“I Didn’t Read Tyler Cowen’s The Complacent Class Because Things Are Going Pretty OK for Me”

by on January 25, 2017 at 12:06 am in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink

Got an advance copy. Between my non-manual-labor job, Netflix’s excellent recommendations (The OA is so good), and virtue-signaling to my in-group on Twitter, I guess I just wasn’t feeling it.

Besides, if I did read The Complacent Class, I’d have to write a review. The review would introduce readers to a bunch of new and challenging ideas about how Americans are losing the desire to embrace rapid change, and then I would explore some of the unexpected ways our complacency hurts us as a country, possibly challenging the author, or adding to his thesis with my own insights. Oh, people say they want new and challenging ideas, but they don’t. They’re happy with their current ideas, and why should I make anyone unhappy? No one ever considers whether the boat wants to be rocked.

Or is that Cowen’s game? To point out that our lack of urgency and general NIMBY-ism have led to less migration, more segregation, more inequality, dulled creativity, increased conformity, and faded activism, all of which portends a coming unavoidable chaos? What’s he after? Is Cowen trying to jolt us out of our zombie states so we can live in the sci-fi future of no diseases and flying cars and robot monkey butlers we all dreamed about when we were kids? I don’t know, man. Maybe. Anything’s possible, right? I literally didn’t read the book.


Here is the link.  The terms from the previous promotion still hold, you don’t even have to read it.

1 Hein January 25, 2017 at 12:09 am

“Reading articles from other perspectives isn’t enough. Try writing one.”

2 Dave Tufte January 25, 2017 at 12:14 am

I’m so … meh … that Joe Donatelli is not unwell.

3 Philippe Lemoine January 25, 2017 at 12:29 am

I remember reading somewhere, I think it may have been in McCloskey’s excellent review of Piketty’s book (I give a link at the end of http://necpluribusimpar.net/slavery-and-capitalism/, a post on the claim that much of the US wealth derives from slavery and that the industrial revolution wouldn’t have happened without slavery), that a ridiculous proportion of all the books purchased were never read, so it may well be that most people who buy your book already don’t read it!

4 LinearLog January 25, 2017 at 6:31 am

The median number of citations for scholarly papers in econ is zero.

5 Kevin Burke January 25, 2017 at 12:31 am

I did just attend a talk by someone who said books are overrated and blog posts communicate the gist, but I forget who was speaking…

6 Joël January 25, 2017 at 12:32 am

“The OA is so good” cannot be taken as face value. It signals something. But what?

7 Mine Is the Only Virtuous Idea January 25, 2017 at 1:21 pm

OA? Overeaters Anonymous? Osteoarthritis? Oleic Acid? The fictional planet in comics? Open Arena?

8 Mine Is the Only Virtuous Idea January 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Oh, I see. Apparently it’s a show on Netflix

9 Todd K January 25, 2017 at 12:45 am

I’ve explained to friends on not reading The Complacent Class: It didn’t matter if the first, second or even third time that I didn’t read it – I didn’t want to pick it up.

10 prior_test2 January 25, 2017 at 12:46 am

‘Is Cowen trying to jolt us out of our zombie states so we can live in the sci-fi future of no diseases’

Clearly not a loyal reader – otherwise he would know that the ‘no diseases’ area is Prof. Tabarrok’s responsibility.

11 Only Loyal Readers Allowed Here January 25, 2017 at 1:23 pm


12 middle aged vet January 25, 2017 at 1:01 am

Tonight the sort of people who throw Birthday Parties for Ernest Borgnine’s 100th birthday are doing their fair share not to be Complacent.
The AIs of the future will never ask what is Straussian and what is not one generation into AI reproduction they will know.
Putting complicated words together is often worthwhile.
“The our last hope is in the injustice of God.”
Don Colacho, last century, far away.
Happy Birthday Ernest!
“tout est grace”

13 middle aged vet January 25, 2017 at 1:03 am

That comment looked better left justified…Tonight…The…Putting….”The[“]…Don…Happy…”tout[“]…1917-2012

14 middle aged vet January 27, 2017 at 3:50 am

There were nine or ten minutes in the Poseidon Adventure that were, as we used to say, pure gold.

15 carlospln January 25, 2017 at 1:04 am

The book isn’t flying off the shelves, is it?

On the bright side, I could understand Joe Donatelli’s post

16 Post-Truth Politics January 25, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Yes, if you’re feeling very complacent, why read a book, LOL?

17 stephan January 25, 2017 at 1:47 am

I don’t like when books are announced too much in advanc. It exhausts my interest. I prefer getting a book when the excitement of its discovery is still fresh in my mind. The book is still not available. One month delay would have been fine.

It will be 6 months from the first mention and now we have someone who says don’t bother and summarizes the book in three lines. I ordered it last July, I am getting it. Hopefully I’ll still read it.

18 tjamesjones January 25, 2017 at 8:07 am

yes great point. the honeymoon period from when you first hear about or buy a book, ends when it starts to seem familiar and a bit dull, and that ending happens whether or not you’ve even opened it.

19 Anon January 25, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Maximizing the number of people who order the book =\= maximizing the number of people who read the book. One leads to money, the other not necessarily so.

20 Axa January 25, 2017 at 6:54 am

I don’t know if Mr. Donatelli is just trolling or he is effectively bragging his ignorance.

I’m puzzled by how many people think they’re popular when they’re not. Alec Baldwin can do whatever and the act will be interpreted as a joke. The Onion has large brand recognition. I read a site with white background and I have no idea what the guy is aiming to. When people without good branding make ambiguous jokes, it just confuses new readers/viewers.

21 chuck martel January 25, 2017 at 6:58 am

I’m looking forward to reading Robert Smith Surtee’s Ask Mama if I can ever find it in the chaos of my house.

22 Tony Cohen January 25, 2017 at 7:38 am

i bought the book…where do I email 🙂

23 Tyler Cowen January 25, 2017 at 1:16 pm

…see the “email Tyler” button on this blog…

24 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz January 25, 2017 at 9:46 am

Is it possible to get a signed kindle copy in PDF form?

25 A Definite Beta Guy January 25, 2017 at 10:04 am

Signed copy? I see a good birthday gift for me!

26 Turkey Vulture January 25, 2017 at 10:22 am

Can I have a free signed kindle if I promise to at least start reading your book on it?

27 aMichael January 25, 2017 at 11:02 am

How will you know if we pre-ordered it or not to send us a copy of your other project?

28 Michael Gardner January 25, 2017 at 12:07 pm

What?…Me worry???

29 Ari January 25, 2017 at 1:27 pm

Awesome interview.

30 Mine Is the Only Virtuous Tribe January 25, 2017 at 1:57 pm

This Joe Donatelli is hilarious.

Seriously though, the growth club is small. That is, most people don’t want to grow and learn much. They just kind of ooze along however they can, not looking for any new ideas or changes. It’s amazing how few people are interested in new ideas. E.g. a lot of comment board moderators ban people for not being ideologically pure enough. I just got banned from The Right Wing echo chamber SSC again, basically for not being worshipful enough of Ayn Rand.

Tyler, I hope your book sells well, once it comes out. If it doesn’t, be aware that your book could still change the course of civilization anyway, regardless of whether sales are low, average, or high. It only takes one or a few geniuses to read it and to take off with it– use the ideas, extend them, create new ideas or programs or events from them– and then you have large and possibly beneficial changes that might never have happened without your book.

I think that the resistance to considering new ideas has many sources. Complacency may be one. Others may have to do with regimented school systems, or with being so overwhelmed by the pace and stresses of modern life so that one desperately grabs through the chaos for familiar ideas and frameworks.

There is research in psychology that shows that when people are highly stressed, they perceive fewer options for problem solving. Which makes sense for survival value. In a crisis, you want to choose something quickly, hopefully something that has some chance of working. The last thing you want to do is to carefully reflect on all of your options, when a situation is urgent.

Human bodies seem to have been built to deal with acute stress, like a lion chasing you. But what we have in modern life is often chronic stress. Many people can’t think clearly or reflectively enough to come up with a good solution to chronic stress– so they turn to alcohol or drugs or familiar obsessions or compulsions. That’s more despair than complacency. But the effect is the same in the area of resistance to new ideas and clinging to what is familiar, as if it’s a security blanket– even if it doesn’t work very well.

The despair has been written about in the articles on Rust Belt folks who voted for Trump as a Molotov cocktail vote. A huge percentage of his voters live in opioid addiction epidemic country. And Trump’s inauguration speech referred to that kind of despair.

So there is apparently plenty of despair too, in addition to the complacency. And there are also the school system issues– and other academic, family, career, social or religious environments where people are punished for straying from the One True Church or the One True Way of Thinking.

31 Tyler Fan January 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm

You should buy the book here, just for the complimentary PDF of “Stubborn Attachments,” which contains an incredible amount of condensed wisdom and was a very pleasurable read. “Complacent Class” you can think of as the tip jar for bequeathing us “Stubborn Attachments.” I wish I had waited so I could get an autographed copy too.

32 Jonatan January 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Is it particularly good for Tyler if I buy the hardcover? I usually wait for softcover versions of books. But I would like to support Tyler in general for his work with this blog.

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