The Invisible Hand Cooks Dinner

“I’ve been an economist for some 30 years,” says Tyler Cowen. “In this time, I’ve learned that by applying some basic economics to my food choices, I can make nearly every meal count.” Here are his six simple rules:

  1. At fancy restaurants, order what sounds the least appetizing.
  2. Avoid restaurants that are popular for their social scene.
  3. Look for good restaurants in the suburbs, where the rent is lower. Or, really, anyplace the rent is low.
  4. Ask other people for advice.
  5. Patronize family-run restaurants.
  6. Thai restaurants are becoming too Americanized, so try Vietnamese instead.

Hmmm. This might all be good advice, but as near as I can tell, only two of these items (#1 and #3) really have any economic content to speak of. The others are either common sense (#4), pieces of longstanding conventional wisdom (#2 and #5), or a matter of taste (#6). Has Tyler succumbed to the Freakonomics disease, where pretty much everything related to human action is now considered a subset of economics? Say it ain’t so!


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.