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

3.8 out of 5 stars 153 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; First Edition edition (September 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953739
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #490,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I heard the interview of the author on Terri Gross and decided to read the book. I think many of the points were very valid however a few pitfalls by the author made the last half of the book pretty painful to read. First, he uses way too many chess analogies. Over 10% of the book talks about chess which becomes very tedious. There is also very little talk about how education at the college level needs to change. The future of certification and degree marketing to youth with an astronomical student loan debt is barely addressed. I suspect the author is highly biased toward the ivory tower of formal education and didn't dedicate any major discussion of how success in the future will depend on life long learning outside of the traditional educational institutions. This book will quickly show up in the discount bin, so listen to the interview and save your money.
Comment 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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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?
3 Comments 131 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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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.

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. Cowen does not foresee a popular uprising because the country is getting older. So what happens to the people who are left behind? Low cost living arrangements will evolve, perhaps even shantytowns or tent cities (which we have already). Public services will be substandard but homes will be cheap.
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13 Comments 54 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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