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163 of 179 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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6 of 7 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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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 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where's my teleporter?, October 19, 2012
By 
ThomasW (Longmont, CO USA) - See all my reviews
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)
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. Great new technologies like railroads and the automobile were introduced in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, but since then we've only gotten improvements to existing technologies. Mr. Cowen seems to think that if technological change had continued we would see aircars (ala the old cartoon The Jetsons), jetpacks, and teleportation machines. Instead we have larger refrigerators.

This is contrary to most accounts that we live in a period of rapid technological change. Computers and electronic products are sold for under a year before an improved model is available, where in the past products would have multi-year lifetimes. But I'm not sure of Mr. Cowen's opinion of computers and electronics, the only technological advance since 1970 he mentions is the internet (which uses computers but is not the same thing).

Talking about the internet, Mr. Cowen abandons any argument about technological change, and instead complains that it's mostly free and doesn't employ enough people, thus not contributing to GDP. Everyplace else in the book he talks about changes in technology and living standards, but for the internet it's the lack of jobs.

The rest of the book is similarly confused. While there are some good points in the book, it really seems to be a complaint that many of the technologies envisioned by science fiction, which some "experts" have predicted would arrive soon, are not here today.
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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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just Barely Worth the Price, October 22, 2012
By 
John Harllee (Washington DC USA) - 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)
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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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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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 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 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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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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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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