My *Complacent Class* podcast with Sonal Chokshi and Alex Rampell

by on March 2, 2017 at 6:47 am in Books | Permalink

They are partners at Andreessen-Horowitz, have one of the best podcast series, are consistently tremendous, and mutually reinforcing at that, it is here.

1 rayward March 2, 2017 at 7:58 am

Not particularly probing questions. Indeed, the two interviewers had more to say than Cowen! I’m not an interviewer but I do realize it takes a special talent, a talent I likely don’t have. Ironically, listening is the most important quality of a good interviewer. The other interpretation of this interview is that Cowen’s book really hits a nerve with people, raising (or reinforcing) questions they believe are very important. Cowen has captured the zeitgeist! As usual, Cowen impresses with his answers; I just wish the interviewers had let him talk more. As I’ve commented before, Cowen’s voice is so pleasing that I prefer to read transcripts of what he says rather than to listen to what he says.


2 Anon7 March 2, 2017 at 9:31 pm

+1. Those two were chatterboxes doing a panel discussion, not interviewers.


3 Todd Kreider March 3, 2017 at 6:23 am

Tyler said on this podcast that The Great Stagation will be over “soon” as “we are on the verge of a boom in procuctivity”, which would be the 2020s rather than in the 2040s as Tyler had been saying for years when interviewers tried to get specifics from him. Nice to have this cleared up.

He said that he thinks the Millennials will be fine but probably not the generation after that. Millenials are 20 to 35 year olds today while the Next Generation is under 20. Which generation does he think will have more technocaly advanced health care as they age?

Tyler says that “there has been a real decline in productivity” and “is much lower than in the 50s and 60s,” yet he doesn’t mention that this decline has all been since 2009 and that it hasn’t changed from the 90s. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics lumps productivity periods of different lengths on a chart but while prodctivity was 2.8% from 1947 to 1973, it was just 1.2% from 1973 to 1979. If you instead lumped the 60s and 70s together then the 60s/70s period is typical for post-war prodctivity.

Prodctivity was 1.5% in the 1980s and 2.2% in the 1990s. From 2000 to 2016, productivity averaged 1.9% so no notabe slowdown if not only looking at the post recession years. Does Cowen think prodctivity will “boom” much beyond the 1.9% of the past 17 years?


4 Rags March 2, 2017 at 8:30 am

Interesting show. I think it danced a bit around the problem of social media. It isn’t just “comments” “or Facebook” “or Twitter.” This is how our society now understands, decides things.

It isn’t that one or two yokels here prefer MR comments to NOAA on climate, it is that there are millions of Americans all across the Internet who now prefer “comments.”

I think seeking complacency is a poor handle for understanding that. I think the death of expertise, and the rise of uneducated self-importance, does better.

We have systems in place that prefer mass ignorance to rarer knowledge. They shape elections, and now our entire future.


5 Anon7 March 2, 2017 at 9:03 pm

There was never a Golden Age in the U.S. where the demos simply deferred to technocratic expertise.


6 Rags March 2, 2017 at 10:19 pm

I am old enough to remember when television news was a stately affair, and that they might actually mount “an editorial” was enough to surprise. (Always followed by the invitation to contact the station with opposing views.) The hoi polloi might have dissented privately or in fringe media, but in those days it was largely mass culture, with gatekeepers. There were letters to the editor, but filtered for a bit of sanity.

If you think gatekeepers are all bad, check out the comments on the Gladwell post from later today. I worry that such things are less aberration, and more what our society has become.

(The guy on the podcast used the “never read the comments” line, but I think you had to read the comments, or do a raw search for “Trump” on Twitter, to understand how we got here.)


7 CMOT March 2, 2017 at 10:09 am

Just got a copy and skimmed it, seems there’s nothing in there about the draft. During the cold war, up to the early 70’s, the draft took in a million or more young men, most of whom would not otherwise have been in college, and then turned them loose 2 years later with either a marketable skill (like engine repair) or at the very least with an extremely valuable credential, namely a Good Conduct discharge, and the GI Bill.

The draft wrenched young men out of often comfortable home environments, many from economically marginal communities, showed them the world, and gave them benefits that (because they were federal and not state administered) left them free to move anywhere.

Don’t overlook the signaling value of that Good Conduct discharge, especially in an era when credit and background information was very hard to come by otherwise. Especially so for black and other minority vets.

Wouldn’t the federal government paying a million young men every year to learn a skill and pay them benefits later have a huge impact on mobility? And doesn’t the decline in mobility start right about the time the draft is ended?


8 Rags March 2, 2017 at 10:45 am

I think this is a good idea, and I have a related one. Based on Tyler’s guarantee that there is a literature on everything, I looked it up.

Government as Employer of Last Resort: Full Employment Without Inflation

The improvement over a youth program is that it is open to the ‘forgotten’ in any age group.


9 rayward March 2, 2017 at 12:14 pm

For those not paying close attention, Thomas Piketty (or Brad DeLong et al.) could have written The Complacent Class. Cowen’s observations are spot on, which is why the review in the WSJ says that conservatives, liberals, and libertarians will find something to like. Here’s just a few of Cowen’s observations, from which I will connect the dots (as I see them). A public education system that is declining, a transportation system that is eroding, a government that is failing. What do these have in common? Lack of commitment: lack of commentment to funding (through taxes) education and transportation, lack of commitment to public service. It wasn’t always so. In the last century, America was committed to public education, America was committed to transportation, and Americans were committed to public service. What has changed? Put it this way, what interest does a banker working in Manhattan and living in Connecticut, or an investor or boy wonder working and living in Silicon Valley, have in funding public education or transportation, or in public service? Not much. By comparison, an industrialist in Pittsburgh or Cleveland or Buffalo or Detroit was dependent on both an educated work force and a modern and efficient transportation system and in public servants who would provide both. As economists like Cowen and Tabarrok remind us, people respond to incentives, and the wealthy complacent class has little incentive to support public education, a modern and efficient transportation system, or public servants devoted to providing them. So here we are.


10 Jay March 2, 2017 at 1:10 pm

“lack of commentment to funding (through taxes) education….America was committed to public education”…we’ve never spent more than we do now on education, I would find a different explanation for the problem than lack of funds, we’ve done nothing but throw money at it and we’re at where we’re at.


11 Alvin March 2, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Why can’t these so-called podcast series’ provide a downloadable and simple mp3 file? Preferably one that is not Apple iTunes limited. But some Soundcloud versions allow you to download the podcast and listen later.


12 MK March 5, 2017 at 11:33 pm

Professor Cowen (and any others who have read the Complacent Class),

There are tons of references cited in the book – many as citations for statistics/facts described in the book, but many are other overarching commentaries (historical or contemporaneous). From the latter set, what are the 5-10 references you would particularly recommend for further reading?

Thank you!


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