex Plank: But if you say “high functioning” and “low functioning” without a qualifier, I’d think that there’s a better way to say that. Well I don’t say that, unless I use the term “high-functioning autism,” HFA, which people use. But what are you functioning at? I work with someone at the Autism Self-Advocacy network, his name is Ari, we were friends. We worked together and published stuff about how you shouldn’t use functioning labels. Remember NYU’s child study center, they had those ads, the Ransom Note Campaign.


Tyler Cowen: Yes, I’ve read about that.

Alex Plank: That’s the stuff we’d speak out against. So I’d definitely not be in the category of people who would use those broader terms on a regular basis, other than in the keywords for the site.


Tyler Cowen:But I would say to repudiate them more directly.

Alex Plank: Is that what you think, from looking at my site?


Tyler Cowen: Well I haven’t clicked on every link on your site. So I could be misunderstanding what’s there.

Alex Plank: The welcome says high functioning autism and Asperger’s. Just because when people see the site, they have a label [for what they're looking for.]


Tyler Cowen: They need to find a label that they find acceptable to themselves, to get further.

Alex Plank: And then I can say “here is why we disagree about the labels that I’ve just used.” That’s actually a good idea.


Tyler Cowen: As you probably know better than I do, there’s autistics who don’t speak meaningfully, also feel excluded from a lot of things, even by other autistics.

Alex Plank: I would agree with that, I know a woman who has lots of YouTube videos, her name is Amanda. So I met her at Autreat for the first time, she’s one of those people who doesn’t like the labels. So she’s sympathetic to that view. And she’s a member of my website. But at the same time, we have people on the website who are parents, and start talking about all this mercury stuff, and that just makes me depressed.


Tyler Cowen: yeah, it’s hard to understand, but it’s remarkable how it has persisted. But overall I’m optimistic, and I think 20 yeahrs from now it’ll be a lot better.

Alex Plank: Hopefully. Unless there’s something else. (laughs) Like that Twitter caused the problem. Those short bits of information, people could say that it all started with Twitter!


Tyler Cowen: People say that about ADHD. That it’s all an illusion, caused by TV. There’s even a paper on autism being caused by TV. Some of this stuff is by smart people. And for me that’s hard to understand; I guess it’s one of many mysteries in this area.

One thought on “Tyler Cowen: Create Your Own Economy: An Economics and Autism Book Interview”

    Comments

    • URL on April 10, 2015

      … [Trackback]

      [...] Read More here: wrongplanet.net/tyler-cowen-create-your-own-economy-an-economics-and-autism-book-interview/ [...]

Leave a Reply