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The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  1,661 Ratings  ·  166 Reviews
America is in disarray and our economy is failing us. We have been through the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and talk of a double-dip recession persists. Americans are not pulling the world economy out of its sluggish state -- if anything we are looking to Asia to drive a recovery. Median wages have risen only sl ...more
ebook, 64 pages
Published January 25th 2011 by Dutton Books (first published January 14th 2011)
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Thomas Bach
Oct 09, 2011 Thomas Bach rated it did not like it
Stagnation as Misinformation

Alerted by Matthew Yglesias to a "bravura performance by one of the most interesting thinkers out there" on the cause of the current economic mess, I rushed, metaphorically speaking, to the Kindle store and spent 4 dollars on Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. This is fairly awful book. Cowen's tone is condescending; his use of history is superficial, his notion
Jun 12, 2011 Amber rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful mini-book reflecting on the slowing pace of technological process, how US economic growth has changed as a result, and what that means for the next 30 years. Cowen's thesis--that much of the growth from 1940-'75 came from "low-hanging fruit" and will not easily be duplicated--makes a lot of sense to me, as does his assertion that further improving educational attainment will be worthwhile but very hard. As usual, Cowen is at his best not at developing revolutionary ideas but ...more
Kamila Forson
In this quick, conversational read, Tyler Cowen makes several astute points that I find myself easily agreeing with. His central argument is how our level of technological innovation is not nearly what it was during the so-called era of "low-hanging fruit" (1870-1970), which has in turn impacted our productivity and wages; and the three sectors of our greatest growth in the last 40 years (government, healthcare, and education) suffer from a "massive government distortion of incentives." He views ...more
Umair Khan
Mar 06, 2013 Umair Khan rated it really liked it
The Great Stagnation, a 15,000 word e-book by economist Tyler Cowen, has become the most discussed non-fiction book of the year.

The main thesis of the book is that advanced economies, particularly the American economy, have been facing low rates of growth because they have not experienced any scientific or technological paradigm shifts (to use Thomas Kuhn’s term), for a long time.

Refreshingly, the book has no ideological leanings. In fact, Cowen has criticised the approach of both Republicans an
Jun 01, 2011 Craig rated it really liked it
This is a must read for those who care about current economic trends. So often, the media parrots the same old tired cliches regarding the economy which seem to have become outdated in a rapidly changing world.

I've thought a lot about many of the ideas Cowen describes in this book, but they've all kind of been a patchwork in my mind, and this book helped me to start to bring together these ideas into a more cohesive line of thought. A few of these ideas include:

1) The fundamental reason for our
Apr 28, 2012 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
This is an interesting little book. It is tightly written and well argued, which serve to make it a very easy read. In fact, I managed the whole book on one return train ride to London.

There are a number of ideas that are worth exploring within the book, but the core message is that technology has driven economic growth since the late Eighteenth Century, and that the pace of innovation has fallen to the point where the pace of growth is slowing as well. What does that mean? well, first and forem
Feb 17, 2011 Andypants rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Cowen presents an economic history that is much more believable than most. There are no good guys or bad guys, and we all make some good decisions and some bad ones (still some people are more helpful than others). Notably we all do a number of things just because they are easy and "make sense at the time", which is a powerful force in decision-making that economics as a field is just starting to integrate.

One example of his central thesis, is that while The Railroad/Highways/Air freight (as inv
Andreas Jungherr
In this essay the economist Tyler Cowen advances an enlightening conjecture on the reasons for the ongoing troubles of the US economy. He argues that there are two sources for widespread economic growth. To him one source is the development of new technologies and the attempt to solve hard social and scientific problems. As a second source he identifies economic growth based on the widespread adoption of new technologies and solutions of formerly hard problems. For Cowen the US, and probably in ...more
Mar 17, 2012 Jeremiah rated it it was ok
Cowen takes a stab at the problem of America losing its economic mojo since the 1970's. His theory: the unparalleled prosperity of the US from the 1800's through 1950 was the result of easy pickins in the areas of:
1. free (stolen) land
2. productivity increases resulting from public education
3. technology breakthroughs (steam engine, radio/electrical devices, plastics and so on)
While the internet is the main breakthrough we can point to since the 1970's it does not represent a huge improvement in
Aug 24, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it

You may not agree with much of what Cowen has to say, or even with his (depressing) main theme, but I found this book stimulating and often refreshing.

Cowen is an economist at George Mason University, and the main message in this e-book is that the progress of America and the rest of the developed world in the past century or so has been driven largely by "low hanging fruit" that has now disappeared -- cheap and abundant land, new technologies that revolutionized our economies and increased inc
Nov 09, 2011 Joshua rated it liked it
Shelves: america, economics
Considering how often we hear about the immense innovation happening on the Internet, it is jarring to read a book which argues that this innovation is largely useless from an economic perspective. But this short book (which is damn cheap for Kindles!) makes a strong argument that the American economy isn't going back to where it was before 2008 without some fundamental changes that aren't going to come around as a result of fiscal or monetary policy. The strong economic era of the recent past, ...more
Sep 14, 2011 Ray rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very quick read, which offers several reasons why high economic growth in the U.S. has limits, and an economic cooling off period is to be expected. I liked the fact that, unlike many Republicans who will say a decline in U.S. GNP is the fault of the Democrats / Obama, or unlike many Democrats who will say the same about the Republican / Bush policies, Cowen takes the politics out of it, and just offers reasons which are for the most part, attributable to a number of causes outside the spectrum ...more
Diego Petrucci
Jan 17, 2016 Diego Petrucci rated it really liked it
Fascinating quick read about the causes of the recent recession and the apparent (or not) stagnation.

Cowen's main thesis - that we "ate" all the low hanging fruit - is probably right and a bit depressing. What lies ahead of us is a general slowdown, but we probably shouldn't despair - it's just a phase, even if it may take a while to end (and you can thank the "free-ness" of the internet for that).
May 18, 2017 Loni rated it really liked it
This is basically an essay so it is a quick read. Cowen is an economist and a professor at George Mason University. He argues that the West grew exponentially because of the “low-hanging fruit” of vast resources that allowed for technological and industrial revolutions. Once those resources were used up, we stagnated and are basically scratching our heads as to how to recreate that growth. He posits the internet brings great information but not much revenue. Most of the services (Netflix vs movi ...more
Brad Revell
May 06, 2017 Brad Revell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: how-tos, wealth
The reason I bought this book to read was given it was labeled a prequel by many readers to Cowen's latest book; The Complacent Class. It would provide a good introduction to the next book I'm about to read in how we have become quite complacent as a society given the low-hanging fruit and resulting financial crisis. It is an easy book that would take you 1 - 2 hours to read at most. Like most reviews I read prior this doesn't look to solve the problems, but more presents the problem and why it ...more
Apr 22, 2012 Milad rated it really liked it
According to Cowen, US median income growth has been fairly stagnant since 1973. Liberals often attribute this trend to “Reaganism,” the decline of unions, and “deregulation.” (Never mind that the US govt spends much more as a % of GDP now as opposed to the 70s and that the Federal Register is a lot thicker.) But this stagnation trend can be seen throughout the First World, such as in Canada.

Why the slowdown in growth relative to old periods? Cowen attributes this to “low hanging fruit.”(1) Peo
Lis Carey
Apr 24, 2011 Lis Carey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a long essay about what Tyler Cowen considers to be the real roots of our current economic and political frustrations: a stagnation in technological advances that started around 1970. This sounds counter-intuitive, but Cowen makes a good case for his approach.

Up until that point, America always had a great deal of what Cowen refers to as "low-hanging fruit": first, and for a very long time, land so abundant it was practically free. Europeans could come to America, stake their claim, work
Mar 25, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it
I think a lot of the problem people have with the book comes down to terminology, with author coining "The Great Stagnation" to describe the current economy and using phrases such as "why we are failing" and "are you worried yet?" After all, I do not feel like we are stagnating or failing, and the only thing that worries me is the unsustainable government budget and the impending fiscal crisis.

I agree that my Grandparents saw huge changes in the world over their lifetimes, probably bigger than
Justin Tapp
Jan 12, 2014 Justin Tapp rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Tyler Cowen's The Great Stagnation was the conversation-leader at the beginning of the year. Everyone read it, wrote columns about it, or blogged about it. Pundits still refer to it and debate it quite often. If I were assigning a book for students or faculty or policy makers to read and discuss, this would be at the top of the list.

Cowen's hypothesis is that much of the U.S.'s growth in the last 200 years has been by picking the "low-hanging" fruit:
1. As U.S. expanded westward, it acquired more
Aaron Arnold
Mar 27, 2012 Aaron Arnold rated it really liked it
Very rarely do I read an essay where I agree so strongly with the overall premise, yet disagree so strongly with so many of the supporting arguments. Cowen is a fairly libertarian economist best-known for his blog, but even though I'm much more liberal than he is I still keep up with him just because he's one of the more intellectually ecumenical economists out there, and one of the few who seems truly comfortable with the rapidly changing technological landscape we live in (indeed, this extende ...more
Jun 30, 2012 Stephen rated it it was ok
Recommended to Stephen by: EconTalk
The Great Stagnation: How America Ate all the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better
© 2011 Tyler Cowen
110 pages

In The Great Stagnation, Tyler Cowen takes a long view of human economic history, asserting that the explosive growth that followed the Industrial Revolution has tapered off and been reversed not because of human mistakes, but because the particular situations which allowed for rapid, expansive growth no longer exist,. These conditions are the "
Umair Khan
The Great Stagnation, a 15,000 word e-book by economist Tyler Cowen, has become the most discussed non-fiction book of the year.
The main thesis of the book is that advanced economies, particularly the American economy, have been facing low rates of growth because they have not experienced any scientific or technological paradigm shifts (to use Thomas Kuhn’s term), for a long time.

Refreshingly, the book has no ideological leanings. In fact, Cowen has criticised the approach of both Republicans an
C. Derick
Oct 17, 2014 C. Derick rated it liked it
Cowen's discussion of the technological plateau and move away from innovation in the productive economy is insightful at first. He is right that the 30 year cycle we saw with major innovations in most fields seemed to stop in the 1960s, and these cycles have shifted. He does mention as a off-hand aside that this was partly because of stolen land, and he does seem to talk about educational plateaus. He mentions India and China, and then things start to slide. For example, he seems to think market ...more
Mar 29, 2011 Converse rated it liked it

Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, diagnoses the cause of our current political and economic discontents as due to slow economic growth. He says this slow down started in the early 1970s. He believes the root problem is a slowing down in technical innovation, which results in a lower increase in economic productivity, which in turn causes slower growth. Some of this slow down in technical innovation was probably inevitable, as for example a greater proportion of the population rece

Christopher Long
Feb 13, 2011 Christopher Long rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend Tyler Cowen's new e-book "The Great Stagnation"; it could end up spurring a debate and having long-term policy implications enough to make it one of the more important economic writings of the last decade or so. While naive in some ways, especially with regards to how technology typically emerges, I'd argue that the conclusion is essentially sound. The impact of such stagnation for an industry dependent on activity choice for leisure time and discretionary spending are quite o ...more
Randall Parker
Jan 12, 2013 Randall Parker rated it really liked it
A needed book. It challenges the assumption that we can count on the fast economic growth and rising living standards characteristic of post-World War II Western countries for most of the latter half of the 20th century. We've harvested a few kinds of low handing fruit (land moved into production, easily accessible natural resources, added years of education for smarter folks, discoveries that were easy to make which had big impact) that drove our rising living standards.

In 1959 at Caltech Richa
Mar 22, 2011 Bryce rated it really liked it
This is a quick read, first published exclusively as an e-book, on the forces that have been constraining further advances in productivity in the last 40-odd years. It's succinct and well done. Author Tyler Cowen suggest Americans (and presumably the other developed economies) have consumed most of the "low hanging fruit" available for the rapid gains in productivity. These fruit included universal education/literacy, "free" land and resources, and the energy transformation that has wired and po ...more
May 03, 2013 Rick rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Decent overview of Cowen's theory, shared by many, including Peter Thiel, about why our country is "stagnating." Is the theory true? I don't know. I would have loved to see him wrestle with business cycle theory - some of the more obvious ones, but also people like Carlotta Peres. In reading the book, I kept that in my head as my default theory, looking for explanations as to why we may not be in a fairly predictable spot in an economic trend. No real explanation was offered. Not that that's a f ...more
Nick Klagge
Mar 07, 2011 Nick Klagge rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
This is really more of a long article than a book, but worth reading for anyone with an interest in applied, nonmathematical economic thinking. I certainly do not agree with all of Cowen's arguments, but I think he makes some important points.

He argues that American prosperity and growth up to the mid twentieth century was due to capturing three forms of "low-hanging fruit": free land, broadening education to a much wider group of people, and technological innovation. The first two are pretty in
Laura Carmignani
Dec 07, 2016 Laura Carmignani rated it liked it
In questo saggio Cowen tratta della situazione economica, politica e sociale degli Stati Uniti degli ultimi 1-2 secoli.

Con uno stile semplice e chiaro riesce a far capire, anche a quelli duri come dei muli (come la sottoscritta), il modo in cui questa potenza mondiale sia riuscita ad arrivare al massimo delle sue potenzialità e anche perché adesso, purtroppo, si ritrovi a un punto fermo.

La grande crescita americana era dovuta soprattutto alle innovazioni e alle tecnologie, in particolar modo a
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Tyler Cowen (born January 21, 1962) occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and is co-author, with Alex Tabarrok, of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. He currently writes the "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times and writes for such magazines as The New Republic and The Wilson Quarterly.

Cowen's primary research interest is
More about Tyler Cowen...

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“...apart from the seemingly magical internet, life in broad material terms isn't so different from what it was in 1953...The wonders portrayed in THE JETSONS, the space-age television cartoon from the 1960s, have not come to pass...Life is better and we have more stuff, but the pace of change has slowed down compared to what people saw two or three generations ago.” 3 likes
“Most Web activities do not generate jobs and revenue at the rate of past technological breakthroughs. When Ford and General Motors were growing in the early part of the twentieth century, they created millions of jobs and helped build Detroit into a top-tier U.S. city. Today, Facebook creates a lot of voyeuristic pleasure, but the company doesn’t employ many people and hasn’t done much for Palo Alto; a lot of the “work” is performed more or less automatically by the software and the servers. You could say that the real work is done by its users, in their spare time and as a form of leisure. Web 2.0 is not filling government coffers or supporting many families, even though it’s been great for users, programmers, and some information technology specialists. Everyone on the Web has heard of Twitter, but as of Fall 2010, only about three hundred people work there.” 1 likes
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