001d: St Augustine, Big Business, I’ll Be There For You

Summary

Ashish Kulkarni talked to Aadisht Khanna about what he’d been listening to: an In Our Time episode about St Augustine’s Confessions, an EconTalk episode in which Tyler Cowen was interviewed about his book, Big Business; and what he’d been reading: a Kelsey Miller book, I’ll Be There For You, which discusses the history of the TV show Friends.

What we discussed

In Our Time Episode Link: St Augustine’s Confessions

Wikipedia: St Augustine

EconTalk Episode Link: Tyler Cowen on Big Business

Goodreads: Big Business

Goodreads: I’ll Be There For You

Transcript

What are you reading now and what have you read in the past? How do the things that you have read in the past help you understand what you are reading today or in the future for that matter? And what if it wasn’t just what you read but what you listened to or watched and hey what if this could be shared with lots of folks. Welcome to- that reminds me! This is episode 1d featuring a conversation between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna recorded on 22 november 2019. Ashish and Aadisht talked about St Augustine, Tyler Cowen’s big business and Kelsey Miller’s (book) I’ll be there for you.

Ashish: Alright Aadisht, good morning and welcome to This is what now- beyond beta so around 3 of our conversations about that reminds me. 

Aadisht: I think this is delta

Ashish: Oh, it’s delta, is it? okay

Aadisht: Gamma got lost when we forgot to record, but I don’t think we are up to actual numbers yet.

And also, well we hope the podcast becomes popular for that to be worth millions- the lost episode. One can hope, one can dream. 

Ad: Yeah. Let’s go

AS: Let’s go. Okay, 4 episodes that we hope to speak about in today’s conversation. We will get to each of the 4 in turn. But let’s begin with the one I actually know the least about and therefore am the most excited about. This is the conversation that Russ- sorry, my fault- this is Augustine’s confessions on BBC radio 4. So, as I was saying I know very very little about St Augustine and just reading from your notes about the conversation helped me understand a couple of things that I need to learn more about. So, why don’t we begin by you giving us a brief overview about the episode itself.

Ad: Yeah. So, I think even before we get to the brief overview of the episode let’s have a brief overview of St Augustine. 

AS Sure

Ad: St augustine is considered one of the founding or (one of the) more influential people behind the catholic church today. But oddly enough and we will get to that- the protestant church considers him even more relevant to their church than the catholic church.  He was born in- I think the 400s or the 500s, no- he was born in the 4th century and died in the 5th century. 354 to 430. This was needless to say a time when book printing was non-existent and books were not very wide spread so the fact that when he wrote a book and he wrote a series of books called confessions. And the fact that they made it to the (inaudible) is itself remarkable.

As: Alright, now onto the episode itself. What was the episode about-the gist of it. 

Ad: Yeah well, the episode title is, well Augustine’s confessions and books that he has written are collectively called the confessions.

As: Okay

Ad: And it does explore a lot of things including Augustine’s personal life and also the later impact of his work. We will go through them one by one. In terms of his personal life. He was born in what is modern day Algeria or modern day Libya which was at that time under the control of the Roman empire. And, his father was Roman but his mother was a local Berber. So, he is a half Roman, half Berber African Roman who grows up in north Africa and goes to Europe to study, comes back to Africa to be a priest. And, in terms of his personal life, his mother is extremely ambitious, she’s come out of poverty so she really wants her son to get a high ranking position either in the government or in the church so that the family can make its money. Now, if we look at where we may have heard of St Augustine prior to this episode- one quote which frequently comes up is Augustine talking about how he has been a sinner in early life. And how he has found God after sinning so much. And his 10 books the confessions have been pretty much about that path. 

AS: okay

Ad and there is a bob dylan song called I dreamed I saw St Augustine I can’t quite remember the lyrics right now. 

AS: Alright, I think that is enough for us to get started with. Lets begin with the second point that you mentioned on your blog post- about Augustine saying that the original sin was not lust but pride. 

AD: the story behind original sin is that God creates Adam and Eve, he creates them inside the garden of Eden which has a number of trees. He warns Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of knowledge. The serpent shows up and tells Eve to go ahead and eat the fruit. She does eat the fruit. She gains knowledge and she makes Adam eat the fruit too. And having knowledge they realize that each one realized that the other is naked and they immediately make themselves clothes to cover up their shame. At which point God realizes that they have eaten the fruit of knowledge and throws them out of the garden of eden. Which is called the fall of man and coming out of the original sin. Now, the popular conception of the original sin is that the sin in question is lust. They have seen each other naked and having knowledge. And they start lusting after each other and this is why God kicks them out. According to St Augustine the sin in question is not lust but the sin in question is pride because it is Eve’s pride and her feeling that she knows better than God and she knows better than to follow God’s instructions which leads her to eat the fruit.

AS: Right, I would not just argue that the second argument is more persuasive but the thing that I am reminded of the most probably is- (to AD)have you seen the movie the big short?

AD: I haven’t

AS: So, both the book and the movie speak about this. I can’t for the life of me remember the guy’s name- but the role played by Steve Carell. 2 young Jewish boys in a home and one of the boys is reading the Talmud in order to find inconsistencies in the word of God. And the original sin, I would go so far as to say, is not even pride it is questioning authority. 

AD: One thing that I have been thinking about a lot is how difficult it is to draw lines between pride and self esteem and vanity. And how you can very quickly slip from one of these to the other. And while it is very clear that in some ways they are, well sin is a strong word, but maybe they are destructive. Either to yourself or to others, but you probably can’t make a decent life without a little bit of self approval or self esteem. 

AS: Right

AD: And, I don’t know if it’s really possible to draw a line between that and pride. 

AS: Okay, depend on who is asking- the people in power or the person who is questioning that power. 

AD: Right.

AS: So, if you think about religion from an evolutionary perspective it is just a, well just is perhaps too strong a word but it is a code of or a set of codes or rules that is going to guarantee the survival of society. SO, from that viewpoint don’t go against the word of God is simply saying don’t go against what we have said in the rules. It just is a way for us to perpetuate ourselves. From that perspective the original sin being pride isn’t so much pride as just don’t question authority is the point that I would most probably be reminded of. So, that being one and the other being the 3rd bullet point in your blog post actually kind of relates to this the determination that Augustine’s mother has to see her younger son do well. So, 2 perspectives here- one- family is a subset of religion and second- that I’ll get to in a little while is stories about your great grandmother. But first the family link between Augustine’s mother and his upbringing and Augustine himself. Could you speak about that? 

AD: Yeah, so Augustine, as I said earlier, is a young man in North Africa. This is part of the Roman Empire so Augustine is a citizen or a subject of the Roman empire. But, he is not an Italian or even a European. He is half European- half Berber. His mother is Berber which is the local North African tribe. She has married a minor Roman official and had Augustine and Augustine’s brother. But, the Roman official is very minor and so she is really determined for the family to rise in society and to rise within the Roman empire. She has this very clever young boy Augustine. And she wants him to get ahead as much as possible. And, she sees him as becoming a Roman provincial governor, marrying a rich woman and getting the family a massive dowry.

AS: Okay.

AD: Yeah, she has very material ambitions for Augustine and because the only way we know about this is through Augustine himself, we have Augustine’s view of this. It’s important to mention that one of the major points about Augustine is that he has a concubine- which may be a misleading term because we are talking about a time when he would be in his teens or his early twenties.

AS: Wow, okay.

AD: So, let’s say he has a girlfriend. He says in his confessions that he is extremely in love with her. The panelists raise a point that because there is a major societal difference between them even if he is in love with her it is quite possible that this young woman being poor and from a much poorer societal background is in quite an exploitative relationship with Augustine . But, again as we only have Augustine’s account for it, we’ll never really know. And, Augustine is being forced by his mother to give up this girlfriend because if he marries her he cant marry the rich daughter of a Roman politician and bring home the dowry and he cant himself rise in Roman society.

AS: Right

AD: Yeah, so he has this extremely ambitious mother. He has to give up his childhood girlfriend. And, ultimately he does go along with it. He does become a figure in the Roman Catholic Church. But, again I have not read the confessions myself, but I get the feeling that he is doing it with some sense of loss and sadness that he’s lost his old girlfriend for whom he seemed to have very sincere and close feelings.

AS: Okay, and the second point related to this is about your own great grandmother, who also you say gathered wood in the forest.

AD: Yeah, so like Augustine’s mother Monica, my great grandmother Meeravaali Khanna according to the family stories had gathered wood in the forest and milked goats to sell so her sons could get educated. And pretty much like Augustine’s mother she did all she could to get her elder son educated and married to a rich woman so that other 2 brothers could have a little capital to raise themselves up.

AS: Fascinating. Moving on to another point and one that reminded me of an essay by David Perell recently. This is about Christian theology being the sort of faith that makes you want to find out about something more than just faith. So before I speak about what it reminded me of, could you explain what you yourself meant by this?

AD: So, a lot of the In our time episodes in the last couple of years that I have listened to. Whenever in our time has taken up a Theologian or taken up an aspect of theology, it seems to go for theologians who see religion as more than just faith and who try to find a justification- either for God or for a virtue or for a mode of behaviour- that relies on more than just faith. 

AS: Okay, the thing that this reminded me the most of was this recent essay by David perell on Peter Thiel. And David Perell makes a point that Peter Thiel being Peter Thiel is a direct consequence of Peter Thiel’s religious belief, about Christianity being in a sense, I am paraphrasing over here but, upward looking. And what I mean by that is the Christian belief that Peter Thiel has, encourages Peter Thiel to want to do better. Is that something that you had in mind when you spoke about the differences between Christianity and Hinduism for example?

AD: No, not really.

AS: Okay, because within the essay itself, and I don’t have the essay in front of me, so this is from memory so perhaps I am getting the specific details wrong. But the idea is Peter Thiel often mentions that, or rather David Perell often mentions that Peter Thiel is Peter Thiel because you want to be able to build something outside what religion will be for you as an individual human being. It’s more societal than it is individualistic. And therefore the consequence being of a Christian faith in a sense almost forces Peter Thiel to do better by his own yardstick for society. It isn’t so much inward looking as it is outward looking. And I interpreted what you wrote about over here as being something more than just faith. Faith rewarding the inner self, the inner soul but faith as a code of, a set of codes that helps you do better for society, allowing people to do better for society itself. And I am wondering if that might be one of the differences between Hinduism and Christianity.

AD: So, I think that both Hinduism and Christianity are much more diverse than a single stereotype. Both now and in the past because one of the things this episode also talks about is just how many sects there were at the time Augustine was operating, about 3 of which no longer exist anymore. But, we can come back to that later I suppose. So, if we’re talking about that I suppose there are a large number of churches- both protestant and catholic where the followers are encouraged to work primarily on faith. And there would be other churches where faith is not be all and end all and you are also encouraged to live a virtuous life. And the same would be true for a number of different Hindu traditions as well. You also mentioned over here about who in Hinduism has that sort of approach and you say in parentheses certainly not the Bhagavad Gita. Could you build on that a little bit? Why would you think that the Bhagavad Gita doesn’t have that kind of approach?

AS: So, according to me the Bhagavad Gita is- there is certainly a tradition where people focus on only chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita. Which is where we get 1 shloka about focus on your actions and not on the fruit of your actions. But i feel that if you take the Bhagavad Gita as a whole- what we see in the Bhagavad Gita is that chapter by chapter Arjuna expresses particular doubts to Krishna. Krishna for the first few chapters comes up with reasoned arguments for Arjuna to not have doubts, for Arjuna to go and fight. But, over maybe 15 or 16 chapters this voice of reason is not able to convince Arjuna at all. And, it’s only when Krishna reveals himself to be the cosmic force and the God almighty-that Arjuna is terrified seeing this vision of Krishna his God. And all his reason based earlier arguments or prudence based arguments of the last 16 or 17 chapters are dropped. And he says nothing is left to me now except faith or bhakti and I’m going to go and fight because you are God and you have told me to do it. So, I mean if you take an individual chapter  or an individual shloka of  the bhagavad gita- then sure, there is a lot of reasoning inside it. But, if you look at the Bhagavad gita as a whole it seems to be a satire of reason and it seems to be putting out a message that ultimately faith will be more important than any reason based arguments that you bring to a discussion of theology or to a discussion of life for that matter.

AS: Weirdly and in a sort of closing the loop over here it reminds me of Eve choosing to disregard God’s instructions. So, go by faith and not by trying to reason it out by yourself seems to be the message in both the original sin that we spoke about as well as Bhagavad Gita. 

AD: Right.

AS: Truly fascinating!  Okay, so (I) don’t think that we have the time to delve into this in detail- I wish we did. (to AD) But could you very quickly speak about how this relates to what you spoke about with regards to Buddhism?

AD: So, one of the most meaningful books I have read this year has been “Why Buddhism is true” by Robert Wright. I think Robert Wright (we checked- it is by Robert Wright!). And, it is also something I discovered through an econ talk podcast. And this is a book that makes a very heavy case that the teachings of the Buddha are parallel to what we know today from psychology or even from evolutionary development. The book spends a lot of time saying- ignore the supernatural aspects of Buddhism, once you strip those away what remains is very useful for getting through life. 

AS: Wow! Okay, duly bookmarked and hopefully I’ll get around to reading it before the year is out. Okay, I’m tempted to jump into Neal Stephenson but that can take us off on multiple tangents so lets just speak about stealing pears for fun. 

AD: Yeah, so one of the major stories in St Augustine’s confessions is he talks about as he was a boy he had a group of friends. They see a pear orchard and they decide that they want to steal pears just for the fun of it. They steal the pears and they aren’t hungry- they don’t want to eat the pears. So, having stolen the pears they just throw the pears to the pigs- for the pigs to eat. Augustine apparently goes into this extremely long self examination of this incident  and goes into this position that- if I was not even hungry why did I steal the pears and the only reason is that i am intrinsically wicked.And this comes back to the point about original sin.

AS: Fascinating. Fascinating for two reasons- 1 that you just spoke about and the 2nd in a very weird way allows me to segway into the 2nd blog post that we are going to be speaking about today- the conversation that Tyler Cowens and Russ Roberts had on a book that Tyler Cowen wrote recently called “big business”. (it is) Important on the outside to state that I have recently been awarded a grant on emergent ventures- in which Tyler Cowen is very heavily invested. So, take what you will, make what you will of that in terms of what I have to say about Tyler Cowens going forward. But that having been said, stealing pears for fun reminded me of a story that came out- I think it was the Atlantic that ran with it- and I’ll put up a link to it with regard to his book on big business- where when you have automated checkouts and people have the ability to walk out of the supermarkets without any interventions. It was observed that at least some people tend to steal. Not necessarily because they are evil, not necessarily because they are wicked but just because they have the ability to do so. I’ll search for the link and we will put it up whenever we will put the podcast out in public. It was a truly fascinating story and it is a weird way to jump from St Augustine to modern business today. 

AD: Yeah, and it is unfortunate that we have decided to leave that episode behind because there is a lot to talk about on this particular and while we are talking about Atlantic stories- recent Atlantic stories that brought me back to this position of original sin or intrinsic wickedness is the one they had earlier this week about children who are born psychopaths

AS: Wow, I haven’t read this one.

AD: And that was also extremely fascinating. But yeah even the- we are getting very far away from the topic of the Tyler Cowen episode so I’ll try to make this quick. But even the panelists in the “in our time” episode about Augustine they say- look, stealing pears is not that evil, it’s kind of wicked, most likely it’s naughty. And, yeah there is always going to be a certain thrill in doing something wrong and getting away with it and doing something wrong not even to get away with it but to see if it is possible to get away with. And a lot of- for example the modern IT  security industry is built on the very (inaudible) people trying to push limits of systems. S yeah, that kind of impulse is a little antisocial but it’s also very useful and maybe there are filters in our head which allow us to do something which is mildly wicked but not completely wicked. 

AS: So, just test how far we can go against authority. 

AD: Yeah. 

AS: I am tempted to tie it back to the- what I think is going to become the recurrent theme of this episode- the original sin but I get that it is a dangerous road to go down in terms of the time we have left. Okay, so let’s- and I noted the fact that you wish to speak a bit more about St Augustine and we will get back to it if we get the time. But let’s start speaking about “Big Business” and the conversation that Russ Roberts had with Tyler Cowen about big business. For everybody who is listening Tyler Cowen- an economist at George Mason university recently wrote a book called s: A Love Letter to big business or something along those lines- I don’t remember the exact title.

AD: I think it is Big business: a love letter to an under-appreciated hero or under-rated perhaps. ( Aadish was close- the exact title is Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero ). 

AS: And in the book he speaks about big business being vilified far too much for the times that we live in. The whole book is a contrarian take on what society ought to think about big business. The conversation that Russ Roberts has is- at least I listened to part of it- I haven’t listened to the whole episode and the part I listened to did not seem to be so much about the book itself but about a whole variety of other things. I mean who are we to complain about given what we do in this podcast. 

AD: That’s true.

AS: But, lets begin with what you took away from that conversation- beginning with Tyler Cowen dissing parties. 

AD: Yeah.

AS: So, could you tell me why parties ought to be rated a little bit more than Tyler Cowen seems they ought to be?

AD: So, I have forgotten the exact context in which this came up but there was a bit in this interview where I think Tyler Cowen was  being contrarian against how its felt that looking at your phone or checking your twitter timeline or facebook or checking your messages is antisocial considering you could be interacting with human beings face to face at a party and he took this as an opportunity to really diss parties and say parties are terrible- all that happens at parties is that you drink a lot and listen to loud music and it presents a massive opportunity cost in terms of you could be having an interesting conversation instead. And he did want to say that yes for someone who is in that 18 to 21 year old period where it is more important to build a social network than to have meaningful conversations within the social network parties are useful but not outside that limited context. And while the specific point about loud music and not having meaningful conversations is true I think he does the overall genre of parties a disservice by saying that it is complete;y impossible for  interesting conversations to happen within parties especially because one of the functions or outcomes of the party is introducing strangers to each other so that they can have all nes. Interesting conversations.

AS: I would in fact go so far as to say that one other area where I disagree with Tyler Cowen is getting drunk and then having a conversation is truly magnificent 

AD: Well, I suppose it depends on how grunk and what the particular person does when drunk? 

AS: Sure, so not so drunk that you can’t stand but getting a little buzzed and having a conversation is better than having a sober conversation- at least in my experience. 

AD: Sometimes in my experience too but my reaction to alcohol has varied a lot over the years and there were a couple of years- around 2010/2011 where I would have been in absolute agreement with Tyler Cowen when 1 drink would have done nothing for me, 2nd drink would have made me miserable so in those 2 years I would have been very happy to stay sober and make my interesting conversation without (the) assistance of alcohol.

AS: Okay, this actually reminds me of an old russian proverb and my all time favorite once- “2 drinks is enough, 3 is too few”. 

AD: And there are of course all the cartoons and infographics about the 7 stages of drunkenness. And, brooklyn nine nine also had a very nice sketch about this- maybe we can find a link to that too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKBWqvFn7Xw 

AS: Done. In fact the thing that I look forward the most to  in this conversation was the bullet point where you managed to link Tyler Cowen, Jean Jacob- Jane Jacobs  sorry (Jake Peralta- from brooklyn nine nine), Deidre McCloskey and Akar Patel. Speak a bit about Baniya values.

AD: So, if anyone has been reading Akar Patel’s columns he is now with the times of India but I am speaking of a time when he used to be with mint lounge. Akar Patel has a bit of a bit of a bee in his bonnet, so he seems to see any kind of problem and eventually link it back to caste in India. And, as part of this he would also talk about how baniyas and related castes- shetis, shetias, etc and in business would have to learn to negotiate, compromise and be able to work and find solutions much better than others. This is of course a gross generalization that is probably untrue but nevertheless very enjoyable but how it links to Tyler Cowen is that in the interview Tyler Cowen says that if there is one thing that we should appreciate about business and enjoy about business is that business teaches you the value of cooperation and persuasion. You cannot make a successful business unless you are able to cooperate within the team or unless you are able to persuade either your team members or your customers or anyone else in the value chain you are working with. This links up pretty clearly with Deidre McClowskey’s repeated writing about the difference between convincing someone which refers to defeating them and making sure that they follow what you do and persuading someone which is done through speech, which is done through words and which has more long lasting outcomes. And, Jane Jacobs while she spoke less about persuasion she did have this line about how the job of a city is to facilitate humane and friendly interaction between strangers. Which I think is also what Tyler Cowen is talking about. And I think that what Akar Patel misses when he says that Baniyas are able to perpetuate is that they probably don’t have that great a track record of cooperating with strangers.

AS: Okay, so 2 things that this reminds me of, weirdly both are related to what I do in terms of my career right now. I teach at a university in Pune and the thing that petrifies me the most about taking up the job is the sense of complacency that while doing it I don’t have as a full time employee of a particular institute- academic institute in particular the need to persuade people. And I worry whether I might lose the ability to literally do business as a consequence of being forever placed with this particular institute until I choose to leave.

AD: Okay.

AS: 1 and 2nd- this relates to the famous lost episode now but it’s also somewhat tied to how I view conducting a class. The distinction that you made between speaking from a position of authority and trying to defeat someone in an argument vis-a-vis having a conversation and trying to convince a person. Classes I think are far too much about the former and enough about the latter- at least in my experience in Pune.

AD: Okay.

AS: I don’t know if you would agree with that or not- but business really is about cooperation and convincing than it is about speaking or position of power. In academia I would have used the exact opposite.

AD: Well, one of the complaints that I have about my career is that so much of sales is now done purely on price and whoever is the lowest bidder in a reverse auction that the scope for persuasion between myself and the customer has been brought down massively. Of course even within that I still have a lot of persuasion to do with my colleagues- juniors and seniors, with suppliers. But I think we tend to worry a bit that we are not getting the opportunities for persuasion that we wish were there. But, I don’t know how it is for you in your career but I imagine that while setting the syllabus, while setting the course structure and having it approved you will still be drawing upon your powers of persuasion.

AS: Right.

AD: So, maybe not in the classroom- but outside the classroom sure. Of course, that doesn’t fix the issue that the classroom is still a place where convincing rather than persuading is going on. But I think that as far as your personal angst that your skill of persuasion is falling maybe you’re a little too worried.

AS: [laughs] I will take it as a compliment, thank you. Okay, the next bullet point that I wanted to speak about was about moving from cities- sorry moving to cities in order to escape monopsonies. What it reminds me the most of is Dr Ambedkar’s tyranny of the village. I don’t know if that’s the point that you and me or Tyler Cowen may have had in mind but the need to escape to cities is something that I think is an imperative for Indian societies.

AD: So, I did not have Dr Ambedkar’s description in mind while listening to this episode. I don’t think Tyler Cowen had this in mind either. They were speaking more in terms of an issue that has been discussed on econ talk before- which is that in an extreme case where- A. if you are an employee and if you are in the market for a job and your job market is both geographically isolated because it’s in a rural area somewhere and if there is only one large employer around which could be a large petrochemical plant or a large agribusiness plant or a food processing plant. You are in danger of being in a monopsony market where there is practically speaking only 1 purchaser for your labour or your employment. And, not to get too much into it but this has been a running argument on econtalk for many episodes. I think there was an episode with Noah smith which comes up in pretty sharp detail but it is talking about discussion prevalent both in economics and in popular culture now which is that as business is getting bigger are there fewer and fewer employers and because of that are people who are looking for jobs having to face with a monopsony or an oligopsony and Tyler Cowen’s point is that- look, the monopsony is a danger only in a very rural area where a single large employer can dominate. And the best way to escape a monopsony is to head to a city where there are multiple large employers.

AS: Okay, I was just as you were speaking looking up the original Ambedkar quote. He mentions the love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is infinite if not pathetic, what is a village but a sink of a den of localism, narrow mindedness, communalism. Ignoring the sociological aspects in a sense, maybe it’s a confirmation bias on my part but I am tempted to link at least a sink of localism with monopsony behavior. The idea is and at least Ambedkar spoke about this- I don’t remember the context with which he wrote about this now (but) the idea is that it is almost imperative for India to be able to escape the narrow mindedness that the village offers. Whether it is the sense of a monopsony when it comes to economics or a monopsony when it comes to seeking out hierarchy in a village it comes out only in terms of caste. 

AD: Well, probably not only in terms of caste. I mean I think we’ve been quite ingenious in finding other ways and axes on which to be nasty. Of course none of that takes away from what Dr Ambedkar has said. If I have some pessimism about that I feel that- especially on the sociological aspects moving to the city is necessary but not sufficient. 

AS: True. Okay, there was a point that I was intrigued about- coming back to the blog post on the Bryan Capling take down  referring to the human capital having measurable effects. Can you speak about what the context was over here? 

AD: Okay, so Bryan Caplan and- I think we have spoken about this in the lost episode- has a belief that all of education is signalling that you have a credential. It is a big game of credentialing. And that students are wasting a lot of time and money spending 4 years in college and paying to get a degree. And I don’t know if he’s the one who made this argument but in extreme form this argument goes that high school students should just write SATs and send their SAT scores to employers and employers should then take in the high scoring students. The 4 years along the way is just a waste of time and money and Tyler Cowen then cites a lot of examples to say that no, education is not really credentialing- it has measurable effects which show that it is actually building skills and giving you problem solving abilities or some kind of knowledge base.

AS: Alright, I don’t think we’re going to have the time- especially in this particular episode to delve into the Churchill episode so let’s just finish by talking very briefly about the friends’ episode or rather the friends’ book that you just read. For a variety of reasons and not the least of which is that I’ve always enjoyed watching friends. There was a remarkable, at least to me, fall in terms of quality over the last 2 or 3 seasons. But what did you enjoy reading about where the book was concerned. 

AD: I mean I’d go so far as to say that it peaked in season 5 and everything after that was downhill. But, this is ofcourse a matter of taste and I don’t know if you want to make it that kind of podcast. 

AS: I’ll interrupt you to say that the first 3 or 4 seasons were a little like seinfeld which to me is a very big compliment and the others weren’t and that to me is how I think about pre and post division time. 

AD: I mean- I think again at some point something becomes really, really big and popular- the fans of that can be far more annoying than any mistake that the thing itself makes. 

 AS: Oh yeah, I agree. 

AD: Okay, so this is a book called “I’ll be there for you” the one about friends which is by a writer called Kelsey Miller. I think she works with Refinery29 (she did when we last checked!) and it’s just a very short, quick book so I don’t think it has a lot of original research but it documents the costing process for friends, it documents what Kaufmann and Crane were doing before they started writing friends and became successful with that. It talks about how the 6 main cast members used to collectively bargain for what they would be paid. And a couple of chapters on other issues- on, for example, on how friends treated lgbt issues and how that treatment was very much part of its time.

AS: Okay, so 2 questions that I had about this with regard to what you just spoke of. !. What did Kaufmann and Crane do- in terms of what experiences they had which got them to the stage where they could write friends?

AD: So, Kaufmann and Crane had originally been I think in college together and in the theatre club maybe it was a program as well. They then completely lost touch- somehow they ended up together. They wrote a bunch of other series- one was slightly successful and it was one of the early HBO original series- I can’t remember the name right now. That caught them notice. They then turned in about 3 complete duds. And it does make it seem that if they had they turned in another dud instead of friends it might have been the end of the road for them.

AS: Remarkable. And the second point- the one that unfortunately because of the lack of time we will probably have to end with right now- Is it to you weird or notable that friends is still somewhat a cultural totem pole for anybody who watches television. There has not been a replacement for the cultural significance that friends has had. I mean of course there have been other series that have been popular but the way that people still watch and revere friends- is it not weird and perhaps depressing? 

AD: I think its perhaps not weird that people still watch and revere friends. What I find slightly off putting is that people rewatch friends. 

AS: [laughs] I am slightly ashamed to say that I am going to plead guilty to that.

AD: So am I- I have been doing it for the last couple of weeks. I do feel that if you are rewatching friends there is a massive opportunity cost of what you could be watching or reading in its place.  

AS: That is perhaps the most depressing thing to think about so let’s not. 

AD: But yeah, I mean this book does focus on how- even 20 years later and young people are still getting into friends and watching it for the first time because it does have a certain premise that is slightly fantastical but still very enjoyable 

AS: – and relatable

AD: – well it says its not that relatable because something like this could never happen in real life but it is something that you would always want to happen in your real life

AS: Aspiriously relatable 

AD: Exactly!
AS: Alright, great! Aadisht- Thank you so much for your time and hopefully we will be able to do this again.

AD: Thank you Ashish, see you soon. 

AS: See you, bye.  

You’ve been listening to “That reminds me” 1d. This conversation was between Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. Ashish’s blog is https://econforeverybody.com/ and Aadisht’s blog is http://www.aadisht.net/blog/ . That reminds me is a podcast produced by Ashish Kulkarni and Aadisht Khanna. You can find all episodes of this podcast at https://www.thatreminds.me/podcast/ . You can leave your comments. You can also email us- our address is feedback@thatreminds.me . The podcast is supported by emergent ventures. The show music is the carnival of the animals by the Seattle group symphony at the https://www.usopen.org/  [MUSIC]

Trancript is provided by Simran Gopal (http://linkedin.com/in/simran-gopal-42a1281b1/)

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