Edward Luce reviews *The Complacent Class*

by on February 17, 2017 at 10:33 am in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, History, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

That is in the FT, here is the closing paragraph:

In most other ways, Cowen’s thesis is deeply troubling. Democracy requires growth to survive. It must also give space to society’s eccentrics and misfits. When Alexis de Tocqueville warned about the tyranny of the majority, it was not kingly despotism that he feared but conformism. America would turn into a place where people “wear themselves out in trivial, lonely, futile activity”, the Frenchman predicted. This modern tyranny would “degrade men rather than torment them”. Cowen does a marvellous job of turning his Tocquevillian eye to today’s America. His book is captivating precisely because it roves beyond the confines of his discipline. In Cowen’s world, the future is not what it used to be. Let us hope he is wrong. The less complacent we are, the likelier we are to disprove him.

The review very well captures the spirit and content of the book.  Here is Barnes&Noble, here is Amazon.  Here are signed first editions, here is Apple.

1 Ignacio February 17, 2017 at 11:07 am

It seems interesting. Will it come out as an audiobook too?

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2 Locke February 17, 2017 at 11:08 am

“Tyler Cowen may very well turn out to be this decade’s Thomas Friedman.”–Kelly Evans, The Wall Street Journal

Why does Kelly Evans wish you ill?

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3 Thiago Ribeiro February 17, 2017 at 11:11 am

Which decade was Thomas Friedman the Thomas Frieman of?

Also, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc5vN2XReW

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4 dan1111 February 17, 2017 at 11:20 am

One time a mad scientist went back in time and convinced young Thomas Friedman to become a farmer instead of a writer. But to his dismay, that made the world worse, because content like this never existed: http://delong.typepad.com/egregious_moderation/2009/01/matt-taibbi-flathead-the-peculiar-genius-of-thomas-l-friedman.html

The scientist had to go back and undo it, and incidentally, he was converted to the best-of-all-possible-universes theory by the experience.

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5 Thiago Ribeiro February 17, 2017 at 11:25 am

Even worse, everyone is gerting bling because people have ro watch TV at the darkness.

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6 Just Another MR Commentor February 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Yeah jesus is there any bigger buffon than Thomas Friedman? That’s a slap in the face Tyler.

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7 Jonathan February 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Why compare Friedman to the greatest French naturalist of the 18th Century? Or did you mean the Italian goalkeeper?

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8 Ray Lopez February 17, 2017 at 12:34 pm

@Jonathan – sorry this sort of smart one-liner is lost on the net, I’ve found by experience. Better to bait the 80-100 IQ crowd, as I do, with an occasional nod to the smarter readers as well. Otherwise your posts will not score, like Kaká.

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9 Thiago Ribeiro February 17, 2017 at 12:52 pm

He is not scoring because his role is diverting the other team’s defense players.

10 Just Another MR Commentor February 17, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Thanks I realized I made a typo

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11 A Black Man February 17, 2017 at 1:01 pm

https://virtualglobetrotting.com/map/thomas-friedmans-house/view/bing/

Life is good for a pundit who has been wrong about everything.

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12 Andrew M February 17, 2017 at 11:13 am

“trivial, lonely, futile activity”: For example, commenting on blogs.

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13 dan1111 February 17, 2017 at 11:22 am

What is more complacent? Commenting or not commenting?

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14 Thiago Ribeiro February 17, 2017 at 11:26 am

I would answer this question, but I have become too complacent and apathetic to do so.

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15 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Regardless of intention, I think your reaction is the far more pertinent aspect.

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16 FYI February 17, 2017 at 11:48 am

I get the joke but it actually has an interesting corollary: According to Tyler’s theory, is this blog part of the problem (or at least a consequence of the problem)?

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17 WolfUK February 18, 2017 at 4:15 am

Don’t be paranoid or self-doubting. See below comment by Alexis the Other. “Trivial, lonely, futile activity” refers to liberal progressive socialist intellectual impact on your country. You guys are doing ok! Blogging is ok! Sport is ok!

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18 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 6:50 pm

I.e., someone thinks that blogging and sport tend to be enemies of pro- and proto-fascism?

Count me in. But I don’t think the “socialist” label is constructive. I mean, socialist blogger and socialist sportsmen/women should be very welcome in opposing pro- and prot-fascism as well. But that’s just one of many potential spectra to count up the huge diversity of groups who may participate in written free speech, professional sports and other activities, whether as a part of opposing proto-fascism or just because it’s what they feel like doing.

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19 Ray Lopez February 17, 2017 at 11:14 am

“Democracy requires growth to survive” – this is bad, if true, due to the Gambler’s Ruin problem. Any stochastic process will eventually hit zero (the title of the Zero Hedge web page). An example of this is debt: debt can only be serviced if the growth rate is greater than the interest rate on the loan.

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20 Cooper February 17, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Check out “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth” by Ben Friedman.

Mr Friedman argues that conventional thinking about economic growth is too narrow: it neglects its moral and political benefits. “The value of a rising standard of living lies not just in the concrete improvements it brings to how individuals live but in how it shapes the social, political and ultimately the moral character of a people.” Growing prosperity, history suggests, makes people more tolerant, more willing to settle disputes peacefully, more inclined to favour democracy. Stagnation and economic decline are associated with intolerance, ethnic strife and dictatorship.

>http://www.economist.com/node/5135504

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21 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 6:51 pm

Not true. Usually there’s lots of space to toerate reduced profits, reduced consumptions, etc., before such a singular fact becomes a sufficient cause.

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22 WM February 17, 2017 at 11:58 am

Anyone know how to get past the paywall?

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23 anon February 17, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Still free with registration, I think.

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24 WM February 17, 2017 at 1:00 pm

And also, I expect the VIPs to get advanced copies, but why are there so many reviews of the book on websites like Amazon and goodreads? Are they fake?

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25 dearieme February 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm

“he feared but conformism”: I’m old enough to remember when Americans were routinely sneered at for their attachment to conformity.

In a way “Literally Hitler” is trying to lead an uprising against its clammy embrace. If, however, his opponents don’t manage to overthrow him they’ll just have him shot.

You could make a case that they are more conservative than he is.

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26 The Centrist February 17, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Americans have been sneered at since the beginning of their polity, notably by Europeans. It is illuminating though depressing to read some of the books on the history of Anti-Americanism.

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27 Thiago Ribeiro February 17, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Thomas Mann famously poi ted out that Americans are much more conformist and narrow-minded than Germans, Austrians and other Europeans.

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28 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 6:58 pm

America is interesting for its simultaneous embrace of many types of conformity alongside a very serious rejection of it.

I think people conform less than some might think, and those who speak against conformity are perhaps less cogniscent of the irony of the diversity of ways in which conformity is opposed.

Maybe the problem is that people do not see their conformity, due to tribalist thinking which leads some to think they are “normal” as compared to the deviant others. The facts of highly colinear views by Republican vs. Democrat variables, namely that there is poor evidence of highly independent thinking within either group, is troublesome. If there were 10 parties, maybe it wouldn’t seem so troublesome, but when you see the very large majority of Americans basically lining up for one of two pre-packaged sets of views … I dunno, maybe not as much free thought going on as most would prefer to think.

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29 rayward February 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm

I find it hard to be complacent when a madman is our president. But maybe that’s just me. You say you want a revolution. Well, some would say that Trump is the revolution, the revolution that Irving Kristol, channeling Leo Strauss, predicted (hoped for), the populist leader who would “impose a national religion on America, thus unifying the country and saving it from the moral disintegration of liberalism”. https://newrepublic.com/article/140265/populist-ploy-irving-kristol-predicted-trump-uprising-liberal-elites I find it hard to believe that the ranting and raving Trump is that leader, but ranting and raving leaders can certainly cause lots of disruption.

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30 The Centrist February 17, 2017 at 12:49 pm

I suspect you aren’t that smart, Mr. Rayward.

Why should we take the ravings of a hack, writing in the recently revived but surely doomed to mediocrity New Republic seriously on what a dead former Trotskyite (Kristol) has to say about a long dead anti historicist German genius? This piece of intellectual lint even concludes by quoting certainly the least informed person ever to comment on Leo Strauss, one Shadia Drury.

NB: what a shame that the once interesting New Republic should reinvent itself as Vox…

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31 Anon7 February 17, 2017 at 2:37 pm

+1

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32 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 7:08 pm

In the post-truth pro-fake news era, I’m not sure whether to take tha as an endorsement or attack on the publication. But I did just learn of a century-old media organization that I had not previously heard of.

I notice that they call Turmp “petty” on their homepage today. I look forward to Trump proving them wrong.

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33 Mike W February 17, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Should I buy shares of Target or a bunch of signed first edition copies?

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34 anon February 17, 2017 at 12:31 pm

I wonder what one would do with a time machine. Could a different Internet make a different world? If Microsoft controlled all our social media, would we all hate Microsoft, but be much safer?

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35 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 7:10 pm

How could we be safer if Microsoft controlled all social media? Is that specific to Microsoft along with its corporate culture, etc., or a veyr general consideration of a lareg private firm in such a position (e.g., as compared to the separation between Facebook & Twitter et al, Microsfot & Apple, etc.)?

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36 The Other Jim February 17, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Yes, it’s terrible how complacent Americans have become.

So let’s give them all free healthcare – that way they don’t have to lift a finger!

And maybe a universal basic income would help?

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37 The Other Alexis February 17, 2017 at 7:25 pm

I like your inference that the Democratic Party platform is what makes Americans complacent. In fact it’s not often realised that Alexis de Tocqueville was extremely worried about socialism in America, and the stultifying effects of egalitarianism. The full passage (which, unlike the sentence about despotism, was actually left out of the final draft of ‘Democracy in America’) was unmistakably criticism of equality, and is always quoted as a criticism of equality.

“The more closely I consider the effects of equality upon the mind, the more I am convinced that the intellectual anarchy which we see around us is not, as some suppose, the natural state for democracies … It has not been noted that while equality leads men to make changes it also prompts them to have interests which require stability for their satisfaction; it both drives men on and holds them back; it goads them on and keeps their feet on the ground; it kindles their desires and limits their powers … ”

“I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all for fear of being carried off their feet … People suppose that the new societies are going to change shape daily, but my fear is that they will end up by being too unalterably fixed with the same institutions, prejudices, and mores, so that mankind will stop progressing and will dig itself in. I fear that the mind may keep folding itself up in a narrower compass forever without producing new ideas, that men will wear themselves out in trivial, lonely, futile activity, and that for all its constant agitation humanity will make no advance.”

Looks as though Tocqueville might have been pleased that Trump came along to shock and shake up the stagnating democracy that is America. It’s all about defeating socialism. Socialism, according to Tocqueville, was the principal enemy of liberty and democracy. And, of course, it is the socialists who are now the principal enemies of Trump, and the principal income and vocation of today’s millennial socialist is mass media, media studies, and the start-up.

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38 WolfUK February 18, 2017 at 3:10 am

Yeah well, over here we know Edward Luce as the most rabidly anti-Trump journalist at the FT which is one of Britain’s most anti-Trump daily newspapers, if not the most. So from what you seem to be saying either Luce doesn’t understand Tocqueville, or Cowen doesn’t understand Tocqueville, or Luce doesn’t understand Cowen. Either way, I know from my personal efforts to read Tocqueville and other ‘founding fathers’ of sociology that sociology is hard.

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39 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 7:19 pm

Healthy workers are productive workers.

It’s easier to invest in your long-term potential when you don’t have to worry about how you’re gonna put food on the table next week or pay rent next month.

Very possibly, helping people is helping people and hurting people is hurting people, as opposed to contrary argumentation which purports that helping people is hurting people and that hurting people is helping people.

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40 jorod February 17, 2017 at 7:50 pm

Trying to end the tyranny of socialism and Sharia is not complacency. But many leftists want to aid and abet same.

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41 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 7:23 pm

Perhaps you would like to provide us with an exhaustive list of which Sharia specifications are contrary to American law, and which therefore must be clearly communciated as not being among those elements of Sharia legal tradition which will receive protections under Americans courts (possibly very opposite).

I repeat, please be specific, as this is an extremely important conversation and no one should feel shy to get straight into the specifics of what exactly people are concerned about, or where they might like things to do.

Also, having provided that list of very specific aspects of Sharia legal tradition which cannot be afforded protection under American law (or which are contrary to American law), please then indicate all elements of this list which may also be classified as “left wing”.

So … ever heard of the term “right wing American Christian Taliban” or something to that effect? American Christian Taliban people might eat up the sort of BS you presented at first, but most of the others who are sympathetic to your implicit views should instead be deeply insulted at the manipulations you believed would infiltrate their mind.

P.S. – please dont’ forget the “specific” part about “be specific”.

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42 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 7:28 pm

For example, Sharia law allows women to wait until 18 years of age to marry. (So, contrary to misunderstandings which are commonly promoted by some exceedingly respectiable characters, Sharia law does not require girls to get married after their first period, rather, it sets this as the very lowest you can go – it does not ban higher standards, whether implemented at the level of individual, families or entire nations!!)

So, there is no contradiction between Sharia traditions and American legal practice. Muslims may wait until 18 and be Sharia compliant, and US law will enforce against those who contravene other laws which do not have Sharia tradition as their origin.

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43 Sirr February 17, 2017 at 8:47 pm

Monopoly (really oligopolistic) power creates all kinds of barriers to entry for the plucky entrepreneur that Cowen envisions as the catalyst to a really existing capitalism that doesn’t bear out his rather complacent analysis. In addition to the growth and entrenchment of monopoly power, staggering US debt levels lead to risk aversion. That is to say, real economic factors in the US social order exist to dissuade plucky entrepreneurism. What we get instead is an increasingly indebted precariat that works as independent contractors or temps (something Cowen has lauded through his shilling for Uber) and devoting a larger and larger share of net income to housing and other ‘fixed expenditures’ (read, rentier payments). Moreover, the prospect that ObamaCare’s mandate, will turn into TrumpCare’s continuous coverage, only exacerbates this risk aversion. In short, Cowen’s pop sociology–ever so flirting with free-market fundamentalism–as funded by the Kochs, doesn’t cut it. 

Cowen jumped on the stagnation bandwagon late. Dr. Josef Steindl’s pioneering work, Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism, appeared in 1952. Thereafter, stagnation was written about by Harvard economist Paul Sweezy, starting with his magnum opus in 1966, Monopoly Capital. Even then Sweezy linked stagnation in the real economy to a host of factors, one of which would be the ascendence of finance (‘fictious capital’ in the Marxian vernacular). Later, in 1985 Sweezy would write, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion. 

It’s tiresome to see quite little of merit being offered by the likes of Cowen or Lawrence Summers, while the true powerhouses in economics are too often forgotten. Instead Cowen’s insipid symptom of US monopoly-finance capital, complacency, gets play, masquerading here as analysis in the ideological sphere that is 21st century political-economy.

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44 WolfUK February 18, 2017 at 4:07 am

Heavy!

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45 Joël February 17, 2017 at 9:28 pm

Just pre-ordered it. This FT review is a pretty convincing sell argument.

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46 WolfUK February 18, 2017 at 4:06 am

Good boy!

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47 sman February 18, 2017 at 10:36 am

having seen several reviews of TC book, i find no reason to buy it. Nothing new that has not b been discussed either in print or blogosphere. Pass

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48 jorod February 20, 2017 at 10:44 pm

Growth requires wealth. Is the accumulation of wealth helped or hindered by the welfare state?

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