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The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity Hardcover – January 6, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If Fortune columnist Miller's eerily prophetic book had come out earlier, it could have served as a wakeup call for Wall Street leaders and Washington, D.C. lawmakers before the failure of several venerable financial institutions required government bailouts. The author's prescient observations make a persuasive case for how an American attitude of entitlement and outdated beliefs about government, education, taxes, business, corporate excess and health care threaten our national well-being and our position as a world leader. The author denounces such cherished and longstanding beliefs as Your Company Should Take Care of You, and The Kids Will Earn More than We Do, and examines their historical provenances—for example, he traces the adoption of pensions to the early 20th century, when employers like Proctor and Gamble and G.E. acted as feudal lords offering benefits to recruit and retain employees—strategies that are now strangling these same corporations at the expense of global competitiveness. Rather than a petulant indictment of our political and economic myopia, this book offers a fair-handed critique. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Miller, consultant and author, describes the threat that America faces from the traditional way it thinks about certain economic issues (“Dead Ideas”) and suggests new ways of thinking (“Destined Ideas”) to ensure our future prosperity. Dead Ideas include corporate America’s desire to stop providing health care and pensions to its workforce, which will leave millions unprotected; and since aging baby boomers will cause the government’s health and pension costs to explode, we cannot manage this reality by raising taxes to a level that destroys economic growth. The author contends only top business executives can spearhead new ideas since power-driven politicians are incapable of such leadership. We learn, “In an era when more change is expected to occur in the next thirty years than in the previous three hundred, the skill and speed with which people cope . . . will be the key to success; those slow to adapt will be punished faster and more harshly.” This is an excellent book for a wide range of library patrons. --Mary Whaley

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805087877
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805087871
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,887,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are interested in government policy --- the role the government can play in improving society, or even in preventing decline --- this is one book that must be on your reading list. And you will enjoy it.

Miller has experience and training as a lawyer and as a business consultant and has worked in the federal government and as an opinion columnist and radio host. These varied skills and experience are all on display as Miller takes readers on a pithy, informative and entertaining journey through the major challenges facing the country and practical, viable ways of addressing them, if we are willing to release ourselves from "dead ideas" --- the political orthodoxies that constrain action. Miller is a pragmatist with a heart of gold, and all readers will be challenged and engaged by his suggestions, and this book's relevance could not be greater at this time.
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Format: Hardcover
Matt Miller would portray himself as an unapologetic centrist, non-partisan, unencumbered by the burdens of ideology. An eminently reasonable policy wonk, if you will. But he does adopt the ideology of the technocrat. The technocrat believes in the power of science and reason to mediate political compromise and find out "what works." Voters demand competence and this the technocrat promises. By now we should know this is the ultimate "dead idea."

Mr. Miller numbers six Dead Ideas: 1) each generation can expect a rising standard of living; 2) free trade is always good; 3) employer-provided healthcare benefits; 4) tax rates are too high; 5) local school finance; and 6) free market outcomes are just and fair.

Of these, his technocratic arguments can possibly affirm only two (local school finance and employer provided health care), with a fair philosophical argument for a third (free market outcomes are just and fair). On the other three he plays victim to his own dead ideas.

The technocratic approach is based on the social sciences, principally economics, political science, and sociology, which in turn are based on rudimentary psychology. Unfortunately, the behavioral assumptions of these pseudo-sciences provide a foundation of quicksand. We have discovered this to our own dismay with our current worldwide economic and financial crisis. Does anybody get a queasy feeling these `experts' have no idea what they're doing? This is the world of the technocrat: hubris based on self-delusion. For a more sober assessment of the limits of economics and finance I suggest reading Nicholas Taleb or Benoit Mandelbrot.

Whether future generations will experience a rising standard of living will depend on the policies we adopt and the way we define our standard of living.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With a title like The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, obviously chosen to be provocative, there is an expectation that this book will contain something about which everyone will be irritated. In that, Mr. Miller does not disappoint. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Though I find some of his ideas a bit over-the-top, I appreciate his willingness to think beyond.

Certainly, most of the ideas Miller identifies as "dead" should be given consideration. As a longtime educator, I agree that there needs to be some set of national standards to guide our school systems. And he's right on target when he spells out something we all know viscerally but don't want to admit: that money follows money, not merit. I also think he's got some good things to say about corporate life, taxes, and free trade.

On the other hand, I think he's quick to abandon some things that we would be better off trying to maintain. For example, though Miller is correct in his analysis of the falling standard of living of the current generation, I think that working towards having our kids do better than ourselves is an idea worth supporting, even if what that looks like in the future is somehow different. I also think there is a balance to find in concepts like free trade, what our companies should be doing for us, and even what local control school boards keep. Handing everything over to the federal government is not the solution either.

In many ways, Miller is fundamentally correct: too many "dead" ideas, entrenched so long in our culture that we can conceive of no other path, are stifling our future. He also seems fairly balanced in his approach, though that is sometimes lost in his desire to shake us from our complacency.
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Format: Hardcover
When I took up this book it was because of the title which intrigued me. On the face of it, I assumed it would be one of the usual diatribes against market ideas which have particularly come to prominence in the aftermath of the financial crisis which currently grips the world. As I got into it though I found a thoughtful book which challenges a number of basic assumprtions which lie at the heart of the current version of American Democracy and economic policymaking and which will probably generate a lot of opposition.

Ideas are fundamental to the way which we view the world throughout all levels of our existence and however we interact whether we know it or not.Waging the War of Ideas (Occasional Paper, 119) John Maynard Keynes famously said of ideas that the world is ruled through little elseThe General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and he may have been right.

Matt Miller sets out his basic premises of how Americans view their world and the book establishes what those premises are and how they came to be established in the American psyche. They essentially fill out the conceptual notions of the American dream being implemented in today's society and cultural identity. Furthermore, he goes on to challenge those notions in the face of the economic reality which has faced most of the industrialised countries over recent years and which is finally engulfing the United States which hitherto has withstood the gales of creative destruction.
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