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The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,600 ratings  ·  211 reviews
Since Alexis de Tocqueville, restlessness has been accepted as a signature American trait. Our willingness to move, take risks, and adapt to change have produced a dynamic economy and a tradition of innovation from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs.

The problem, according to legendary blogger, economist and bestelling author Tyler Cowen, is that Americans today have broken from th
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by St. Martin's Press
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Chad Agreed. I think that is because he understands the limits of his expertise. He is an economist and social observer. Things like restrictive zoning law…moreAgreed. I think that is because he understands the limits of his expertise. He is an economist and social observer. Things like restrictive zoning laws are not likely to be changed anytime soon and he doesn't pretend to have answers on how to reform these types of policies. (less)

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Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Wasn’t really a fan of this book. Cowen just lists a bunch of problems in our economy but offers no blueprint on how to solve them. The only time he does is in the second chapter where he presents a study showing that deregulation in America’s largest cities would increase GDP by 9.5%. Really would’ve have been nice of some more solutions were offered. I will say this though: the writing style was very nice. Other than that this book isn’t very good.
Mar 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Incoherent. It is an overly long blog post. I don't disagree with the premise that the country is suffering from a lack of striving. We value safety and relative comfort of the conditions that we have. There is no need, in our complacent minds, to risk or strive for something better. Cite a few facts, stats and resources and the book would be complete. Cowen doesn't offer any solutions. It's a downer of a book. For a country locked in complacency, wouldn't some solutions help? I'd recommend read ...more
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the realm of "why Trump/Sanders in 2016", this book has one of the best takes I've encountered. It fits with the general Cowen theme of stagnation but expands on how and why America has come to prefer stability to dynamism and what that means for the cyclical nature of civilizations, with ours in particular. I find myself yearning for stability as I grow older so this book prodded me in an important way. ...more
Graeme Roberts
May 28, 2017 rated it liked it
As a profession, economists could be said to have the imagination and creativity of a fart. Please forgive the vulgarism, which I have loved for fifty years, though it is normally applied to intelligence, as in Trump has the brains of a fart. Tyler Cowen is the joyful exception, and that pushed this book from a grudging two stars to three.

I guess that New York Times Bestselling Authors probably get multi-book deals and generous advances that make it necessary to sometimes squeeze them out before
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was more thought-provoking than I expected, and provides timely hypotheses regarding the current politico-economic status quo and its future. Cowen argues that too many in the United States – including the wealthy, those in the middle class who are comfortable, and those without many resources – are content with the way things are politically and economically. This complacency is distinctly opposed to the American dream, which is built on the premise that Americans can raise their posi ...more
Janet Bufton
Aug 08, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a book that's worth reading just to become aware of the data that Cowen has accumulated, which is often jarring and definitely worth further study. It's a good companion to Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, as it helps to put Murray's findings on the white working class into the context of the issues facing America more broadly.

As is sometimes the case when I read Cowen, while I appreciate the pattern that he's identified here, I do not think he makes a compelling cas
Wesley Roth
Tyler Cowen is one of the handful of economists I follow and read regularly (his blog is I was excited to read his new book and got my hands on an Advanced copy (set for release on 2/28). As the book jacket summarizes, "We're more comfortable, but there are downsides to this comfort: heightened inequality and segregation, and decreased incentives to innovate and create. The Complacent Class argues that convenience will lead to crisis and that Americans must re-br ...more
John  Mihelic
May 03, 2017 rated it it was ok



I come to praise Tyler Cowen, not to bury him.

I don’t want to bury anyone, really. But the praise will be faint.

I like Tyler. He’s good on the blogs. He’s good on the Twitter.

I just think he’s wrong a lot. And in his book, he over-reaches his thesis.

I’m not sure if this is a failure of me as a reader or of Tyler as a writer, but I’m not really sure who falls in the circle of his “Complacent Class”.
The whole thing reads as someone who decided on a thesis and then tried to
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: what-happened
Cowen's Complacent Class seems pretty tired if you read it in one sense -- the old man who looks at the changed world, thinking "how did they get it so wrong?" Here are two quotes to substantiate that observation:

"The forces behind the rise of the complacent class are quite general. For better or worse, the truth is that peace and high incomes tend to drain the restlessness of people."

Who cares about restlessness? And this from someone who has clearly cashed in on the boomer generation's expandi
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
I am a big fan of Tyler Cowen. His blog, Marginal Revolution, his columns for Bloomberg and especially his podcast demonstrate his wide-ranging intelligence. This book, however, seems to be in the big idea mode of Gladwellian best sellers, but without the central narrative or point of view. I found it vastly inferior to Cowen's other (and free) discourses.

If you can get past the 'maybes' 'probablys' and 'perhapses' - Cowen's argument is a simple corollary to his previous Great Stagnation and Ave
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was pretty cynical at first. Americans complacent? Tocqueville had observed that America is restless and striving. But I was quite convinced by the end of the book.

So Americans are not moving, not building, not mixing, not taking risks with new businesses. Eventually that will leads to stasis of the economy and thus lack of opportunities for young people etc.

Obviously it does not only apply to America; all advanced countries suffer the same problem. One only needs to look at Japan and Europe
Daniel Frank
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I never considered the "Complacent Class" thesis before opening this book, but found it to be obviously true after only one chapter. The idea is important and deserves wider recognition.

As a chief member of the complacent class, now i'm left to ponder what this means for both myself and my society; unfortunately, Dr. Cowen provides few answers to this.

This books reads very similar to the other Cowen books, but none the less, is very insightful, interesting and (most importantly) a quick read.

Davis Parker
Jun 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
It’s hard to think of a book that has aged better in the post-COVID world than The Complacent Class. Cowen’s analysis is well-researched, insightful, and – most impressively – clairvoyantly predictive. Does he predict a virus-borne global pandemic? No, but he predicts that our cultural stasis could be shaken by an external force which challenges the legitimacy of our lethargic institutions and reorganizes our society economically and culturally. The question is: would we be up to the challenge? ...more
Andrew Carr
Mar 31, 2017 rated it liked it
“I tell you: one must still have chaos in oneself, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you have still chaos in yourselves. Alas! There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.
Lo! I show you the Last Man.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (1891).

Worries about the decline of spirit in modernity are not new. It forms the basis of Nietzsche’s famous critique of the l
Sep 01, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Unsatisfying, undialectical, and boring. Mr. Cowen seems to prefer a life of opinion column-making over actual economic analysis.
Alex Zakharov
May 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In a couple of recent interviews Tyler brought up his worry that too much flexibility in one’s opinions can result in ossification of one’s world view. And I suppose an argument can be made that today’s obsession with ‘causal density’ of complex domains and increasing public awareness of various careful but conflicting studies seems to result in too many intellectuals taking pride in being fastidiously non-dogmatic which in turn can yield dogmatism of higher caliber. In ‘Complacent Class’ Tyler ...more
Stanley Xue
Jan 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Published in 2017, Cowen presents a compelling thesis - a product of our times - seeking to describe the economic and social strifes/unease/tensions characterising America and the Western world.

That we have as a society become more 'complacent' - more stuck in our ways. Despite the voices for equity/equality/'social progress', Cowen presents a story where the people of America suffer from reduced income, geographical, and social mobility. This loss of 'dynamism' is good for those that have 'mad
The American Conservative
For most of American history it seemed that anything was possible—that the next generation would live significantly different and better lives. Today that sense of dynamism is waning. We are more anxious to keep what we have, and to avoid others who might see the world differently or threaten our status, than we are eager to create something new.

The only major exception is information technology, which has spawned a stunning revolution over the past several decades. But paradoxically the interne
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tyler presents a really interesting premise in this book. Although many of the points seem to rely on anecdotal evidence, his conclusions are really plausible. Having grown up in the 50s and 60s I had a chance to participate (or at least witness) in the turmoil on campus and in the country. I think he's right in his assessment that we've been coddling ourselves for years. Increased focus on safety and risk reduction does make for weaker people and a less dynamic environment. We fight about probl ...more
Feb 22, 2017 rated it liked it
There is little doubt that America is slowly crumbling, as each empire which preceded it has. In his newest analytical critique, Mr. Cowen has cast his perceptive light on what initially seems to be a minor crack in America's foundation, and reveals an intricate mosaic of phenomena exposing dangers of a most serious nature. There are a great many well researched statistics bandied about to buttress his observations, and to his credit he does not submerge himself so deeply in them that they cripp ...more
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really liked it. Really good book. Must read. I read "Average Is Over" first and after that "The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History" and finally The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. I think these books are like a puzzle that build a strong foundation to understand economics and being a better person. Thank you Tyler for helping me to understand a new horizon view that without you I believe that I couldn't see it. Grea ...more
James Giammona
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good exposition of how our society has become less dynamic. Lots of good statistics and arguments. Kind of a grim expectation for the near future that our society (both in the US and globally) will be forced out of its stasis. Definitely recommend!
Peter S
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up because I have really enjoyed Tyler Cowen’s podcast (Conversations with Tyler), and wanted to see what a book by him would be like. Although way more economic/social science-y in content, it also fit into a larger constellation of books I have been reading that generally argue that systems are like other systems and systems work best when not hampered down by artificial processes. The angle is completely different, but the general point (that I got out of it) was actually q ...more
Jeffrey Mervosh
Mar 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Cowen, a prolific blogger, has a lot of interesting insights and ideas. He writes and talks (he's a great podcast guest) frequently, and in this case he chose to expand one of these ideas into a book. While Cowen fills the book with interesting anecdotes and a few choice observations on American culture and society, the overall case that the culmination of years of progress toward automation, technological customization, and broader access to basic goods (internet, literacy, etc) has led to the ...more
Fraser Kinnear
I've been reading Tyler Cowen's blog for a few years now, and also enjoy his podcast. I also happened to read a few book reviews when this was published a few years ago. So I was familiar with most of the book.

Some interesting facts, mostly copied verbatim:
- according to some, ~20% of boys aged 14-17 in the US today have been diagnosed with ADHD, although this diagnosis didn't exist in DSM until 1980
- the share of Americans under 30 who own a business has fallen by about 65% since the 1980s
- The
Dec 20, 2017 rated it liked it
The book provides a comprehensive explanation for the growing trend of anti-globalism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-elitism (I'm mindful of the use of the word "populism", in fact I do not consider the polarizing events of 2016 to be populist at all) as observed in the past several years. The election of Trump into the White House and the supposedly surprising result of the Brexit referendum (duh!) are all good contemporary examples of this increasingly visible ideological drift. Cowen's contr ...more
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it
This book compiles much evidence for the complacency that has crept into American life since the 1970s, resulting in reduced migration, less risk-taking, higher stability, fewer startups and lower investment in tomorrow's infrastructure. Many of these examples that Cowen spends about 150 pages on is derivative, lacks concision, and would have been better as a long form magazine article.
However, the book is somewhat redeemed in the last quarter where the author explores some interesting ideas. C
Mike Siegel
Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love Tyler's writing on his blog Marginal Revolution and his other books. I was excited to read this despite knowing it was going to be depressing.

Overall I agree with Tyler's main theory that Americans have become more risk averse as time has went on and this has resulted in a complacent class that is less likely to innovate as quickly as our predecessors. Tyler does a great job citing stats to back up his theories. He talks about how Americans are less likely to move for an opportunity than
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, 2019
"I've found more and more that, in modern America, whenever we argue for doing something virtuous [...] we will find something deeply calming, stabilizing, and risk-reducing beneath the surface."

The Complacent Class is a somewhat dismal anatomy of, and a jeremiad against, a social phenomenon that Cowen characterizes as a culture of risk aversion, comfort and security in the United States. While stipulating that American complacency is an indicator of relative prosperity and stability, the book t
Jon Senn
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Parts of the book were interesting food for thought, but I wasn't convinced that the content as a whole really ought to form a single narrative. It felt like Cowen really had to stretch to attach some of the strands of thought to his main narrative. It's possible that I didn't give the book enough focus to really understand it.

In particular, it felt to me that Cowen plays fast and loose with his definition of the Complacent Class. In the introduction, he breaks it up into three groups, the small
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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

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