The wisdom of Scott Sumner: my favourite (non-econ) Scott Sumner blog posts

Scott Sumner is best known as an economist who was praised for positively influencing economic policy during the Great Recession through blogging, as well as the leading voice for market monetarism. But to me, as someone uninterested in monetary policy, Scott stands out as one of the world’s best, warmest, and wisest generalist bloggers. He writes on a wide range of topics, often touching on issues adjacent to politics, economics, and art, but irrespective of the topic, his wisdom always shines through. I might be biased because our values are quite similar—we both lean towards neoliberalism, embrace a utilitarian approach, and are completely captivated by art—but of all the writers I read, Scott is the one who is least often wrong. While his blogging isn’t particularly ambitious, there are always little nuggets of wisdom sprouting up, and it’s consistently insightful, introspective, and kind. Like many of my other favourite writers, Scott uses incredibly simple yet robust concepts, and by applying them rigorously and broadly, he helps you see things you should have been able to see yourself but didn’t.

My favourite Scott Sumner blogs:

  1. Understanding middlebrow
    • on the 90-99th percentile mocking the 0-90th percentile for their taste, while being oblivious to the true cultural elite
  2. What do we mean by meaning
    • On what provides meaning in life
  3. Wallowing in nostalgia (an autobiography)
    • On how the sharpness of life evolves over time
  4. Give thanks for progress and Who’s afraid of the great outdoors
    • On agnosticism towards progress and how norms evolve over time
  5. Double vision: when then was now
    • On the ability to interpret life through our prior experiences
  6. It’s a wonderful, awful, and perplexing life
    • On death
  7. Which issues are important (to me)? and The most important issues
    • On what policy issues matter most to Scott (2015 and 2022 editions)
  8. Where are we making progress
    • On progress in art and the importance of “discovery” for creating great art
  9. The eternal modern
    • On how modernism became frozen in time
  10. Scott also reviews movies every quarter, and generally, has amazing film reviews:
  11. What information should we consume?
    • On how Scott chooses to consume information
  12. Land of bridges and tunnels
    • Scott’s travelogue of China
  13. Dreams of a European vacation
    • Scott’s meta-reflections on vacationing in Europe
  14. Taiwan, the ROC, and Super Bowl XXXII
    • On the counter-intuitive game theory guiding the Chinese-Taiwan conflict
  15. The authoritarian nationalist playbook
    • On the rise of Nationalism in the 21st century
  16. YIMBY!
    • On why YIMBY-ism matters
  17. The zero sum death spiral
    • On the necessity of good economic policies to avoid the zero sum death spiral
  18. Economics is really hard
    • On the counter-intuitive ideas one must understand in order to  understand simple economic policy questions
  19. Praise and blame
    • On the asymmetry between praise and blame


PS: I can’t stop chuckling at this anecdote: 

PPS: As someone who has now compiled “best of” posts for Tyler Cowen, Joseph Heath, Holden Karnofsky, and now Scott, it saddens me how many brilliant writers continuously produce content without considering how to make their best ideas more accessible to others. Beyond the pro-social benefit, it is clearly in each author’s self-interest to do so. I don’t have a solid theory as to why so few bloggers make it easier to engage with their ideas, but it is maddening that they don’t. While making these lists, two things really stand out: a lot of the articles get rehashed in different words many, many times over, and many of their best posts were created merely due to the writer churning out volume and were not intended to be perceived as masterpieces, but rather as sharing their quick thoughts on a particular perspective, which happened to unearth brilliance.

PPPS: I likely missed many great articles because Scott’s writing is so voluminous and hard to search through. Additionally, he doesn’t have a large fan base discussing his work outside the blog, making it much harder to find the best posts. This compilation was especially challenging because much of Scott’s best writing is often a throwaway paragraph or two in a longer, unrelated article. Please, please, please share your favourite non-econ Scott Sumner articles in the comments here, so others can find them.