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Tyler Cowen's 'Conversations' series turns 3 with Martina Navratilova on March 19

March 5, 2018   /   by Buzz McClain

It’s been three years since George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen sat down on a March afternoon with fellow New York Times best-selling author Peter Thiel for a public “Conversation with Tyler” at Mason’s Founders Hall auditorium.

The event, hosted by the Mercatus Center at Mason, where Cowen is general director, drew an enthusiastic crowd; the subsequent audio podcast and the video have been listened to and viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

What began as a monthly program is now an increasingly popular, every-other-week activity that Cowen is all too happy to pack into his busy days as a professor, columnist, blogger and co-founder of the Marginal Revolution online education platform.

“Through their research, scholars at the Mercatus Center consistently engage with the biggest ideas and debates in public policy. The ‘Conversations with Tyler’ series allows us to bring that exchange of ideas to an even broader audience,” said Daniel M. Rothschild, executive director of the Mercatus Center.

“Peter Thiel and I are friends, and I thought it would be fun to talk to him in public,” Cowen said of the original idea behind the series. “People liked it and so did we and there you go.”

Past guests have included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Camille Paglia, Nate Silver and Malcolm Gladwell, among others.

Tennis champion and activist Martina Navratilova is the next guest, joining Cowen at 6 p.m. Monday, March 19, at Founders Hall in Arlington. Admission is free, but registration at this site is required. New York Times columnist David Brooks is the guest April 12 (register here).

Cowen said he brings ideas for possible guests to a team at the Mercatus Center, and vice versa.

“Kareem was my idea. Martina was someone else’s idea, but I was very enthusiastic to talk to her,” he said.

As for an economist interviewing sports figures, which he mixes in with policy, economics and culture leaders, “you want athletes who are articulate and intellectual beyond their sport,” he said.

Regarding Navratilova, “I play tennis,” he said. “I’m not good, but I understand enough to be able to talk to [Navratilova] about it.”

As for the guests he’s not been able to book, a recent disappointment was classical pianist and conductor Mitsuko Uchida. Cowen saw her recent performance at Maryland’s Strathmore Hall—“she’s probably the greatest pianist in the world,” Cowen said—and while she was willing, “she didn’t have the time. I think we can still get her, but I may have to go to where she lives, which is London and Vienna.”

Cowen has been making forays to New York City and Boston to record podcasts with guests there.