Diane Coyle reviews *Average is Over*

The review is entitled “Not Average At All,” here is one excerpt:

Tyler Cowen has followed up the best-selling The Great Stagnation with another profoundly interesting book on the impact of new technology on the economy and beyond. Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation picks up the theme of the disruption technological change and the consequent restructuring of business and focuses on the effects on individual jobs and what people might be able to do to safeguard their livelihood.

The rest of the review is here, and it is interesting throughout.  This was one of my favorite sentences:

Steadily, without discussion, a moral framework is becoming encoded into the machines around us, and by the habits of use that are developing.

You can pre-order the book on Amazon here.  On Barnes and Noble here.  On Indiebound.org here.  And from Penguin here.  It is due out this Thursday.


I'd love to see Tyler answer this question:

What other than Tyler's own knowledge of computers has changed in the forecast from great Stagnation till Average is Over?

Because the correct subtitle sure seems to be "Oops, there is no Great Stagnation"

When some us said the Internet trumped all previous inventions, bc it levers everything else - gets credit for everything else, rather than enable travel, it means travel unnecessary, it replaces atomic scarcity with the digital infinite, why were we just not simply smarter?

And if there is current disagreement between Tyler and those who were right and himself, why should he be believe now>?

I like you Tyler, and I'm glad to have you aboard, but are we sure your past work didn't embolden the haters?

I don't have early access to Average is Over, but based on the reviews and Tyler's posts, I do not think there is much of a course change between The Great Stagnation. The latter's central tenant is that median America has stagnated economically and discusses many possible reasons behind this, including technological advances that eliminated many traditional middle class jobs. The new work seems more prescriptive on how people (namely the same median Americans) will need to adapt in order to succeed and reap the benefits of advancing technology. Being "average" will no longer lead to a comfortable and continuously improving lifestyle.

The distinction is that The Great Stagnation was Tyler's analysis of technological development, or lack thereof, in the frontier economies in the last several decades. It was looking at the recent past and present.

This new book apparently deals with his vision for the future. He's said previously that he foresees the Great Stagnation coming to an end in the not so distant future; for example, he declared that the arrival of self-driving cars could mark such a milestone.

The subtitle alone makes clear the relationship between the two books.

I'm not so confident that TGS is coming to a conclusion. I would say that we know that it's ended only when rapid and sustained economic growth, and not anemic levels of 2.5% annual growth, returns to the U.S. and other advanced nations. It won't matter if new technologies are developed in R&D labs of major corporations if these are then stifled by the regulatory agencies, litigation, patent trolls, and the perennial short-termism of Wall Street.

If several decades from now we've clearly entered into a new space age, have self-driving transport systems, new modes of transportation, robotic agriculture, climate engineering, anti-aging therapies etc. then I'd say we've entered a new technological age comparable in extent to the industrial revolutions.

Yeah, didn't Virgin Galactic just test-fly a hypersonic jet that's intended for commercial use? There are some amazing things going on out there. Most of it funded by eccentric billionaires, but still.

But again, this doesn't actually confront the argument made by tech guys about eh "wage stagnation"

I got into in 2010 here:


Basically, while wages were stagnated by Tyler's measuring stick, the quality of life of Americans increased so greatly that IF they had to choose from two worlds without any promise that one one would lead to the other in historical time...

EVERYONE would choose this kick ass Internet smart phone big screen TV, skype world, EVEN IF they have relative wage stagnation.

The consumption itself, the hedonic value of today is higher....

In short, our argument has always been Tyler's measuring stick was broken.

Being “average” will no longer lead to a comfortable lifestyle?

The internet is not automation. High returns from automation do not imply there were high returns to the internet. Nor did Tyler say the Great Stagnation would continue. There is no contradiction. You simply did not read carefully enough.

The subtitle of the Great Stagnation was "How America...Will (Eventually) Feel Better." The last chapter talks about potential innovations on the horizon that would end the Great Stagnation. It's really a backward looking book talking about the last 40 years.

Haven't read the book yet of course but the implications of this sound absolutely horrific. Aren't most people "average" and hasn't most work done by humans through the ages involved routine? Not everyone can be a Da Vinci or Steve Jobs. I am no Luddite but the idea that the benefits of advanced technology will somehow enable people to flourish in new and interesting ways rather than go into the pockets of some plutocrat is ludicrous. This sounds like a dystopian future made up of equal parts of Nietsche, Darwin and Ayn Rand.

I'd say that no one is precisely average, and certainly no one is if you allow more than one dimension to define them.

Agreed. How will the economy accept 3 million unemployed truck, taxi and UPS drivers (driverless cars)? How will the economy accept teachers replaced by MOOCs? The list of jobs at risk is incredibly large. Computer scientists and engineers are revered because what they do is challenging and important - they are exceptional, not average. Asking an entire population to move past average (or become marketing experts) isn't possible - most people are average at most things that they do. And even if everyone has a special skill or two, most of those skills aren't valued by the marketplace or will become less impressive as technology races ahead. I haven't read the book, but I don't plan on reading it based on the reviews thus far.

"These technological developments are dangerous. 90% of the US population are farmers. How will the economy accept millions of unemployed farmers?" - some guy in 1790

Moving farmers into factories and factory workers into retail is not a great accomplishment. Especially since it took 100+ years.

Moving truck drivers, cashiers, bookkeepers, clerks, teachers, security guards and bank tellers into computer science and STEM - in less than 10 years - will be an accomplishment.

Right now STEM accounts for only 10% of all U.S. jobs - and most of those are in healthcare.

Any plans to add "search inside this book" for this title on either Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk? I'd like to check out a few things before I buy it.

I just Pre-Ordered It. I've gotten tired of waiting for my Review Copy, and have begun to doubt that I'm getting one.

Not if Garrison Keillor has anything to say about it...

How could the average be over? Is there not always an average? Did Tyler mean to say that today's average is yesterday's excellent? Perhaps the book will explain!

Let me answer all your questions (you have pre-ordered, right?) with a quote from the book - '“Marketing”, Cowen writes in Average Is Over, is the “seminal sector for our future economy.” But Cowen’s intriguing definition of marketing lies in figuring out how to motivate people and to get them to feel better about themselves.'

And all just for the paltry price of a book.

I am preparing my toddler for a career in social work. That is one field that will see exponential growth. Hopefully the economy will continue to allocate precious resources to this noble profession.

On the Great Stagnation .... just from observation in my career as an engineer...

I have noticed that the "best and brightest" engineers tend to be absorbed into military projects. So they are focused on developing better and better missiles, and spy satellites, and data collection and processing algorithms at the NSA.

I wonder what would happen if all of those brilliant minds were loosed into the free market to spend their days developing stuff that consumers actually want to buy.

Maybe the problem isn't just overregulation per se, but that our military and intelligence complex has grown to the point that it's absorbing all the human capital, in terms of brains, that the country is producing.

I suspect that this observation is quite dependent on the field of engineering you work in.

Also, I'm sitting beside two engineers that use to be DOD, but couldn't stand the stultified working environment and bailed.

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