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

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  227 ratings  ·  43 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
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Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by St. Martin's Press
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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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
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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
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Jon
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 ...more
Daniel
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 ...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
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Gabriel
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
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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.
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.
R.
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Cowen usually walks a very good contrarian but evenhanded line. No exception 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.
Brian
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: april, 2019
His thoughts on everything are always interesting, but this one felt a bit overextended. Still, I read it in one sitting.
Jack
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
Phil
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.
J.
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Daniel
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
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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
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Rutger
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
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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
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Pete
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, nonfiction
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
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Ocean Gebhardt
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, econ
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
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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
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E
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
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Matt
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 ...more
Ben Hughes
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tyler is an economist and polymath who writes for Marginal Revolution. Although I am a fan of his unfailingly insightful podcast and blog posts, I am less a fan of his writing style in book form.

This book pushes back against commonly negative narratives about business, and Tyler does come at this with much stronger arguments than I was anticipating. Most of the negativity towards business does seem to be sourced more in "feeling" than "thinking", and Tyler Cowen does think fairly deeply about
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Benjamin
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some of this book is very very good. Tyler Cowen makes some very good points, and the last chapter, about the personalization of Corporations, is a work of art.

In 3/4 of the book, very sadly, Cowen seems to choose his arguments to counter very carefully, and seems to be choosing the easiest arguments to counter rather than the most significant. For example, his defense of facebook against charges of undue and harmful political influence is full of easy cases, and doesn't mention Myanmar, Sri
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Jeremy
Jul 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I generally agree with most of his points, so I may not be the intended audience. I think some people who dislike this book are making a point that he didn't bring up certain negative aspects of business that they think negate his whole premise. Rather I think the point of the book is to give a reasonable response to some popular sentiments against business. Certainly there are pluses and negatives, but those who seem to think businesses provide no public good should moderate that stance. There ...more
Ryan Lackey
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A decent summary of why business, particularly modern American corporations, is good. I guess this is contrarian among mainstream people these days, and the arguments might be somewhat convincing, but there weren't enough "compare business to other areas of life" to really convince someone who wasn't already at least somewhat pro-business. As an ardent capitalist, there was nothing new in this book or really terribly interesting, but it was a quick listen at 3.5x on a plane to a Maltese ...more
Brian Denton
Apr 30, 2019 rated it liked it
A sharp, fact-based apology for American big business. Topics treated include corporate fraud, CEO pay, work, monopoly, tech companies, financial sector and crony capitalism.

I'm the choir Cowen is preaching to with this one so I'm probably not the most critical of his readers. That said, he provides extensive notes and a selected bibliography full of news reports, economics studies and books so you can check out his claims for yourself.

Big Business is a short and easy read. Perfect for the
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Josiah Parry
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: econ
This was a very solid book. I do not think it read as a love letter, but more of a reasoned analysis of Big Business in the US. The book essentially follow the structure of introducing an issue in big business, pointing out to the function that these structures take on (i.e. big banks), and some of the positive externalities they produce. In addition, he draws on a bit of behavioral economics to illustrate that humans are not rational and as such our reactions to big business aren't completely ...more
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Premature reviews 1 5 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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“All of the criticisms one might mount against the corporate form—some of which are valid—pale in contrast to two straightforward and indeed essential virtues. First, business makes most of the stuff we enjoy and consume. Second, business is what gives most of us jobs. The two words that follow most immediately from the world of business are “prosperity” and “opportunity.” 0 likes
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