An influential economist seeks to persuade readers that American citizens have gotten overly complacent, that a crisis point is near, and that a widespread rebellion may alter the existing order.
Using data from a variety of sources, extrapolating from that data, and mixing in large dollops of admitted speculation, Cowen (Chair, Economics/George Mason Univ.; Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, 2013, etc.) claims that the population at large is resisting changes in the economy that could improve the social order. The author, who runs Marginal Revolution, “the “most-read economics blog worldwide,” divides the population into three complacent categories: “The Privileged Class,” who are comfortable and usually wealthy; “Those Who Dig In,” roughly equivalent to the traditional middle class; and “Those Who Got Stuck,” who, Cowen maintains, have pretty much given up trying to rise economically and socially (many were never given the chance to do so). The author focuses on a variety of issues, including the downturn in Americans moving to different regions to seek improvement, increased racial and/or ethnic segregation, decreased innovation in the business sector, stagnation within pop culture, and failure to challenge authority in an organized manner. As he builds his argument against complacency, Cowen regularly employs metaphors and analogies that help illuminate his positions; he is a skilled stylist and polished debater. In the final analysis, though, whether he is persuasive will depend heavily on how willing readers will be to accept sweeping generalizations about the American populace. In conclusion, Cowen describes how a dynamic society should look and feel, and then he shifts his pessimism about the present to a sort of ersatz optimism about the future, when current structures collapse and chaos improves American democracy.
A book that will undoubtedly stir discussion—as many of Cowen’s books do—with readers divided about how they stand based on where they currently sit.