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The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream Hardcover – February 28, 2017
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“[The Complacent Class] provides an open invitation for the reader to think deeply.” ―Derek Thompson, The Atlantic
“‘The Complacent Class' is refreshingly nonideological, filled with observations that will resonate with conservatives, liberals and libertarians. ... a useful corrective to the conventional wisdom that American ingenuity, sooner or later, will revive a low-growth economy.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“One of the most important reads of the new year.” ―National Review
"Tyler Cowen's blog, Marginal Revolution, is the first thing I read every morning. And his brilliant new book, The Complacent Class, has been on my nightstand after I devoured it in one sitting. I am at round-the-clock Cowen saturation right now."--Malcolm Gladwell
"Tyler Cowen is an international treasure. Endlessly inventive and uniquely wide-ranging, he has produced a novel account of what ails us: undue complacency. No one but Cowen would ask, 'Why Americans stopped rioting and instead legalized marijuana.' He admires risk-taking, and he likes restlessness, and he thinks the United States needs lots more of both. Don't be complacent: Read this book!"--Cass R. Sunstein, Harvard University, and author of #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
"A book that will undoubtedly stir discussion"--Kirkus
Praise for The Great Stagnation 9780525952718 6/9/11
"Cowen’s book… will have a profound impact on the way people think about the last thirty years."―Ryan Avent, Economist.com
"Tyler Cowen may very well turn out to be this decade's Thomas Friedman."--Kelly Evans, The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
TYLER COWEN (Ph.D.) holds the Holbert L. Harris chair in economics at George Mason University. He is the author of a number of explanatory and text books, including The Complacent Class, as well as writing the most read economics blog worldwide, marginalrevolution.com. He has written regularly for The New York Times and contributes to a wide number of newspapers and periodicals.
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Top Customer Reviews
If we are complacent, as the title of this book suggests, why is this the case? Cowen tosses out a number of idea, and then around page 159 he narrows in on an answer to both the question of complacency and that of shrinking productivity: Government is consuming more and more of our resources in support of creating the complacent, risk-free life that an increasing number of Americans seem to want. Like many critics Cowen looks to de Tocqueville, who warned of the collapse of American democracy as the drive of immigrants and pioneers become diluted through generations. It's the immigrants, people who took risks to get here, who are driving innovation and growth now.
But all this is changing, Cowen says. A complacent society is not a stable society. What's coming is chaos and realignment, although why this is coming is a bit vague; "Or if you wish to put the point in the language of financial economics," says Cowen, " the possibility of cyclical patterns in history is right now the single biggest source of systemic, undiversifiable risk." In other words, change is coming because there are cycles that drive change. But cycles are effect, not cause. They're the sign of a pattern driven by some underlying dynamic, and Cowen is a bit vague on this.
Seriously, I'm not sure what to think about this book. Cowen throws around a lot of interesting facts and observations, but his narrative jumps around and lacks focus; I had to force myself to keep reading. There's not much that's terribly original or insightful. One newspaper reviewer states in their review that "Tyler Cowen may well turn out to be this decade's Thomas Friedman," which is certainly damning with faint praise, as Friedman is the master of breathlessly presenting the obvious.I came to this book with high expectations, based largely on his reputation, but I was disappointed by what I read.
That said, the book is a useful collection of a lot of interesting trends, especially on declining mobility. And the overall argument is very important -- speaking as someone in the business world where there's still too much talk about the supposed extreme dynamism of the internet age.
I also found the book unnecessarily pessimistic. It's almost as though the author thinks complacency is bad in itself, so he wants to scare us into thinking terrible things are on the horizon. Most of the book is about good news -- we're complacent for a reason -- but the book keeps trying to suggest a dark side. Surely there is a dark side to all these developments (and the opioid etc crisis is a real problem), but we've handled far worse and still achieved a society that's amazingly better than what we had in previous centuries on just about every dimension. The very end of the book briefly takes up Stephen Pinker's Better Angels book, but doesn't take that powerful argument for social progress seriously. There's also no mention of Gregory Clark's Farewell to Alms, which makes a similar if less obvious argument about economics.
The book almost bizarrely suggests that the current violence in the Middle East and Ukraine is strong evidence of cyclicality in world affairs, not progress -- and cites the ancient Greek view that true progress is an illusion. I think what the book really means is that progress is often a matter of two steps forward and one step back, and we might be in for an extended period of stepping back.
Finally, the book has almost nothing to say about how we might be developing new kinds of restlessness that might be more positive, less disruptive than the restlessness it predicts. It doesn't look at how people have been exploring all sorts of new dimensions in culture and religion -- all of which makes sense simply on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Affluence really does change how we deal with the world.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I come to praise Tyler Cowen, not to bury him.
I don’t want to bury anyone, really.Read more