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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Asking the Right Questions about the U.S. Economy, January 25, 2011
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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: A Penguin eSpecial from Dutton (Kindle Edition)
Who's to blame for the low-growth state of the U.S. economy? In a country filled with partisan finger-pointing and China-bashing, Tyler Cowen attempts to bring the theory of a technological plateau to the forefront. This is not a new idea -- every Econ 101 student learns that there was a productivity slowdown in the 1970s -- but Cowen provides an accessible synthesis of the latest statistics and academic research on the subject. He addresses several counterviews, such as whether inflation is mismeasured and why the technological change wrought by the Internet is distinct from what his grandmother experienced. Today's leading innovators, Google and Facebook, employ smaller numbers of people than General Motors because now the machines and users do most of the work.

Cowen's primary policy prescription is to raise the social status of scientists, who aren't as respected as doctors, lawyers, and bankers. I'm surprised he chose the word scientists rather than entrepreneurs: gifted children are spoon-fed that public service, non-profits, and academic status are noble ambitions, rather than really being encouraged to pursue good ideas. Yet I'd argue society is moving in the right direction in honoring innovators. Mark Zuckerberg initially disliked "The Social Network" movie for its fabrications, but he was pleased to discover that it was inspiring entrepreneurs. Larry Page will achieve higher status now that he is once again CEO of Google in addition to co-founder.

Overall I'm not sure I learned much new from this book, but it framed much of what I did know clearly. The topics addressed by Cowen are too vast to present definitive and convincing answers, but I appreciate the book for asking the right questions.

(edit: corrected errors mentioned in first comment)
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 28, 2011 8:43:09 PM PST
Larry Page is becoming (returning to his role as) the CEO of Google. Not Sergey Brin.

And I don't think the role of CEO is a higher status than Founder, in Silicon Valley. It's not always even a higher status than Chief Scientist. Of course, perceptions from Silicon Valley are often very different from perceptions in the broader US society (but I would argue the former are more accurate and better informed).

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 28, 2011 9:04:51 PM PST
DRDR says:
Thanks for the correction. I agree founders often have higher status, even outside Silicon Valley. But having both CEO and co-founder titles will give Page even higher visibility, and being CEO of Google today doesn't compare to Google 10 years ago. The success of a scientist/CEO like Page will do more for the next generation's aspirations than any speech trying to equate science fairs to Super Bowls.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 1:50:22 PM PST
Eli Gottlieb says:
While Page and Brin are actually computer scientists, the problem is that most start-up founders aren't. They're software engineers, and their efforts involve very little actual science. Ex: Zuckerberg. He mostly just had some network-effect advantages from founding his social network among Harvard College students; other than that he accomplished nothing really special (though his workers have done some... bizarre work on compiling PHP to C++).

Being in the software/Computer Science industry myself, I can accurately say that Silicon Valley does very little actual innovation. Not every Good Idea belongs in a start-up, or even in any kind of business at all, and academic/public science has a very important place of its own.

The internet itself, for example, was invented as a DARPA-funded project for how to create a communications network that could withstand a nuclear war. It has no monetization plan, and it wouldn't have worked had someone tried to treat it as private property and monetize it (witness today's "content producers" and YouTube's "business model").

Of course, many start-ups have no monetization plan, which is why they fail.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 7:47:45 PM PST
Innovation often has very little to do with science. I worked directly with Larry Page and Sergey Brin---while they have many talents, their biggest contributions weren't in advancing the science of search. Other leading innovators like Steve Jobs weren't technical at all. Scientific innovation is possible, but there are lots of other kinds of innovation, too. It's not a "problem" that many founders are not highly technical, in many cases (Facebook being a reasonable example) technical innovation isn't what the company needs most.
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