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The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better Hardcover – June 9, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0525952718 ISBN-10: 0525952713

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (June 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525952713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525952718
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"As Cowen makes clear, many of this era's technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little economic activity." ---David Brooks, The New York Times --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He is the author of Discover Your Inner Economist and The Age of the Infovore, and he coblogs at www.marginalrevolution.com, one of the world's most influential economics blogs. He writes regularly for The New York Times and has been a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Wilson Quarterly, and Slate, among many other popular media outlets.

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Customer Reviews

The book is a quick, fun, and dense with information and insight.
Josh Gross
In essence, Mr. Cowen is arguing that the technological change has slowed down and living standards aren't increasing as fast as they used to.
ThomasW
This book was very interesting to read because it talks about the great changes that await us in the future.
Nenad Stevanovic

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

153 of 168 people found the following review helpful By Chuck Crane on October 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Some reviewers have done a good job here, but some have utterly missed major points, if they have read the essay at all, which I doubt, so I will give potential readers an outline.

I. The low-hanging fruit we ate
..A. Examples in the United States
....1. Free land (Homestead Act, etc.)
....2. Technological breakthroughs (electricity, motor vehicles, telephone, radio, television, computers etc.)
....3. Smart, uneducated kids (who were made productive through excellent public education).
....4. This is a partial list; clearly other candidates can be proposed, e.g. cheap fossil fuels.
..B. Examples in other countries ("catch-up growth")
....1. Leveraging the technological breakthroughs of the West (e.g. China, India)
....2. Smart, uneducated kids (e.g. China, India)
..C. MEDIAN income growth in the U.S. has slowed notably since 1973.
....1. Decline in household size is not the cause.
....2. Unmeasured quality improvements (think electronic gadgetry) are not a counter (because there is
...... also unmeasured quality degradation, think traffic jams and AIDS)
..D. Rate of technical innovation has declined notably since 1873 and even more since 1955
....1. Innovation is getting harder; the low fruit has been picked.
....2. Recent innovations have slight marginal benefits
..E. Recent and current innovation is more geared to PRIVATE goods than to PUBLIC goods.
....**This is the driver of the Great Stagnation.
....1. Extracting resources from the government (subsidies for solar power, farm products, other junk;
.....useless construction; useless government employees; legal services, etc.) by lobbying.
....2. Extreme protections of intellectual property (e.g.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By The Guardian TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Tyler Cowen's `The Great Stagnation' is less a full-length book than an extended essay which attempts to explain current economic and median-income stagnation in the USA, and what might happen in the future. The author's basic idea is that between 1880 and 1970 the USA benefited from an abundance of `low-hanging fruit': almost limitless land resources relative to population; technological breakthroughs like electricity, indoor plumbing, railroads, automobiles, radio, telephones, tape recorders, mass production and the availability of reliably tested pharmaceuticals; and a continuous supply of first-generation immigrant labor to do all the hard jobs at low rates of pay. This party is now over, and the hangover has set in.

Cowen's analysis of historical trends in technological innovation reveals a plateau since the 1970s in the adoption and wide dissemination of useful new technologies: i.e. like in the 1970s we still drive cars powered by gasoline, and use refrigerators and TVs; they're just incrementally improved but not radically different in concept. Now they're made elsewhere in the world by newly industrialised economies which have imitated the industrial practices of the US and Europe, and are imported rather than home-produced. The newer technologies like the internet and cell phones are for communications, and don't need a lot of workers to run them.

The author goes on to analyse the incremental value of increasing spend on education, which he sees as offering diminishing economic returns, and writes an excellent section analysing healthcare spending - again, beyond a certain point doubling spending offers smaller and smaller incremental returns in health benefits.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul Moreno on September 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While I agree with most of the message, it was a disappointing book in the depth of economic history presented and the analysis. More importantly, there is no good explanation of how the stagnation will eventually be overcome.

At least Cowen acknowledges that we are in a stagnation and that the technologies that contributed to economic growth in the past are subject to diminishing returns. The productivity slowdown dates to the early 1970s and is well known to economists. (See the works of Denison, Robert J. Gordon and Alexander Field and Robert Ayres)

Books that anticipated the stagnation were Turning Point by Robert Ayres and The Evolution of Progress by C. Owen Paepke, both excellent. The End of Work by Jeremy Rifkin is also recommended. Perhaps the best economic explanation is by Gordon Bjork in The Way It Worked and Why It Won't: Structural Change and the Slowdown of U.S. Economic Growth. Bjork shows how structural change in the size of economic sectors affected productivity and economic growth. In the transition from agriculture to manufacturing, workers moved to a higher output per hour, high productivity growth sector. As productivity in manufacturing succeeded in lowering prices and employment, shrinking the relative sector size. The growing sectors of government and services are lower output per hour and lower productivity growth.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Harllee on October 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Other reviews have laid out the major themes of the book, so I will confine myself to some points not covered.

Cowan evidently believes government productivity is stagnant or worse. Talking about government productivity may be a category error for many types of governmental activity: Japan's crime rates are enormously lower than those of the US: Does that mean Japanese law enforcement personnel are enormously more productive? Is the Swedish military unproductive because it never fights wars? Federal statutes over recent decades have gotten longer and longer, no matter who was in power: Do more pages mean the Congress has become more productive?

Page 19 has a chart from a paper by Jonathan Huebner that shows the pattern of global innovation per capita per capita since 1455. The reference to Huebner's paper (easily available as a pdf) IMHO constitutes much of the intellectual content of the book.

If the subject interests you, find Professor Gordon Wood's recent paper, "Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?" which is easily available online. It is much better than Cowan's book.
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