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Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation Hardcover – September 12, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (September 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953739
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Average is Over

“A buckle-your-seatbelts, swiftly moving tour of the new economic landscape.” - Kirkus Reviews

"Cowen has a single core strength...his taste for observations that are genuinely enlightening, interesting, and underappreciated." - The Daily Beast

"
A bracing new book" - The Economist

"Tyler Cowen's new book Average is Over makes an excellent followup to his previous work The Great Stagnation and I expect it will set the intellectual agenda in much the way its predecessor did." - Slate

"The author roves broadly and interestingly to make his case, outlining radical economic transformations that lie in store for us, predicting the rise and fall of cities depending on their capacity to adapt to this machine-driven world and offering policy prescriptions for preserving American prosperity." - The Wall Street Journal

"Audacious and fascinating." - The Financial Times

"Thomas Friedman - move over. There's a new guy on the block." - Tampa Bay Tribune

"Eminently readable." - The Brookings Institute

"Cowen has a rare ability to present fundamental economic questions without all of the complexity and jargon that make many economics books inaccessible to the lay reader." - The American Interest

 


Praise for The Great Stagnation

“As Cowen makes clear, many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity” —David Brooks, The New York Times

“One of the most talked-about books among economists right now.” —Renee Montagne, Morning Edition, NPR

“Tyler Cowen may very well turn out to be this decade’s Thomas Friedman.” —Kelly Evans, The Wall Street Journal

“Perhaps it’s the mark of a good book that after you’ve read it, you begin to see evidence for it’s thesis in lots of different areas… it’s well worth the time and the money.” —Ezra Klein, The Washington Post

“Cowen says over the last 300 years the U.S. has eaten all the low-hanging fruit. We’ve exhausted the easy pickings of abundant land, technological advance, and basic education for the masses. We thought the low-hanging fruit would never run out. It did, but we pushed ahead. And thus Cowen’s understated but penetrating summation of the financial crisis: “We thought we were richer than we were.” —Bret Swanson, Forbes

"The Great Stagnation has become the most debated nonfiction book so far this year." - David Brooks, The New York Times

"Cowen's book...will have a profound impact on the way people think about the last thirty years." - Ryan Avent, Economist.com


Praise for An Economist Gets Lunch

“Part Economic history… part guide to getting a better meal at home or a restaurant. Renowned economist…Professor Cowen is an expert on the economics of culture and the arts.” —Damon Darlin, The New York Times Dining Section

“[a] Calvin Trillin-like ode to tamale stands and ethnic food, the more exotic the better” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review Section

“If one’s goal is to eat well, Mr. Cowen’s rules are golden.” —Graeme Wood, The Wall Street Journal

An Economist Gets Lunch is a mind-bending book for non-economists.” —USA Today Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

About the Author

TYLER COWEN is a professor of economics at George Mason University. His blog, Marginal Revolution, is one of the world’s most influential economics blogs. He also writes for the New York Times, Financial Times and The Economist and is the cofounder of Marginal Revolution University. The author of five previous books, Cowen lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

Well written book.
T. Shelton
Unfortunately the author makes many other such assertions sound like they are solid facts when they are not.
Yoda
I found the book to be a bit short as I read it during a business trip but the author does make good points.
Matthew Dovell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Patrick M. Obriant on September 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tyler Cowen writes the terrific Marginal Revolution blog [...], teaches economics at GMU, and in his spare time writes books. In "Average is Over" Cowen examines the trends of the last 30 years including the introduction of smart technology, polarization of high and low wage earners, outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, wage stagnation. Cowen uses the prizm of chess, chess software, and chess software games as both analogy and predictor for future of how technology and technology / human interfaces will evolving and projecting these trends forward into the next 20 - 30 years.

Given the trends from today Cowen's "Average is Over" makes a strong and highly plausible argument for a likely American future. Perhaps even the most likely future.
The good news -
The already expensive, livable, and elite cities become even more so. For those self motivated, hard workers from anywhere in the world and nearly any economic background, the future looks extremely bright. Their tools and access to smarter training gets better and better. Online classes are easy to access worldwide. Smart technology gets smarter becomes "genius" but still works far better with people than without. Productivity (and wages) for these top 10-15% continues to increase. Even if you cannot work with "genius computers" managing, hiring, training, assisting, or coaching those who can will still be lucrative.

The not so good -
What does the rest of Cowen's America 2033 look like?
Older and poorer. Invest in micro housing and trailer parks in Texas. Maybe it won't be so bad. [...] or maybe it will be.[...]
Cowen correctly points out the huge pitfall in online education. "Online education can thus be extremely egalitarian, but it is egalitarian in a funny way.
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115 of 136 people found the following review helpful By Someone is Wrong on the Internet on September 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The real insight here is that the key skill in our economy is and will be figuring how to use computers creatively, even if you don't work in "IT" as such. Cowen's paradigm example is "freestyle chess," which involves using sophisticated programs (or anything else you want) to figure out the best moves. Analogously, professionals rely a great deal on web searches to supplement their expertise, economists now focus on using computers to do creative things with data sets, etc. in my own job as a lawyer, I know I've managed to get out of some tight situations with a few Excel tricks and a knack for database searches. So, this part of the book seems about right.

If only he had left it at that. Larded on top of this insight is a lot of rambling that just reiterates the insight over and over again. Even worse, Cowen indulges in a lot of weird futurologist speculations that will probably sound silly in a few years, like the hype about virtual reality in the 90s.

Cowen's main thesis -- soon, the haves will be super-productive computer virtuosos, and the have-nots will be everyone else -- is part and parcel of this futurology. My response is: who knows? For example, he doesn't really explain why the have-nots won't just redistribute away the ridiculous earnings of the computer virtuosos. He does mutter a few words about how it's hard to tax the rich, though he doesn't actually provide a review of the data. So, you're still left with: who knows?
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51 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Steve T on September 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In Average is Over, Tyler Cowen describes a future in which smart machines help drive us beyond the technological plateau he has written about previously. Much of the book is focused on what jobs will be like in the age of "mechanized intelligence" and robots.

Cowen thinks the answer is that people and machines will collaborate. In the future, people with strong technical skills (programmers, etc.) will do well, but there will also be strong opportunities for people who can leverage smart machines in more general ways. The most important qualities for success will be conscientiousness and attention to detail and comfort with (and a willingness to listen to advice provided by) technology. The ability to use technology effectively as a marketing tool may be the biggest opportunity of all.

(For another perspective on AI/robotics and the future job market, see also The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future).

Cowen believes technology will also be used to intensively monitor productivity and maybe even assign ratings similar to today's credit scores. Those who don't do well from the start, may find it very difficult to recover. Freestyle chess is used to illustrate the type of machine-human teamwork Cowen envisions, and I found this very interesting, although I am not a chess player.

I found the book to be a bit depressing in some of its predictions. Cowen sees increasing inequality as many people are simply left behind. He also sees more very wealthy people. The top of the income distribution will gain even more influence, and won't support an expanded safety net.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas on September 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Review Courtesy of [...]

"The key questions will be: Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not? Are your skills a complement to the skills of the computer, or is the computer doing better without you? Worst of all, are you competing against the computer?"

If you were paired with a machine to do a task, could together you do better than the machine alone? For Cowen, the answer matters more than you might think - with intelligent machines, he believes, lies the answer to The Great Stagnation he has worried about in the past.

There are two types of people in the world, he argues; those who can increase the productivity of machines, and those who will be replaced by them. One group will earn increasingly higher wages and rewards; the other will earn relatively less and less. Average is over, and though machines won't replace human labour entirely, as the Luddites feared, they will completely change how labour is allocated.

This is not to say that computer programmers are the only ones who will make money, of course. Rather, Cowen thinks of working with machines more broadly; using the automatic checkouts in supermarkets, for example, or adapting your smartphone to improve workflow. It is these teams of humans and machines, he argues, that can really make our productivity soar. This is true of life in general, he says, not just the workplace, whether it be relationships, hobbies, or education.

It's a provocative idea, particularly in light of today's concerns over inequality. The Economist this week, for example, quotes Daimler as describing their employees as "robot farming" because the workers are there to shepherd the robots as they do the work; presumably the ratio of sheep to shepherds is diminishing.
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