The first video for *The Complacent Class*

by on February 28, 2017 at 7:57 am in Books, History | Permalink

Today is publication date, here is an accompanying video, with four more on the way.  It draws on some themes of the book without being either a summary or repetition:


Here is the page on all the videos, where you can sign up for email notification as well.

You can buy the book from Barnes&Noble here, Amazon here, signed edition here, Apple here.  Amazon reviews are welcome too!

1 Laertes February 28, 2017 at 8:57 am

The author of a blog dedicated to marginal revolution calls for sweeping societal changes?


2 William Weeks February 28, 2017 at 9:21 am

marginally sweeping societal changes. This will be the first Cowen book i will purchase and read.


3 Artimus February 28, 2017 at 9:22 am

Nicely done video I must say.


4 thfmr February 28, 2017 at 1:52 pm



5 Moelicious February 28, 2017 at 2:01 pm



6 JWatts February 28, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Tyler, good video, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


7 Rick February 28, 2017 at 9:31 am

That time of great progress you cite made no attempt to be inclusive towards women and minorities. How easy it is for a WHITE MALE to criticize safe spaces and trigger warnings, throughout history those who look like you never had to suffer. If we are becoming more careful and concerned with safety, to me it just means that we are finally taking into account women and minorities. A feminist perspective favors stability over change that hurts people.


8 Tyler Cowen February 28, 2017 at 9:54 am

There was plenty of discrimination against my ancestors, at varying stages.


9 Rick February 28, 2017 at 10:25 am

How many women blog here? Isn’t it strange or convenient that we never get a woman’s perspective? How often does anyone here talk about LGBTQ issues? The perspective here is white, male, heterosexual. Once you are accepted as “white,” you have a moral obligation to tell the stories of other people who do not share your view of a golden age of white male domination. There weren’t even any people of color in your video.


10 Artimus February 28, 2017 at 10:34 am



11 B. Reynolds March 1, 2017 at 10:27 am

There are other blogs, you know. Blogger, Wordpress, and HTML don’t care about a person’s gender, preferences, or race.


12 Jay March 1, 2017 at 3:35 pm

This has to be a parody…


13 it even got tyler March 2, 2017 at 7:07 am

nice job tyler

14 Artimus February 28, 2017 at 9:58 am

Womens Suffrage and the Civil Rights Act were not attempts to be inclusive? White males never had to suffer? Jewish males, Irish and Italians might beg to differ. Or perhaps you were just trolling and trying to stir the pot?


15 Chris February 28, 2017 at 10:43 am

Traditionally white, male, heterosexual, wealthy natives observing the dominant religion from the dominant caste have always had a dominant position.

On the topic of the video, however, I am curious of how much our lack of progress is lack of investment (as money has shifted instead to gambling on trades), and how much to physical limits (eg our engines/power stations cannot improve much, as they are heat engines with theoretical limits we have been close to for years – you cannot get the many magnitudes of improvement that you get with computers). It’s also a little hard to judge changes close to, as we get to look back further at older technology. Washing machines transformed many lives last century, but were invented many decades earlier. We may not know the great inventions of our time for decades to come.


16 Turkey Vulture February 28, 2017 at 10:49 am

False flag troll. Pretty well done but came on just a little too strong, particularly in the follow-up post.


17 Miriam Bernbaum February 28, 2017 at 1:29 pm

That’s pretty easy to say, and tactics like that are simply used too often to silence people from marginalized communities. I have no idea if “Rick” is a troll and I don’t care. What he says is well reasoned and cuts to the heart of the hypocrisy and simple lack of awareness of privilege so many of us are tired of seeing from DEEPLY privileged individuals in the academic world.

“There was plenty of discrimination against my ancestors,” Cowen says. This is something you could just as easily hear out of the mouth of people whose grandparents literally owned slaves! In fact, we do with these “heritage not hate” privilege groups all the time. (An aside, I was SOO glad to see justice served in Georgia and those horrible people sent away for a loooong time for waving that vile flag)

I cannot be sure, but, I can’t help but detect that Cowen is alluding to his Jewish heritage as proof of this exemption from the duty to take his privilege seriously. As a Jewish trans-woman, I find this particularly disturbing. It’s as if he’s using his grandparents experience in the holocaust as an excuse to overlook the horrific and gross violation of the rights of women and transfolk in his little “golden age” he’s convinced other white-identifying men would have just let him in on. As the granddaughter of Treblinka survivors, I could not be more unsettled by that kind of thinking. If Cowen wants to honor the memory of the victims of the last time the world let privileged white men run wild, I simply cannot see how he could allow himself to celebrate, unexamined, this fantasy world of privilege he paints, and then disparage black, latinx, LGBT, and other excluded activists who have used the much-mocked tactic of “safe spaces” to ensure they have a place to share THEIR experience, much like Cowen has done here with his, to the detriment of those not fortunately enough in birth to pass as a white male in America in 2017.


18 Turkey Vulture February 28, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Much stronger effort here. Might well pass an ideological Turing test.


19 thfmr February 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Can you please identify the particular privilege that lets Tyler Cowen blog, or how “black, latinx, LGBT, and other excluded activists” have been excluded from doing the same?

You are either a beautiful troll or a horrible person of exceeding rarity. In any case congratulations on your achievement, and never give up. “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” as some privileged white guy said.


20 Miriam Bernbaum February 28, 2017 at 2:20 pm

I honestly can’t tell if you’re trying to bait me. “Identify the particular privilege?” What does that even mean. Privilege is something that extends into literally every interaction people have in our society. Cowen passes as a white heterosexual male. When he speaks on campus, when he blogs, when he makes videos like this, other white males and those who share their consciousness don’t see his color. Or his sex. Or his gender identity. Or his immigration status. They see him. And it’s those people who control the VAST majority of resources and who are the gatekeepers of society’s high positions. Cowen and those people can watch “cool” videos like this and think back an imaginary “golden age” with lovely little fairs and not think about how AA and Latinx people worked for starvation wages at those fairs, gay people stayed in their closet, women stayed in their little bourgeois golden cages, and transfolk just shut up and killed themselves.

Meanwhile, marginalized communities don’t have that PRIVILEGE. We are forced to think about that stuff every time someone decides to spout off about their misogynistic, heteronormative, and YES tacitly white supremacist view of history like it’s some kind of objective reality. That’s why safe spaces caught on so much among those excluded by this power structure in American society. Because there could finally be a place for US to tell OUR side of the story white-passing cismen like Tyler Cowen telling us how much we liked the little cages they created for those like us who came before.

21 Mitchell Brown February 28, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Miriam strikes me as a sort of Left’s version of what we’d see on Breitbart.

22 Rick February 28, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Miriam, let me just say THANK YOU for expressing how you feel. It’s a perspective that one rarely gets on economics blogs. What’s so disappointing about Tyler’s video is that he previously expressed support for trigger warnings and safe spaces, and has been an ally on LGBTQI issues. Perhaps he’s seeing which way the wind is blowing and accommodating himself to this new reality. Maybe it’s to be expected when white supremacists such as Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannapolous are given public platforms, and white nationalists such as Newt Gingrich and Rudolph Giuliani are now considered respected.

I mean, women are 50% of the population. And some still have trouble seeing why it’s problematic to have an economics blog with only the voices of white males.

23 JWatts February 28, 2017 at 6:01 pm

If you’ve got an actual specific counter argument to the video, then make it point by point. And there are women who post here quite frequently.

24 Uribe February 28, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Rick and Miriam are obvious trolls. I suspect they are both Steve Sailer.

25 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz February 28, 2017 at 11:19 pm

The vast majority of resources are uncontrolled and uncontrollable. Take the sun for example.

26 Amigo March 1, 2017 at 12:12 am

Rick and others, I think you are incorrect regarding Tyler not posting or blogging about LGBT issues. I recall many LGBT conversations in the past.


27 prior_test2 February 28, 2017 at 10:45 am

So, a product manager was involved – truly MRU is a much more useful vehicle than just youtube and a $4 app.


28 George Mason February 28, 2017 at 10:46 am

The mention of trigger warnings in the video has a clearly critical tone. And yet:


29 Joël February 28, 2017 at 5:06 pm

In fact there is a misunderstanding. No one is against trigger warnings per se. If a professor wants to tell his/her students before they read a book or watch a movie “you’ll find a lot of violence in it”, who could oppose that? The problem is with the expectation of trigger warnings: the notion that professors are obliged to post trigger warnings for anything in their syllabus that could possibly offend anyone, and can get disciplined (or otherwise get problem) if they do not. Again, no one is “anti-trigger warning”. But many professors are “pro-choice”.


30 George Mason March 1, 2017 at 9:43 am

That’s a plausible apologetic. But it’s not consistent with the context of the video. Watch it again; it’s clear he’s not complaining about that sort of enforcement.


31 CMOT February 28, 2017 at 10:49 am

Book’s not on any of the torrent sites yet, apparently it’s not worth stealing.


32 William Seavey February 28, 2017 at 10:55 am

Hi Tyler, saw you on Charlie Rose (with Ian Bremmer) last night and just now noted the big review of your new book in the WSJ. Congratulations. In your interview you mentioned how Canada and Australia seem to be on a better course toward citizen involvement than here in the U.S. I’d cetainly agree about that with Canada as I’ve just published a book that details how the U.S. can better avail itself of some of Canada’s innovations and accomplishments. The goal is also to attempt to better inform Americans who are abysmally ignorant about Canada and Canadians. I’ll be sending you a copy as I think it dovetails somewhat with The Complacent Class. Best regards.


33 Jonathan S February 28, 2017 at 10:59 am

Does Tyler Cowen back up his statements with bets?

I would bet 1,000 inflation adjusted USD at even odds that global inflation adjusted GDP per capita will be higher in 20 years (2037) than it is now.


34 Joël February 28, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Did Tyler said anything to the contrary? I have not read the book yet but from the video I didn’t hear that. Smaller real GDP growth by capita does not mean negative real GDP growth by capita; mathematically speaking you’re confused between a first and a second derivative.


35 Jonathan S February 28, 2017 at 2:55 pm

The chart at 7:10 suggests a substantial decrease in GDP per capita. I assumed he meant global GDP per capita, though I would probably take that same bet for the US.


36 Todd Kreider March 1, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Yeah, Tyler didn’t proofread the graph before the video was made. I don’t think he ever said GDP/capita would fall, and definitely not nose dive.

I blame AlexT for the oversight….


37 Todd Kreider March 1, 2017 at 1:07 pm

You have to admit it is a little funny that Tyler is lecturing us on how complacent we have become while he didn’t bother checking his own video for this glaring error in bold red ink behind his narrative.

38 thfmr February 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Further to Joel, the developing world will keep per capita figures rising, whatever the situation at the top. Tyler does not dispute this either.


39 Rags February 28, 2017 at 11:06 am

I like Tyler and agree with him on much. I am afraid though that the idea of stagnation is wrongly drawn and oversold. I worry too that future videos might build “cycles” based on this poor foundation.

There is a fundamental problem in this summary. “Computers and communications” are not one thing. The were not invented once and then linearly improved since. Computers and communications are a new realm. And within that realm there has been wave after wave of invention and change. Good God. The dot-com boom was an entire society wide mobilization. It worked. It only became a bubble and a pop by having too much, not too little, migration of people, investment, and effort.

The internet boom did not leave ghost towns for long. All that “land” is occupied and more, with 3rd and 4th generation businesses. The ridiculous public stock valuation of Uber says that we haven’t stopped “moving.” We are moving in a way that people using old stats and worldviews can’t detect.

So in summary no, people didn’t stop “moving” or starting businesses. There are about 100,000 vendors in various app stores. That is a land rush of a different kind.


40 Rags February 28, 2017 at 11:47 am

Maybe to complete my arc ..

A false “stagnation” argument leads to a mistaken set of problems. The shift to the digital realm has changed the way we make money, and the way we achieve things without money. It breaks all the old metrics which use money as numerator or denominator. Economics will have to adapt to a world with a marginal cost of zero. Once you have a cheap computer and net connection there are constellations of education, work, and play you can achieve at no further cost. The world is becoming less monetary. Strict “economics” has less of a handle on it.

I mean sure, maybe you’d still like to have a BMW, but if you just spent 8 hours in a free mobile game, you showed a revealed preference. Maybe a happy one.


41 Amigo March 1, 2017 at 12:25 am

Part of me also resists the stagnation argument. I think much of the discord we see might be in fact a result of the increased pace of change, with social media amplifying differences and the nature of communication being meaner and with less real communication involved.

I’m not convinced that less travel is a real thing (at least based on these numbers):

The underlying theme that unless we keep moving dynamically forward some collapse awaits us is interesting to consider, however it’s unclear why this must be so as I could see new norms arise in America to respect a better outcome than what is perceived as unhappy and stressful lives so many say they live today. What used to work (like more education and careerism) doesn’t seem to work as well anymore, but it isn’t clear what needs to change.


42 Todd Kreider February 28, 2017 at 11:25 am

Tyler Cowen says “computers date back to that era” meaning World War II although the first computer (mainframe) wasn’t sold until 1951. He skips the evolution of computers and mistakenly says the smatphone was a “project” when it never was. Instead there was an evolution of progress with home computers from 1977 (with widespread use by 1987), the VCR revolutionized how people viewed movies and home entertainment as did video/computer games. The word processor revolutionized the work place and university in the 1980s and especially 1990s, the internet and ubiquitous use of email in America by the early 2000s was a major step from the 1980s.

The microwave oven and frozen food processing revolutionized eating.

Photography was transformed in the 2000s by inexpensive digital cameras then soon miniaturized to be placed on cell phones that had advanced significantly from the brick size in the 1980s. On line shopping which took off in the late 1990s is huge yet not mentioned either. Machine translation and interpretation have significantly improved since Google Translate was introduced ten years ago.

Travel is far safer, cheaper and more comfortable than in the 1960s/1970s when Cowen says progress stopped.

Cowen almost never includes medical advances in his stagnation argument, perhaps assuming we won’t catch the glaring omission. In the video, the only breakthrough in that area mentioned is penecillian from the 1940s. Significant advances in health are clearly coming soon to slash suffering and death from cancer, heart disease and dementia but when in rare form Tyler writes about CRIPR as he did last month he says all we can do is cry. Speaking of “projects, ” Tyler left out the Human Genome Project, The Brain Project and Cancer ‘Moonshot’.


43 B. Reynolds March 1, 2017 at 10:32 am

I’m not sure if airline travel is more comfortable than the 60s and 70s. Definitely cheaper and more abundant.


44 Todd Kreider March 1, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I think you would find the entire experience more convenient and comfortable than the 1960s but maybe not the 1970s. Maybe I’m wrong about both… But flying in the past 15 years has been way safer than the 1960s through 1980s and even than in the 1990s.


45 Thanatos Savehn February 28, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Tyler, stop going about trying to alert the Eloi to their upcoming meeting with the cast iron cauldron; wherefrom after being removed with tongs they’re to be garnished with all the trendiest veggies (organic, of course!). They’ve been marinated in nihilism and narcissism for so long that they won’t understand your warning; and worse yet, wouldn’t care even if they did. Your quest counts not as quixotic but rather as hopelessly hopeless.


46 BC February 28, 2017 at 12:15 pm

1) I’d like to hear Tyler’s response to the observation here [] that he had seemed to have gone from worrying about Great Stagnation, i.e., too little innovation, to worrying about the effects of excessive automation, i.e., too rapid innovation. Now, with a complacent class, are we back to a world with too little innovation again?

2) If the developed world is now more complacent or risk averse than in the past, does that mean that Tyler believes the rewards to bearing risk are now higher? For example, should we expect a higher risk premium for owning stocks going forward? Or, perhaps, can growing inequality or alleged growing capital income shares be attributed to greater premiums for more scarce willingness to bear risk? In other words, why wouldn’t market pricing of risk prevent us from running out of non-complacency just as market pricing of oil prevents us from running out of oil?

3) One answer might be that regulations in someway inhibit compensation for risk bearing or non-complacency. Medical innovation might be one example. The potential to cure even ageing itself over the next few decades I think is an obvious exception to the Great Stagnation hypothesis. However, regulations around stem cells, embryos, cloning, testing, etc. could stymie such innovation, regardless of the willingness of the least complacent to bear risk for the potential return of long life or near-immortality. Is Tyler’s thesis simply that “society” has become more complacent or that regulation and other barriers prevent us from efficiently capitalizing on whatever non-complacency still exists?


47 AlanG February 28, 2017 at 12:44 pm
48 rayward February 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Jesus predicted things would get worse before they got better. And now Cowen offers a similar prediction. The title of the book is somewhat misleading: the book is actually about cycles, or the cyclical view of history. Complacency merely describes those who don’t know that history is cyclical, know it but believe cycles can be avoided (the great moderation), or know it but wish to ignore the cycles by being as far removed as possible from their adverse effects. It’s certainly true that the economy, at least since the industrial revolution, has experienced cycles, or ups and downs, periods of prosperity followed by recessions or depressions, disruption including wars often triggered by the recessions and depressions (or recessions and depressions triggered by wars), followed by periods of recovery, renewal, and prosperity. It’s the disruption, or “reset”, that Cowen is predicting. What’s more, Cowen is predicting a grand reset, due partly because the reset has been deferred, deferred again and again, building up to the grand reset ahead. A cleansing of the body and soul, along with complacency. The belief that cycles, or the worst of cycles, can be avoided is considered naive by some, or worse (because deferring cycles exaggerates them). Not to put to fine a point on it, Keynes was not only ineffective, he made matters much worse. Of course, the point of central banks is to moderate the ups and downs of cycles. I suppose that, like Keynes, such efforts at moderation make matters worse, leading to the grand reset rather than many relatively mild ones. Cowen’s book is not an economics textbook, and doesn’t attempt to identify the causes of cycles or a cure for them. Indeed, I’d say Cowen embraces cycles; sure, things will get worse, but the payoff will follow when things get better. Several reviews of Cowen’s book indicate that Cowen ends the book on an optimistic note. I suppose the same could be said about Revelation.


49 Todd Kreider February 28, 2017 at 1:39 pm

I’m not sure when Cowen wrote in his new book that his misunderstood period of stagnation will end, but he said a few years ago in the 2040s. Just 25 to 30 years more to go. I’m curious if anyone besides Robert Gordon agrees with this? I guess Gordon only partly agrees because he predicted U.S. growth will slow to 0% around 2050 to 2100.


50 rayward February 28, 2017 at 2:08 pm

The complacent class are those who don’t appreciate that history, and the economy, is cyclical. It’s a sure bet to look at history when predicting the future. And I’d bet it more likely there’s a cure for cancer than a cure for cycles. Not a big point in Cowen’s book, but one of the many gems is his pessimism about so-called tech companies reliance on digital advertising for almost all of their revenues. The absurdity of it can be found in the products advertised: those made in the world of atoms (to use Thiel’s metaphor). That rising asset prices (stocks, real estate, works of art, etc.) have taken on an increasing role, the central role, in prosperity is all the evidence one needs to be convinced that a grand reset lies ahead. Many times I’ve commented that both fiscal stimulus and monetary stimulus are redistributive, the difference being that the former is redistributive downward (jobs, wages, etc.) while the latter is redistributive upward (the wealthy own most of the assets). Yet, a couple of years ago Brookings, in defending monetary stimulus, claimed that monetary stimulus does not favor the wealthy. Sure, they acknowledged that the wealthy owned most of the assets, but many not wealthy own houses. Houses, rising house prices (the purpose of monetary stimulus), is the path to prosperity? Even the Brookings economists are complacent.


51 Todd Kreider March 1, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Not “a cure” for cancer but several – the majority of cases within 5 to 10 years. It may be like HIV for a while where it would have to be beaten back again but a 50% drop in cancer mortality is clearly coming within a decade. The next 50% in the 2030s.


52 Rags February 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm

If I believe there are no cycles, just imperfect historical parallels, how could I rationally be convinced?

Is there a “proof” I don’t know about?

To be clear, of course I believe history has ups and downs, but I equate “cycles” with theories that you can be “due” one or the other. That is nothing more than motivated oversimplification.


53 Albert March 1, 2017 at 9:29 am

Agreed, it sounds about as reasonable as astrology or “generations”. What could possibly ever disprove a theory like this?


54 Flannery Bro'Connor February 28, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Good job predicting fascism, nice how all your research and theories neatly built right up to that.


55 JK Brown February 28, 2017 at 5:41 pm

I’ve often wondered why, with all the social commentary writers and such today, no one has written a follow-on to –‘The Big Change: America Transforms Itself 1900-1950’ (1952), Frederick Allen Lewis. Seems no one considered the transformation from 1950 to now 2017 as dramatic as moving from JP Morgan getting into a horse and buggy on NYE 1900 to:

“In 1950 the civilian labor force of the United States was estimated to number a little less than 59 million men and women; in the same year the number of drivers in the United States was estimated to be a little larger: 59,300,000.

“Never before in human history, perhaps, had any such proportion of the nationals of any land known the lifting of the spirit that the free exercise of power can bring.”

But then, since 1930, the interventionism into the economy and even private life by the government has proceeded in a hockey stick fashion, both in direction and as in high sticking the populace.

“This vehement indictment of bureaucracy is, by and large, an adequate although emotional description of present-day trends in American government. But it misses the point as it makes bureaucracy and the bureaucrats responsible for an evolution the causes of which must be sought for elsewhere. Bureaucracy is but a consequence and a symptom of things and changes much more deeply rooted.

“The characteristic feature of present-day policies is the trend toward a substitution of government control for free enterprise. Powerful political parties and pressure groups are fervently asking for public control of all economic activities, for thorough government planning, and for the nationalization of business. They aim at full government control of education and at the socialization of the medical profession. There is no sphere of human activity that they would not be prepared to subordinate to regimentation by the authorities. In their eyes, state control is the panacea for all ills.”
–von Mises, Ludwig (1945). Bureaucracy


56 JK Brown February 28, 2017 at 5:55 pm

You put down the iPhone as being the new unexpected advance, but this by a couple electronics engineers will put that iPhone in perspective

True, we aren’t seeing the dramatic changes of the late 19th/early 20th century, then we are used to the new energy transfer/use method (electricity), the internal combustion engine, hydraulics, pneumatics, radio transmissions, etc. Those were major advances of human kind. Right now, no one sees a new energy transmission/transformation process. Or even the shift from animal (human or non-human) powered work to steam/petroleum powered work.

Things are complacent because it’s not worth the damn paperwork to be innovative, but also because the inflection point in human history is receding.

You’ll be sad to know that Moore’s law may be coming to an end as they are now down to one atom separations. To go lower will require more advances in quantum physics and electronics engineers to pick up quantum skills.


57 JK Brown February 28, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Mises pretty much diagnosed the threat that has become the problem:

“All mankind’s progress has been achieved as a result of the initiative of a small minority that began to deviate from the ideas and customs of the majority until their example finally moved the others to accept the innovation themselves. To give the majority the right to dictate to the minority what it is to think, to read, and to do is to put a stop to progress once and for all.”

Mises, Ludwig von (1927). Liberalism (p. 54).


58 mulp February 28, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Who were the small minority who created the railroads that often terminated in Chicago, making it possible for one third of the population of the US to travel quickly and affordable to Chicago?

Chicago politicians and capitalists who were able to propel Lincoln to Washington with cronies who made sure Lincoln signed “An Act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri river to the Pacific ocean, and to secure to the government the use of the same for postal, military, and other purposes”.

Chicago was the terminus for most railroads and thus much rail traffic flowed through Chicago on a vast government project of building railroads.

“From 1850 to 1871, the railroads received more than 175 million acres (71 million ha) of public land – an area more than one tenth of the whole United States and larger in area than Texas.” –

Members of Congress are a small minority of the population.


59 mulp February 28, 2017 at 6:42 pm

Odd that you did not mention passenger rail as the great means of democratizing tourism and all other travel.

Railroads were built by a nation that was not complacent. Local governments organized to pay incentives to railroad builders to run through their town and connect to Chicago. In 1893, almost all railroads terminated in Chicago. Chicago politicians and businesses were not complacent but instead made sure Chicago was not a way station in what we now call flyover America. By making sure Chicago was the terminus of most rail lines, Chicago became a great economic hub.

When rail was supplemented by air, Chicago again worked to retain it’s status as a hub. Thus Chicago became a bottleneck for air passenger travel at the point rail passenger service ceased to provide universal service. Chicago was not complacent and expanded its airports, but not fast enough. Atlanta and FedEx were not complacent and made Atlanta a major alternative to O’hare. Chicago had many who were not complacent, and tried to build a second airport of the scale of O’hare but conservatives in Illinois wanted safety and sought to block the risky investment in a new airport.

Meanwhile, Chicago is still a terminus for too many rail lines, so too many grade level crossing create traffic conflicts between rail and cars and trucks in the densely populated and dense business and industry Chicago region. Again, political and industry leaders are not complacent and have a great plan to deconflict rail and roads by spending tens of billions rerouting rail to turn Chicago into a central station for rail, instead of a terminus, and eliminating most grade level crossings. But again, conservatives block this because they seek too much risk, because conservatives see Chicago having no future and at risk of becoming one of tens of thousands of ghost towns in flyover country.

Elon Musk is not complacent, proposing Hyperloop as a way to return American travel back to the glory of 1893. He has advocated bringing the technology of Europe and Asia to the US and boring tunnels under all the obstacles. But again, American conservatives are risk adverse, notably Gov Christie cancelling a boring project from NJ to NYC because he saw it as too risky. Clearly Christie fears NJ will not exist as a State between all the others on the East Coast, or that the East Coast’s days are numbered.

Chicago was not complacent and gave Illinois great influence in the 19th century, helping Lincoln rise to national prominence. And as president, Lincoln was not complacent in advancing rail as the key to the Union’s economic and military power. During the war, the army worked with the railroads to turn them into a military advantage over the South. In the Northern, most cities and towns became stations on a grid of rail lines, and the Army had a division of railroads that extended rail from the Union into the South as the Army advanced. And in looking at the post war reconciliation, opening the West to those who would not be complacent with the status quo by rail into the West and to the annexed half of Mexico.

Railroad workers were not complacent. In 1893 in Chicago, railroad workers held a meeting to unify railroad workers in a single union, later that year striking after Great Northern cut worker pay, and then in 1894 striking against Pullman, resulting in thugs going to war with workers who were trying to improve their lot in life. The not complacent Eugene Debs testified:

“I found that the wages and expenses of the employees were so adjusted that every dollar the employees earned found its way back into the Pullman coffers; that they were not only not getting wages enough to live on, but that they were daily getting deeper into the debt of the Pullman company; that it was impossible for many of them to leave there at all… Wages had been reduced, but the expenses remained the same, and no matter how offensive the conditions where they were compelled to submit to them. After I heard those statements I satisfied myself that they were true and I made up my mind, as president of the American Railway Union, of which these employees were members, to do everything in my power that was within law and within justice to right the wrongs of those employees.”

Since Reagan, conservatives have made it clear to American workers, you must be complacent and accept your loss of jobs, your cuts in wages, because you workers must never seek to better your lot in life but instead accept crumbs employers are willing to dole out.

So, 1893 Chicago offers concrete lessons on not being complacent. Until Reagan, workers and government and businesses were not complacent but since Reagan complacency is the conservative policy.

Trump is aggressively trying to force complacent in advocating the energy and transportation systems of a century ago.

In contrast to Elon Musk who is definitely not complacent and advocating eliminating fossil fuels from transportation and energy, replacing job killing burning of fossil capital with labor intensive building of non fossil fuel capital, solar and batteries and electric vehicles, including sending people through tubes at high speed with Hyperloop.


60 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz February 28, 2017 at 11:31 pm

I don’t think conservatives could block anything in Chicago, as liberals always had at least a majority of the votes. If they objected to expanding Midway it might be because they live downstate and there constituents would not benefit, but would prefer to expand the airports in cities like Springfield and Campaign which in and of themselves are more usable. And of course liberals destroyed Meigs field illegally.

While unions may have been helpful at their peak, they created things like defined benefit retirement schemes that put America at risk of insolvency, led wages to stagnate, and caused the bankruptcy of once great companies like GM. The Hyperloop is not a practical technology, and there are plenty of ways for individuals to get to their destination faster. Liberals could offer immunity to speed limits in exchange for using electric vehicles, but I’ve never heard any make such an offer because they have an irrational need to control people.


61 Uribe February 28, 2017 at 6:52 pm

I read Tyler’s last 3 books & enjoyed them. But from the reviews & comments can’t tell if there’s much new in this one. We still seem to be in the Great Stagnation. The BI insider bit about matchers vs. strivers made me sleepy.

Does any amateur reader out there think this is worth reading?


62 Uribe February 28, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Also, we need an update on what happened to ZMP workers. Does TCC tell us? If not, why not?


63 Jack February 28, 2017 at 7:14 pm

Very well done Professor Cowen. Thank you & i look forward to the next episode.


64 steve February 28, 2017 at 8:51 pm

Tyler, very well done. Excellent video on substance and style.


65 Raymond Starman February 28, 2017 at 9:47 pm

Regarding your new book The Complacent Class and the upper class elites who inhabit this class I assume that this class is of a liberal nature even though this class is inhabited by establishment types. It reminds me of the Kennedy administration which was considered liberal even though its cabinet was composed of basically Harvard establishment types like the Bundy brothers, John Kenneth Galbreath and liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger among many others. In the FDR generation liberal meant the working class, the unions and lesser white collar workers as well as the educated, higher level professional types who composed the population of doctors and lawyers. Big city tabloids were liberal in the forties, now they are conservative. From George McGovern forward to The Clintons, the the liberal left has migrated become at first more inclusive but now as this year’s presidential election proved, less inclusive. Working class whites, not Dixiecrats from the 50s and 60s voted their preferences to unseat the complacent class. My interest in class differences includes my own book The Sitcom Class Wars, my book about class differences in the 20th century as represented and symbolized by the mass media programs that represented class attitudes of the time.


66 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz February 28, 2017 at 11:23 pm

I tried to click the link for the next video and it did not work. We must have proper clictivism.


67 Frank Dobbs February 28, 2017 at 11:31 pm

This kind of argument could only be made by an academic out of touch with the realities of today.
Incremental improvements are easy to underestimate, but cumulatively they change the world. In the 1970’s I told a forest products company not to build a new mill because existing mills kept increasing their efficiency every year and would absorb all the increase in demand at lower cost. Management didn’t listen, and lost $355mm.

There has been a revolution in materials and building technology that is as significant as electronics, but it has been incremental and not gotten headlines.

Moreover, the myth of the great inventor is belied by the fact that it takes many years, and the efforts of many talents for new inventions to be improved and adopted, usually decades and even a generation or two.

As I look up from my laptop I see an induction burner, a speedcook oven, a Thermomix, a superautomatic coffee machine, a sous vide, an induction rice cooker, a pot filler faucet, a Subzero with two compressors, a ceramic grill, IKEA cabinets, mini-split HVAC, sleek panel radiators connected to a condensing boiler, an Amazon Echo, a Sonos sound system, a portable projector, a robotic vacuum, a smart lock, recessed light fixtures with both halogen and led bulbs, programmable light switches, a digital clock, two dishwashers, two waste disposals, programmable light switches, an air purifies, a connected smoke/CO alarm, a garbage compactor, an electric hand mixer and so forth. In the basement is a 120″ specially coated screen that descends from the ceiling, a TV projector, a sound system with ceiling speakers and subwoofers, plus a built in VR system and two wine refrigerators. The Japanese toilet is completely robotic. There’s more, but I’ll stop. There is no stagnation here –all of these things are postwar.

I live a mile from the poor neighborhood in Manhattan where I was born in 1946. But there is no comparison between those two worlds. You can’t start a project in your house without researching the new techniques and materials that have developed. In medicine, it’s true the ekg is over a century old, but I will soon have one I can use at home that will transmit to my doctor. My cpap machine is a marvel of engineering. Our car when we bought it in 2001 was one of the best mass produced cars ever made. My son is nagging me to get something safer and more up to date.

Only an economist could think there is a stagnation. Here on the ground things are moving very rapidly indeed.

PS. There has also been incredible, unremitting innovation in services and retail, in printing, in everything but academia. I hope the book has a much more sophisticated understanding of how innovation actually happens than the video does.


68 B. Reynolds March 1, 2017 at 10:55 am

A sous vide and a Thermomix? Is that you, Megan?


69 Artimus March 1, 2017 at 12:17 pm

You seem awfully fired up about there not being a stagnation. Does it really matter if Tyler thinks there is stagnation and you don’t? Relax and enjoy your house!


70 Frank Dobbs March 1, 2017 at 2:11 pm

I am deeply in Megan’s debt.

Well, just from the video, I think Tyler is just wrong, and wrong precisely because he is an academic and not deeply embedded in the world of action and things.

Compare Buffet, a businessman:
“I live in an upper-middle class neighborhood where the average income is $100,000, and every single person living there is living better than John D. Rockefeller lived, because of medicine, entertainment, you name it,” Buffett said. “My neighbors don’t have the power or prestige Rockefeller had, but if you have the choice of living the life that he could live and the life that they could now live, they’re all better off. In every respect, we’re living better than Rockefeller, a fellow who was alive in my lifetime.” He went on, “And you would think that people would be happy in this utopia, but they’re in a funk. They think their children are going to be worse off than they are. They’re absolutely wrong. ”

It’s great Tyler has written a book, and gotten all the publicity, and so on. But suppose he is wrong?

Instead of thinking of innovation as a discrete number of successful (and obviously failed) risks that make headlines and get measured in macro statistics. Instead of that think of it in an quasi-Von Misean way, that there is a rotating world of innovation of all types trying to satisfy shifting and evolving human needs. In that sense, there is no great stagnation, but astounding progress at a rate that challenges everyone alive.


71 Todd Kreider February 28, 2017 at 11:54 pm

“As I look up from my laptop I see an induction burner, a speedcook oven, a Thermomix,… … The Japanese toilet is completely robotic. There’s more, but I’ll stop. There is no stagnation here –all of these things are postwar. ”

Cowen did say in the video that the stagnation started after the 1960s, not just “post war,” which is why I listed the microwave oven as a revolutionary 1970s product. Also, if Tyler wants to say computers around in the 1940s, which is technically true, then he should have included the wonders of virtual reality that have been around since the 1980s even if cost in the millions as computers did in the 1940s and 1950s.


72 jayson March 1, 2017 at 10:28 am

Great video. It really got me thinking about progress in a way I hadn’t before. I look forward to the rest.


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