Tyler Cowen predicts our coming 19th century future

Here is my podcast with New York magazine, with a short excerpt of it offered in print.

And they offer this summary: “On the latest episode of 2038, Cowen predicts that over the next 20 years, “this nation will go back to an earlier version of its politics, which were highly dysfunctional. You had plenty of people becoming president who probably should not have been. And yet at the same time we muddled through that era and emerged as modern America.””


I listened earlier today. The questions were all about soothsaying (and predictions about politics), none about the point of Cowen's book. I am pleased New York interviewed Cowen about his book, but very disappointed in the interviewers' questions. Cowen cut it short, as he should have.

By the way, it is about Cowen's prediction for (the repeat of) the 19th century.

Mr. Krugman writes another searing indictment of republicans based on global warming. "Global warming...is why fires are getting even bigger and more dangerous." First, the mayor of Houston admits there is global warming. Second, why doesn't Brazil have the worst deficit on global warming? So, the lung cancer metaphor is inept. If fires are one effect, hurricanes another effect, of the same disease, even though both symptoms already existed, it not nearly sufficient say "global warming." Put it another way, in basic reasoning there are adverse, inflationary effects, say 2-3% because of patriotism, say 3-5% because of greed. Why the reasoning defect on global warming? Because of dilatancy. In 2018, the report ends its first summary with a push for a global cut on greenhouse gas emission. Pollution is mentioned once.

Such will be life in Zachary Taylor's America.

Old Hickory (A. Jackson) and old Rough and Ready (Z. Taylor) will give a thrashing to them thar foreigners!

Bonus trivia: one of those two died after eating a bowl of chilled cherries on Inauguration Day, guess which. Ice is deadly, I avoid ingesting it in the tropics.

The Presidents who are most often looked down upon, the post Civil War Republicans up through McKinley, were all men who had distinguished themselves in front of their peers in the Civil War. They were kind of like Israeli Prime Ministers, who have, with the exception of Mrs. Meir, been men with excellent military records.

Much of the bad repute of these Presidents is due to the partisan prejudices of now largely forgotten progressive Democrat historians who dominated historiography in the middle of the 20th Century, such as Samuel Eliot Morison and Arthur Schlesinger.

"They were kind of like Israeli Prime Ministers, who have, with the exception of Mrs. Meir, been men with excellent military records."

They were terrorists.

I was going to say just that, in just those words,

P.S. Golda Meir was a terrorist too.

Thank God we moved on to a more enlightened class of people like Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon.

That is what bugs me: of course Trump is awful but why people are shocked by it? Isn't it the standard? Or was Bush so great? While Obama's handling of Syria and Libya killed hundreds of thousands.

Of Americans?

Bush and Obama were perfectly adequate representatives of what their parties had been preaching for decades. Trump is the aberration. I don't see any evidence that we're going to get a series of Trumps.

By the way, I thought it was the pre-Civil War, not post-Civil War presidents who were least respected. Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk (not so bad), Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan. Post-war, I think Grant, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and McKinley were respected even if Grant had some flaws. All presidents have flaws.

@SSSS - so Steve Sailor, what are your views on slavery? Good or bad? Should we bring it back?

Slavery is uneconomic and inefficient, which is why nobody outside maybe a few archaic, inbred MENA countries practices it.

Slavery was a solution to the fact that wildly productive, but hot/wet/disease ridden land primarily in the Caribbean (and secondarily North and South America) could only be unlocked by a people with a natural immunity to those diseases. Those people were found in Africa. In the modern world we have antibiotics, making the one advantage African labor had obsolete. There is zero value in their labor today.

And yet slavery was ended well before the age of antibiotics

It was ended by the industrial revolution. Where wealth can be generated by industry and innovation there is less need to maximize natural agricultural resources. Britain, the first to industrialize, ended it first. It was ended in America by the superior material power of the North which was build on industrialization. If there had never been an industrial revolution we would still have slavery, as we do in those parts of the world so backward they are almost pre-industrial.

So the gross continental product of Africa is zero?

Tyler Cowen Prediction Function: No matter the issue, I expect more of the same.

Can we get Zeppelins this time around? Because that would be cool.

Zeppelins were indeed cool, reaching altitudes most modern jets fly in (though most cruised much lower), traveling at 100 mph and smoother than airplanes at lower altitudes (due to their size, despite their clumsy maneuvering), and very safe, with few accidents until the Heidelberg (Wikipedia: "Up until 1914 the German Aviation Association (Deutsche Luftschiffahrtsgesellschaft or DELAG) transported 37,250 people on over 1,600 flights without an incident"). If the USA had allowed Nazi Germany to have helium rather than be forced to use hydrogen, as Steve Sailor would no doubt agree, that last tragedy would have been avoided. In one historic trip, a zeppelin traveled to South America, even TR's Brazil, which much have amazed those primitive people.

Bonus trivia: Count Zeppelin was anti-Nazi, as were some of his famous pilots, which hurt his business.

Not sure if you mean the Hindenburg. Having watched the newsreel of the disaster, it is impressive that almost two thirds of those on board survived. They were made of sterner stuff back then. In fact, one, Werner Doehner, is still alive and well over eighty years on.

Of course he means the Hindenburg; just a typo. I'm not sure being made of sterner stuff was a factor. The crash was survivable, just as most plane crashes are. If you were not burned to death, you got out. We mostly hear about the ones that are not survivable, for obvious reasons.

Helium was an input to the Manhattan project. So, NO =)

So we should be able to survive regulators who, believing that what bankers perceive as risky is more dangerous to our bank system than what bankers perceive as safe, impose risk aversion on the Home of the Brave. Great, but let’s cross our fingers.

I appreciate Cowen's predictions for 100, 200 years hence, but if one received financial and economic news only from this blog, one would be ignorant of what's happening in the housing market. And as the housing market goes, so does the economy. I will cease quoting Matthew 6:34, but really.

Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

some predictions are not so hard
we predict that narrative public radio will not cite a study1 that suggests home births may be more dangerous/fatal for the mother than in hospital births in their multi part narrative on maternal mortality.

1 http://gatehousenews.com/failuretodeliver

just kidding.

>plenty of people becoming president who probably should not have

Anyone who was paying attention in November 2008 knew that the presidency was going to be an Eternal Clown Show from that day on out.

We are very, very lucky that Trump turned out to be sane after all (he didn't have to be). I don't think that will be true for the next one.

A rare thoughtful post from you. But you don't think Oprah is sane? What about The Rock?

Just curious, which are you going with there, that Obama was the start clown show(*), or the reaction to him set the stage?

* - which quite lets the second Bush and the invasion of Iraq off the hook.

Well, he of course meant Obama was a clown, but I meant the reaction to him was when the clown show really started. Bush II wasn't clowny he just made a catastrophic blunder.

In any case TPM is a broken record of obvious posts, they all fall into the same pattern of blah blah blah Obama bad blah blah blah Democrats evil blah blah blah. This post of his at least admits that Trump is a clown.

“this nation will go back to an earlier version of its politics, which were highly dysfunctional."

Tyler is polite, we have never left the era pf dysfunctional politics. LBJ? The great genocider? Truman, a haberdasher? Nixon? Reagan had cotton for brains almost his entire regime. Carter confused himself with Christ, mostly. Bubba Clinto was good, his qualifications? Governor of a small rural state. Lil Bush, couldn't add nor subtract as the great recessions shows.

Then we have the other problem, federalism in which many participants legitimately are at war with the Swamp. Remember, we have a Republic, not a proportional democracy, sop violent actions against government are likely to be the norm.

There are small rural states and then there's.......arkansas

"Truman, a haberdasher?"

Actualym the Soviets wrote a play about Truman. The Mad Haberdasher or something like that.

Actually a FAILED haberdasher. Then he became a county judge, senator and being in the right place at the right time President

And one of the better ones it turned out.

W was a failed businessman too, on multiple projects. At least Trump had a hit TV show among his many business failures.

Wow really not the smartest interviewers. After Tyler leaves they literally drop generic op-ed memes for 15 minutes.

The NYT coverage on global warming is similar to what happened during Vietnam. Let's face it, when someone overdoses on drugs, it's more traumatic than when is killed by a hurricane. One is a catastrophe, the other is a tragedy. We must practice some "religious tolerance" around global warming. The same way we did when JFK stopped nuclear annihilation. The NYT has a fundamental problem that is extremely concerning. They believe their power to be on par with D.C. It's not even on par with Silicon Valley. Yet their reasoning ability is a statement on the education system, so its just sad. Suicide sad, we call it in east London.

Typical Tyler underestimating the China thing.

Tyler once again doesn't get historical growth correct. He said for most of the 19th century U.S. growth was 1.5% or 2.0%, not the the 4% or 5% growth of the early and mid 20th century.

Way off. What is so hard about looking the basics up with google?

f curious....

Early to mid 20th century is 1900 to 1960. Average growth was 3.2% a year, which includes population growth. I don't get the "4% or 5% growth" for those decades that Tyler stated.

The average growth in population from 1840 to 1900 was 2.5% a year and GDP per capita growth was 1.7% ... Growth averaged 4.2% a year.

'President[s] who probably should not have been... [but we] muddled through and became modern America'.... Ok, appreciate the light at the end of the tunnel! It's probably because most of the people here are smarter than me and can articulate their stance better than I can mine, but a nagging stubborn attachment when reading MR - a prejudice I'm happy to be challenged on - is that privilege in the analysis / conclusions could be acknowledged more often. (FWIW I also consider myself privileged.)

Another example is Tyler's piece on Political Correctness / Identity politics and how that is the left's sword to fall on alone. Hopefully this is received in the genuine spirit in which it is asked, but is this another way of saying that certain folks can feel ok with not speaking out against racism, eg? ...I understand it's unrealistic to push back on each and every injustice 24/7, but what is the right balance? Is it enough to just shine the light on the areas of analysis? (And, again, I am grateful that sites like this are doing just that!)

In terms of the political turmoil today, yes, America will push through it, but which groups will suffer the most to get there and how can each of us - especially those with status / voices that are listened to - act today for not just a more stable destination but more equitable journey? Put another way, I just can't shake the feeling that this state of affairs is not ok: 'The happy people will be those who turn off their smartphones, or who don’t put Twitter on them, and who just go about living their lives. And that is, in fact, most Americans, either now or in the future.'

Curious as we re-enter the 19th century:

are adult literacy rates in the US higher today or lower today than in:




If US adult literacy rates are higher today than in any of the years cited, what would account for the "progress"? (apart from lower standards and expectations regarding "literacy")

If US adult literacy rates are lower today than in any of the years cited, what would account for the "lack of progress"? (apart from the advent of ubiquitous entertainment criteria in contemporary education and technocratic intrigues at the highest levels of government)

(Reliable statistics on the actual levels of American adult literacy, sub-literacy, and illiteracy remain hard to come by, even as internet search engines and post-secondary "education" glorification thrive.)

Tyler said that there was a 50% drop in fiction reading in 2017 due to Trump's presidency. That seems impossible, and he didn't say where he got that from.

This isn't quite the same but the percent of Americans who read for pleasure dropped by 30% from 2004 to 2017 but dropped about 1% from 2016 to 2017 according to the Time Use Survey.

If World War III happened last year, I could see a 50% drop in fiction reading but little ol' Trump's presidency can't have close to that impact.

U.S. literacy rates:
1800 not sure but about as high as Scotland in New England
1870 80% (blacks 20%)
1900 90% (blacks 55%)
1950 97% (blacks 90%)
1960 98% (blacks 92%)
1970 99% (blacks 96%)
1980 99% (blacks 98%)


Thanks for the source link.

Available NCES data comparing outcomes of the 1992 Natl. Adult Literacy Survey and the 2003 Natl. Assessment of Adult Literacy are perhaps more revealing--the 2003 data seem to show:

14% of American adults (30 MILLION) are "below basic" in prose literacy (distinguished by NCES statisticians from "document literacy" and "quantitative literacy" [numeracy?]).

Another 11 MILLION American adults as of 2003 were found to be completely non-literate in English.

If almost 20% of American adults by these findings are illiterate or sub-literate, how these data square with the cumulative assessments you found remains for someone else to explain.

The sub-literate group doesn't contradict what the link I posted showed since the standard of literacy was obviously low to get 99+% but the 11 million illiterate group does, or at least partly.

I did once teach English in public middle schools. Over two decades ago it was neither common nor rare to find students in the eighth grade with second-grade reading levels, ninth-graders with fourth-grade reading levels. (I could even provide evidence of woeful or abysmal sub-literacy among my former fellow teachers, whose years of poor performance inspired me to leave "the profession" for good.)

"Sub-literate" is the category/taxonomy I prefer to "below basic" (whose putrid philanthropy belies sad facts).

"sub-literate" sounds like "sub-human." Below basic is where I stand in trombone playing. It's a less inflammatory term.

"If almost 20% of American adults by these findings are illiterate or sub-literate, how these data square with the cumulative assessments you found remains for someone else to explain."

I think the results in the linked survey are based upon schooling results. This ignores a significant number of immigrants. A good portion of Hispanic male immigrants are illiterate.

This might be true of Hispanic female immigrants, but I wouldn't know. I've encountered plenty of illegals in the construction industry and most were illiterate. Indeed, it seemed common for the crew leader to be the only person who could read.

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