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Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  467 ratings  ·  67 reviews
An against-the-grain polemic on American capitalism from New York Times bestselling author Tyler Cowen.

We love to hate the 800-pound gorilla. Walmart and Amazon destroy communities and small businesses. Facebook turns us into addicts while putting our personal data at risk. From skeptical politicians like Bernie Sanders who, at a 2016 presidential campaign rally said, "If
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by St. Martin's Press
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David Wineberg
Feb 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
Poor misunderstood corporations

For whatever reason, I never expected economist Tyler Cowen to show up as a bleeding-heart apologist for Big Business. His book of that very name is a fawning, treacly adoration of corporations and extremely highly-compensated CEOs. The syrup fairly drips from the pages.

He loves to compare corporations’ behavior to individuals, with all their deficiencies (but then gives an entire chapter to how corporations are not people). His diversions include: “Just look at th
General Kutuzov
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
First the good: Cowen is effective at debunking some of the small brained hot takes against big business. Much of the critiques of big business, as he rightly points out, are sentimental and ill founded. It is always chic to say “break up the big banks!” but is it smart? Cowen does a decent job of explaining why it is not. He made some generalized pro-finance arguments that I do not agree with but found creative and interesting.

But the bad: first, Cowen repeatedly reverts to explaining why Bad
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
A little meandering at parts but overall a great book with a lot of good information. Bottom line, capitalism really is an amazing idea that is the source of all the privilege, prosperity, and freedom and we have in America. People are flawed, and so the people that make up business naturally make the businesses flawed too... but on the whole larger corporation are better at driving towards fairness and equity. We are better off because of big business and it is in the interest of everyone to en ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm normally a big Tyler Cowen fan, but this book seems much more like an op-ed piece than an analytical work. Most of the arguments are opinions that don't seem to be supported by data or reality. Anecdotal, cherry picked data is everywhere. I've got to admit that I agree with most of what he says in this book, but I also realize that i agree for emotional reasons rather than rational reasons. It seems like too much of the current literature, academic works and media pundit views are all driven ...more
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, economics
Big Business : A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero (2019) by Tyler Cowen is a short, clever, interesting book where Cowen makes a strong argument about why corporations are actually very good for us.

Cowen writes a pro-business manifesto, writes how CEOs are not paid too much, writes on how the US is not subject to new monopolies, praises the big tech firms, praises finance, makes the point that control of congress by corporations is a myth and then tries to explain why corporations are dislik
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
Cowen prides himself on being an even handed contrarian, but at times his arguments were too cute for my taste. For example, does big business lie more than the average person?
“Personally, I would be hard-pressed to find a big business that lies to me as much as—presumably—my friends, family, and closest associates do. […] Shell may send me misleading information on a few big things—say, about climate change—but in my regular interactions with them and their retailing agents they are telling th
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Could have equally been titled: "Choosing Better Baselines for Evaluating Big Business". CEOs should not be compared to the average worker within their firm, but to the performance of their firms: "the sixfold increase in average CEO pay over the 1980–2003 period can be explained in large part by the roughly sixfold increase in average market capitalization over those same years." Satisfaction from work should be adjusted for the amount we have to do it: "If people prayed 6.9 hours a day, most o ...more
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Being the devoted neoliberal that I am, I thought I would would stand up and cheer for all of Tyler's arguments here. Yes, I did agree with most of what he says, but it was just not a very enjoyable or convincing read. I wanted something more persuasive and fun. ...more
Alex Zakharov
Sep 09, 2019 rated it liked it
These days big business gets a bad rap across political spectrum, and I liked that Cowen’s love letter pushes back against left and right flavors of the critiques. I don’t buy all of his arguments, but I’m sympathetic to most.

In particular, I thought that CEO compensation and Crony Capitalism chapters were very tightly argued. Elsewhere, I enjoyed his framing of business as being more honest (less fraudulent) than either the government or our fellow citizens. I didn’t buy the idea of big tech br
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
"A contrarian book that ought not to be contrarian"

This book is a good exploration and rebuttal of common anti-business and anti-capitalist themes that go around. Examples include "Big business control Washington" and the exaggerated claims on monopoly and market power.

Given the current state of young people professing their interest in socialism (mentioned in the book), I think a chapter of the benefits of the for-profit institution and system was the biggest miss of this book.

Also, I don't thi
Taylor Barkley
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is timely! I enjoy a good contrarian book and this is certainly that. The arguments are different in a good way. I was glad to see he tackled all the usual tropes about big business being bad.
Alex Yauk
Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Five star content, three star excitement. The chapter on tech companies and the final chapter are worth the price of admission.
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Cowen usually walks a very good contrarian but evenhanded line. No exception here.
Jennifer Snow
Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tyler Cowen does a good job of exposing a lot of the fallacies surrounding the common dislike of big business. Highly readable. Definitely recommend.
May 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
I read Cowen’s other books and they were usually quite ok. This one is however unique.

1. Cowen posited that Big Business can do no wrong, and had been vilified by progressives, Occupiers, Millennials and Democrats. They actually want socialism!
2. Big Business provides jobs for us, and service and products for us. Even if some frauds are discovered, it is only because businesses are run by people who commits fraud and tax evasion. Of course he did not mention that multinationals pay minimal tax
Christopher Mitchell
I have enjoyed many of Tyler's podcast interviews and found him to be thoughtful and interesting. I did not expect to agree with everything in a book celebrating big business, but I did expect it to have some coherence. I like to read things that challenge my views even when I end up disagreeing more strongly. Here I was just shaking my head at irrelevancies and wondering what the editor was possibly thinking.

As an example, Tyler goes totally off the rails when discussing whether work is fun. He
Lee Richardson
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
# Review
The end of my Tyler Cowen binge. This is a decent book, and provides counter arguments against typically complaints about business. In my experience, one of the best things about business, compared with other institutions, is that it goes through a 'market-test'. The market test is important because, at the end of the day, people either buy the, or they don't.

You can say this type of test happens elsewhere. But in business, the market test is direct from product to consumer, and it's op
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Good start for a love letter, but descends into fan drivel

Cowen attempts to write a reappraisal of “big business”, i.e. multinationals. Much deserved in my opinion, because American businesses have been a whipping boy of press and politics in general, and big tech and banks in particular. So far so good: for all the criticism, say, Google, Facebook and Amazon get, we must never forget how much their products and services have improved our lives.

Cowen does make some weird comments defending big
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
His thoughts on everything are always interesting, but this one felt a bit overextended. Still, I read it in one sitting.
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible, business
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tomas Nilsson
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I prefer the podcast (conversations with Tyler) the YouTube lectures (MR Univ) and the blog (marginal revolution dot com) to this book. The book is fairly one sided - most examples are about government failures and not market failures. Recommended read if you are into this stuff though.
Fraser Kinnear
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business, economics
Controversially moderate? It's a sign of the times that Cowen's contrarian opinion is in support of big business, but here we are.

Cowen uses inductive reasoning to argue that big business and it's many flavors have been and continue to be a force for good. He gives loads of examples for how they appear to be less corrupt, are more fair tax payers, compensate their employees well and their CEO's justifiably, and are not too short-term oriented.

There's interesting ideas throughout:
- The financial
Aug 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Makes good points, but only within an American context. For example, Cowen loves to champion capitalism because it has been the economic system of 21st century America and its liberal allies. First, we must ignore the fact that this prosperous status quo has only come through significant centralization and nationalization from the time of laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a point that Cowen is painfully unaware of as he lambasts "crony capitalism" while simultaneousl ...more
Robert Gebhardt
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: econ, business
A great book, although not as good as "Average is Over" or "The Great Stagnation".

I like the idea of how we should stop seeing companies as "people", thereby being "loyal" to them and being disappointed when they "let us down". However, he also explains how this is difficult because we, as humans, tend to anthropomorphize because we've been dealing with other humans for our entire existence, but corporations have only existed for around 100 years.

I'm not sure if I agree with his criticism of l
Alex Herder
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The premise of this book is a little absurd: An unabashed defense of corporations. After all, why would the most dominant collective enterprise legal structure need defending? It feels a bit like advocating for a "White History Month" or a defense of Christianity in the US. And in practice, this book does feel like this at times.

But at the same time, I felt like I needed this book. It's too easy to forget that corporations and markets are in fact responsible for the vast majority of the goods a
Andy Mcloughlin
Nov 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’ve been looking for a voice for conservative ideas which could hold up to serious scrutiny. I believe Tyler Cowen is that voice.

One of the striking things about Big Business is the critiques of the corporate landscapes which it leaves standing. If you come to this book with the belief that the U.S. financial crisis can be attributed to corporate greed and deregulation, that businesses have been destroying ecosystems for generations, and that the current wave of surveillance capitalists pose a
Tyler Cowen is a first rate economist. And he is an eclectic thinker. Thus, when I started this book I had reasonably high expectations. I have enjoyed his blog (Marginal Revolution) and even thought his book on the Great Stagnation was not entirely convincing that he made an interesting argument about whether the US economy had scooped up all the low hanging fruit and were condemned to slow growth and wage stagnation. (By the way the first three years after the 2016 election poked a lot of hole ...more
Oct 23, 2019 rated it liked it
The book makes some good points about the value of big businesses, whether they be in tech, finance, or industry. Cowen ably explains why executive compensation is so "high" and why banks too big to fail aren't actually that big. Furthermore, he argues that big business does not have as much influence in Washington as many might suggest, though he seems to downplay the reality of regulatory capture.

He has some funky ideas for why he judge businesses the way that we do. Believe it or not, he does
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Cowen explores the many underrated aspects of big business and why it is so often portrayed as a villain in society. He looks into the issues of high CEO pay, perceived monopolies/oligopolies, corporate culture, big finance, and crony capitalism. In most cases government is as bad or worse as a channel for corruption. Or the two need to pair up, via crony capitalism, to subvert democracy. But Cowen shows that instead of consistently higher prices and lower quality, as one would expect with monop ...more
Dec 14, 2021 rated it it was ok
I adore Tyler, but the man should stick to articles and blog posts. He was going to get a single star, but this quote at the eleventh hour pushed him up to two:

“You can debate exactly how true or untrue our generally held picture of freedom in modern commercial society is, but I can’t help feeling that part of it is a lie. The system offers many formal properties of freedom, such as the immense choice of products and jobs, and the relative lack of imposed coercion on most of these decisions. Sti
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Premature reviews 1 7 Apr 09, 2019 11:24AM  

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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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