So, what happened? Cowen’s thought-provoking book emphasizes several causes, including geographic immobility, housing prices, and monopolization ... Cowen’s book performs the trick of all successful idea-driven non-fiction. It provides an open invitation for the reader to think deeply, even when deep thinking leads to some disagreement ... The sign of a good book is that it helps readers see the world through a useful lens. Cowen’s book is a full of 'huh, I hadn’t thought about it like that' moments, even on topics that I’ve spent years thinking about.
Tyler Cowen is not the first observer to spot the digital world’s spirit of conformism — and he will not be the last. But he is among the most incisive ... One of Cowen’s strengths is his willingness to look beyond economics. Cowen is a polymath, who writes as passionately about ethnic food and foreign movies as he does about patent applications or labour market trends. He does not wait for the data before offering an opinion. That is what makes Cowen’s books so readable. But it also gives fellow academics an excuse to downplay what he is arguing. Much of Cowen’s latest thesis is highly speculative ... 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.
As fascinating as Cowen’s analysis can be, his grand thesis is ultimately unconvincing. I had a hard time understanding who exactly composes the complacent class. Initially, Cowen argues that the entire country is complacent, that despite the huge divisions of race and income in America, we are all 'more or less OK with this division of the spoils.' Can this be right? I wanted Cowen to offer some evidence, but I was hard-pressed to find it other than in Cowen’s assertions. Throughout the book, he redefines who it is he’s calling complacent ... Partly because Cowen isn’t clear as to who the complacent class is, it’s also not always clear that his data supports his thesis ... In the end, his point might be that some of us are complacent about certain aspects of life, and while there might be some benefits to this, there are also dangers lurking. Which makes for a book that accomplishes the laudable goal of making you think, if not one that delivers on its title.
Mr. Cowen is well-known for his free-market outlook. But The Complacent Class is refreshingly nonideological, filled with observations—e.g., the fact that a rising share of the federal budget is on autopilot—that will resonate with conservatives, liberals and libertarians ... Given Mr. Cowen’s own innovative thinking, it’s disappointing that he does not focus more on potential remedies to the torpor he describes. Instead, he puts forward a cursory set of ideas (he labels them 'deliberately speculative') for reviving American dynamism over the next two decades ... The Complacent Class is a useful corrective to the conventional wisdom that American ingenuity, sooner or later, will revive a low-growth economy.
As he builds his argument against complacency, Cowen regularly employs metaphors and analogies that help illuminate his positions; he is a skilled stylist and polished debater. In the final analysis, though, whether he is persuasive will depend heavily on how willing readers will be to accept sweeping generalizations about the American populace ... A book that will undoubtedly stir discussion—as many of Cowen’s books do—with readers divided about how they stand based on where they currently sit.
He concludes that such otherwise very different phenomena as the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and the rise of Donald Trump threaten this complacency and suggest that societal change is on the way. Cowan’s predictions take on a different coloring with the results of the 2016 presidential election, and it will be fascinating to see whether and how they come true.