The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (eventually) Feel Better

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Dutton, 2011 - Business & Economics - 109 pages
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Tyler Cowen's The Great Stagnation, the eSpecial heard round the world that ignited a firestorm of debate and redefined the nature of our economic malaise, is now-at last-a book.

America has been through the biggest financial crisis since the great Depression, unemployment numbers are frightening, media wages have been flat since the 1970s, and it is common to expect that things will get worse before they get better. Certainly, the multidecade stagnation is not yet over. How will we get out of this mess? One political party tries to increase government spending even when we have no good plan for paying for ballooning programs like Medicare and Social Security. The other party seems to think tax cuts will raise revenue and has a record of creating bigger fiscal disasters that the first. Where does this madness come from?

As Cowen argues, our economy has enjoyed low-hanging fruit since the seventeenth century: free land, immigrant labor, and powerful new technologies. But during the last forty years, the low-hanging fruit started disappearing, and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognize that we are at a technological plateau. The fruit trees are barer than we want to believe. That's it. That is what has gone wrong and that is why our politics is crazy.

Cowen reveals the underlying causes of our past prosperity and how we will generate it again. This is a passionate call for a new respect of scientific innovations that benefit not only the powerful elites, but humanity as a whole.

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An interesting counterpoint to some of the things I believe. Cowen basically claims that we've reached a technological plateau. I don't really buy his argument because he bases his entire train of thought on the premise that "Our grandparents saw the invention of airplanes and refrigerators! We just have the internet and smartphones..." Um. Ok. If Cowen doesn't think that the internet and smartphones have revolutionized our society, then I'm at a loss. He does admit that they've made entertainment a lot cheaper, but he fails to recognize the entrepreneurial possibilities they enable. A good read that made me think and kept me on my toes, but I think that his argument is fundamentally flawed. I'd recommend reading "Lights in the Tunnel" by Martin Ford for an alternative view of the future. 

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About the author (2011)

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He is the author of Discover Your Inner Economist and The Age of the Infovore, and he coblogs at, one of the world's most influential economics blogs. He writes regularly for The New York Times and has been a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Wilson Quarterly, and Slate, among many other popular media outlets.

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