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154 of 169 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great essay, wish people would read it before reviewing it
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...
Published on October 30, 2011 by Chuck Crane

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
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...
Published on September 16, 2012 by Paul Moreno


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Points, but Also Important Omissions, March 6, 2014
This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
Cowen helps put our current economic malaise in perspective, pointing out that our really good years are behind us because their major underlying contributors are 'used up.' These include the benefits of free land (Homestead Act) that helped make America a strong exporter of food, important innovations (electricity, refrigerators, cars, phones, TVs, radios) that have made important contributions to most every American's life, going from smart but uneducated children to a nation that led the world in universal education, and readily available energy resources. Those new opportunities and resulting growth are mostly gone - now its minor refinements (eg. 4G cellphones, iPods, eBay).

Cowen also reports on the now rapid growth in areas that are not providing a basis for future growth or improving standards of living. For example, K-12 per-pupil inflation-adjusted spending has increased 250% since 1970, while pupil outcomes (NAEP 17-year-olds, dropout rates) are unchanged). College costs have risen even faster - yet students study less than in the 1960s and employers constantly complain of inadequate preparation. Worst of all - American healthcare leads the world in spending (18% of GDP, up from about 8% in the late 1960s) but we trail other nations in many key areas of patient outcomes (eg. life expectancy, neonatal deaths, etc.).

On the down side, Cohen omits five additional important factors - some negative and some positive. After WWII the U.S. was the only developed nation that emerged unscathed, and thus became an export powerhouse. Since then other nations have rebuilt (U.K., Germany, Japan) or developed (South Korea, China, Taiwan, Mexico) and are now decimating America via 'Free Trade.' Exporting jobs is now extending to the service sector - the most obvious source being India for software development, call-center services, and now pharmaceutical R&D. The Internet is also making strong inroads into bricks and mortar retailing, and now we're seeing Radio Shack and Staples reducing their store count as a result, while Borders and Circuit City have recently disappeared. Another - the 12+ million illegals living within the U.S. and, along with the children of illegals, are taking millions of jobs from Americans. The last factor - increasing automation, with robots becoming cheaper, more versatile, and easier to program, and cheap software displacing the need for eg. CPAs doing taxes, financial reporting, etc.

Bottom-Line: Wall Street is making money hand over fist by outsourcing, downsizing, automating, and hiring illegals. Just don't look for the return of boom years on Main Street anytime soon, if ever.
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4.0 out of 5 stars What you missed about the last 3 decades, February 27, 2014
This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
According to Tyler Cowen, Land, Technology and Uneducated Kids provided the America of early days an incredible diet of “low hanging fruit.” In this excellent short book (fewer than 90 pages), Mr. Cowen shows how the manifestation of having eaten all the low-hanging fruit is that individual and family median incomes have all but stagnated with respect to the pace of growth in GDP per capita. He points out that the last decade has seen a decrease in median family income of about 3%.

Cowen further worries about the sporadic nature of productivity improvements. And he is concerned about the misleading data we look at with respect to GDP and living standards. He has this to say about productivity:

The larger the role of government in the economy, the more the published figures for GDP growth are overstating improvements in our living standard.

And on the role of the government in terms of consumption, Cowen points out that:
The larger the percentage of government consumption in the economy, the harder it is to tell exactly how well we are doing in real economic growth and living standards.

In the last chapter Cowan asks, “Can We Fix Things?” The good news is put on a global basis, as I believe it should be. Cowen states that “The good news is this: A lot of what we ought to be doing, we have in fact been doing. The first favorable trend is the interest in science and engineering in India and China.” A second hopeful trend is that the internet is showing an interest in generating more revenue. It hasn’t always done so. A third positive trend is America’s electorate is showing a deep interest in “fixing” the K-12 education system.

Cowan calls for and I support the concept of raising the social status of scientists. He strikes a hopeful note; “Yet reason and science have never been more important: If nothing else, a more reasonable and more scientific understanding of our predicament can help us cope, both intellectually and emotionally. Back to the hard problems.” That sets the stage for his next book, Average is Over.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Concise & simple overview of past, present and future economics, February 20, 2014
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This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
This book does a great job of putting in simple terms the origins of our 2008 economic crisis and what we can expect from it in the coming years. No economics background necessary, and Tyler Cowen keeps things interesting with his entertaining prose.
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5.0 out of 5 stars intriguing and well writen, January 4, 2013
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This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
greatly enjoyed both the opinion and the way in which Mr. Cowen presented his argument. A very well referenced and researched piece and one that i iwll be recommending to colleages.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Promotes an Unpopular, But Thought Provoking, Thesis, November 11, 2012
By 
David Clark "prophipsi" (Frisco, TX United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
My review is probably a little biased since I arrived at a similar conclusion about the state of economic development in the world a few years ago. Of course my conclusion was based on zero data, just a gut feeling, so seeing someone arguing for the same thesis, with data, may be influencing my review.

The thesis is basically that we are in a period of economic stagnation because there are no current sources of large economic and productivity boosts. Because of this, we should be prepared as a society for lower levels of economic growth than there has been in the past. The attractive part of the thesis for me is that the explanation for stagnation is not a right/left political issue, but is much more structural and fundamental. Attractive in the sense that we can stop blaming each other's political preferences for our economic woes.

But in another sense, it's much scarier than a political problem. If it were a political problem, one side winning would produce the desired outcome of economic growth. You can't really fight or plan for technological innovation, it happens on its own schedule. You can't spend your way into technological innovation or organize for technological innovation. In that sense it's much more pessimistic as there isn't something that can be done to fix the problem.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Perspective to Understand Economic Growth in Developing Nations, February 7, 2012
This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
The title to this review says it all. Growth in the developing world is currently driven by what Krugman has called "growth in inputs," I would liken Cowen's "low hanging fruit" to that article years ago by Krugman titled "The Myth of Asia's Miracle." It is a worthy read to help take into account these two concepts and what growth may look like in the dynamic global economy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Short Book About a Big Mess, December 18, 2011
This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
This short (89 pages, exclusive of notes and index) book was apparently a sensation in its first incarnation as an e-book, though I had heard nothing about it until "The Economist" named it one of the books of the year for 2011. It's a quick read, which is not to say it is simplistic--although no one can be expected to probe a problem as complex as the current American economic situation in great depth in so few pages. Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, attempts to succinctly analyze the sources of America's economic woes and to predict what it will take to pull us out of the current bog and put us on a path to renewed growth. It's a tall order for a short book, but unless you want to read a large number of very long (and possibly dry) books in addition to countless technical articles, Cowen's treatment is not a bad place to anchor an understanding of why we find ourselves in our current fix. Cowen spreads the blame, both across history and across contemporary players, but sums up much of the problem this way: "We thought we were richer than we were." The decisions that stemmed from this widespread belief led us down the path of excessive risk-taking, excessive debt, and insufficient awareness of the dangers ahead. Cowen sees the solution to the problem not in any particular government program or set of programs, and not in the views regarding government of either the left or the right. What we really need, he argues, is a new dose of technological innovation with widespread benefits, of the sort that propelled an earlier era of sustained economic growth. Most of today's innovations (with the exception of the internet) occur at the margins and have benefits that are relatively limited in terms of creating a better material life for the majority of people. Cowen warns that we should become accustomed to--and be at peace with--a future in which growth will be slower. This is primarily because the "low-hanging fruit" (his common refrain) that led to America's economic success has been picked and is not likely to return in the same powerful combination. The three elements of that low-hanging fruit were plenty of readily-available land, a series of technological breakthroughs, and a smart but uneducated population that could either be put to work, or put through school, resulting in substantial value added to national economic activity. In other words, there was a particularly important historical moment, from the mid-19th century to some point in the 20th, when all the stars were aligned for dynamic, sustained national success. Without the likely return of those three elements together, Cowen puts his hope in the possibility of future technological breakthroughs. Indeed, his final call is for greater social status for scientists and greater understanding of science on the part of all citizens, so that we create, if not a common conversation about science and technology, then at least an environment in which more of our brightest citizens are encouraged to pursue scientific careers. That answer may be too simplistic (and, in fairness, Cowen does not suggest that it will solve everything), but it is hard to argue that both the economic and the emotional (i.e., coping) benefits that could derive from a good, sustained application of reason to our present predicament would not be welcome.
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4.0 out of 5 stars About major changes in the near future, October 25, 2011
This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
This book was very interesting to read because it talks about the great changes that await us in the future. I think, it can help me to get better idea of ''the context of our world and prepare me for the inevitable changes in the future economics. In particular, it was interesting to read about the impact of new technologies and the Internet in today's and future economy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A novel take on our technological progress, October 10, 2011
This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
Tyler has a novel take on the world's technological progress, and why it's not growing at the rate we perhaps thought it was. Although people can nitpick whether or not it is true for certain industries, on the whole I think he's right. I would add that technological progress is non-linear, and this book just helps everyone refocus on the phenomena underlying the challenges of the day.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fresh Ideas Concisely Presented, September 4, 2012
This review is from: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better (Hardcover)
This is a short and sharp discussion of why America's growth prospects currently seem so dim. Cowen argues that we have already captured all the benefits to be had from our "low-hanging fruit": abundant land, immigrant labor, technological change, et al. Towards the end of the book he seems to start categorizing everything as low-hanging fruit and this undermines his stronger arguments about why growth has slowed and will be difficult to restart.

Cowen has some new arguments that I have not heard from other economic commentators. His discussion of how past growth may be distorted because of the fact that government expenditures are measured at cost (since there is no market to establish price) was new to me. His discussion of health care was also filled with fresh analysis. His conclusion that the way forward to is to lift the status of scientists in order to encourage innovation may be valid, but he does not attempt to specify the road forward. This is a very short book but is still a worthwhile read. His honesty, casual approach, and willingness to criticize both political parties fairly all made for distraction-free reading.
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