The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream Review

Since Alexis de Tocqueville, restlessness has been accepted as a signature American trait. Our willingness to move, take risks, and adapt to change have produced a dynamic economy and a tradition of innovation from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs.

The problem, according to legendary blogger, economist and bestelling author Tyler Cowen, is that Americans today have broken from this tradition—we’re working harder than ever to avoid change. We're moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. Match.com matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.

Of course, this “matching culture” brings tremendous positives: music we like, partners who make us happy, neighbors who want the same things. We’re more comfortable. But, according to Cowen, there are significant collateral downsides attending this comfort, among them heightened inequality and segregation and decreased incentives to innovate and create.

The Great Social Stagnation argues that this cannot go on forever. We are postponing change, due to our near-sightedness and extreme desire for comfort, but ultimately this will make change, when it comes, harder. The forces unleashed by the Great Stagnation will eventually lead to a major fiscal and budgetary crisis: impossibly expensive rentals for our most attractive cities, worsening of residential segregation, and a decline in our work ethic. The only way to avoid this difficult future is for Americans to force themselves out of their comfortable slumber—to embrace their restless tradition again.

Title:The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

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    The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream Reviews

  • Amora

    Wasn’t really a fan of this book. Cowen just lists a bunch of problems in our economy but offers no blueprint on how to solve them. The only time he does is in the second chapter where he presents a...

  • Russ

    Incoherent. It is an overly long blog post. I don't disagree with the premise that the country is suffering from a lack of striving. We value safety and relative comfort of the conditions that we have...

  • R.

    In the realm of "why Trump/Sanders in 2016", this book has one of the best takes I've encountered. It fits with the general Cowen theme of stagnation but expands on how and why America has come to pre...

  • Graeme Roberts

    As a profession, economists could be said to have the imagination and creativity of a fart. Please forgive the vulgarism, which I have loved for fifty years, though it is normally applied to intellige...

  • Emily

    This book was more thought-provoking than I expected, and provides timely hypotheses regarding the current politico-economic status quo and its future. Cowen argues that too many in the United States ...

  • Janet Bufton

    This is a book that's worth reading just to become aware of the data that Cowen has accumulated, which is often jarring and definitely worth further study. It's a good companion to Coming Apart: The S...

  • Wesley Roth

    Tyler Cowen is one of the handful of economists I follow and read regularly (his blog is http://marginalrevolution.com/). I was excited to read his new book and got my hands on an Advanced copy (set f...

  • John  Mihelic

    FriendsRomansCountrymen!I come to praise Tyler Cowen, not to bury him.I don’t want to bury anyone, really. But the praise will be faint.I like Tyler. He’s good on the blogs. He’s good on the Twi...

  • Ryan

    Cowen's Complacent Class seems pretty tired if you read it in one sense -- the old man who looks at the changed world, thinking "how did they get it so wrong?" Here are two quotes to substantiate that...

  • John

    I am a big fan of Tyler Cowen. His blog, Marginal Revolution, his columns for Bloomberg and especially his podcast demonstrate his wide-ranging intelligence. This book, however, seems to be in the big...