I love book recommendations from Ryan Holiday. This was a quick read by Tyler Cowen, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest For The American Dream and overall I enjoyed it.
Cowen is an economist, and I like reading books by economists because they show you truths and make predictions based on numbers and patterns.
Here's the problem posed by Cowen: There are a growing number of people in our society who accept, welcome or enforce a resistance to anything new, different or challenging. And this is going to eventually destroy the country. I know, sounds depressing but I summarize some of what Cowen points out about our country below...
There is a lack of a sense of urgency among Americans. People are too comfortable. More and more Americans are entering the higher segment of income. 15-20% of the American population is doing very well, based on income and social indicators.
There has been a collapse of the middle class, an argument we are all familiar with, but what's not being reported is the fact that a big reason for that is actually the upward mobility of lower income class to higher income class.
So more Americans today are happy and comfortable. The bad part of that is the structures we have can't sustain the majority of the population.
In spite of people doing great, our economy is growing at a slower rate, which started to hold steady right after the 1980's.
It is much more expensive now to move into a dynamic city, one that would allow for upward mobility. This slows economic progress. It causes people to move less and stay in the same jobs. This means less innovation and movement of the economy.
Now, if it were cheaper to, say, move into a high productivity city like NYC, researchers indicate there would be a GDP increase of 9.5%, which is pretty freakin' significant.
Income mixing is not happening for groups who might benefit from it the most. This is a result of societal forces like high rent due to gentrification rather than explicit racism or prejudice. So some of the low income populations and minorities are stuck where they are, without much of a chance for upward mobility.
There is also a lot of matching going on. Technology allows us to find people like us so we can date and marry them, we can find music we like and other music that matches that and so on. In one respect this is causing increased happiness in some areas, but it's also causing unintentional segregation. People are sticking around people that are like them.
Americans don't riot anymore. The 60's and 70's were much more violent. Society is now more bureaucratized and safety obsessed and less tolerant of any kind of disruption at all, which makes civil right movements of the past impossible today.
Less violence sounds like a good thing, and of course, it is, but Cowen points out that there are negative consequences to this and you're seeing more and more a resistance to uprise which is what eventually causes positive change.
At some points the book felt all over the place. And then it ended sort of dismally. I was hoping for a clear conclusion about what we can do to change or avoid too much damage. It was mixed into the content but not clear at the end. Cowen pretty much says - Watch out! The world is going to shit again!
I suppose this is fair considering Cowen is writing this from an economist point of view. And the trends and pictures he paints are truly eye opening.
I am glad I read this book and would recommend it. It provides a great view into some of the trends and actions that have led us to where we are today, and the fascinating part is that most of it has been unintentional. Therefore this will become an important read for many.
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