Tyler Cowen, somewhat conservative economist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and a New Jersey state chess champion, has a new and brief book “The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream”.
Cowen believes in a cyclical behavior of peoples throughout history. When a major culture, such as the U.S., becomes more stable and “safer”, people innovate less, and wealthier or better-off people become more insular. It becomes harder for less fortunate people to participate meaningfully in the system and to advance. I advanced this idea myself in my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (2014). That tends to lead ultimately to breakdowns and new cycles of unrest and instability. Although, actually, the uncertainty is generated by shortsighted behavior by the better-off, as we saw with the 2008 financial crisis, where the “rich” goaded the “poor” into taking on debts they could not pay back (the subprime scandal).
I can relate to this personally. I did get an “inheritance” at the end of 2010, so I have kept on writing without demanding much compensation for it. Otherwise, I might have more incentive to take risks and create “real businesses” that can actually employ others. Or I might have more incentive to have a bigger personal stake in both “other people’s causes” and in actual volunteer efforts (and be willing to demonstrate and sometimes take other people’s bullets).
That fits into the idea of populism and anti-elitism that helped Donald Trump win the election and helped Britain leave the EU.
Cowen does attribute some of today’s complacency to the Internet, and the way it can lead to people of like minds to clump together and ignore larger truths. This can become expressed in “assortative matching” even in dating (like using fitbit watch data in real time) and marriage, but it can also lead to aggregations of fake news that can sway politics.
The Internet also tends to make some people less interested in the physical world, as he notes by talking about how some people used to collect records and CD’s of classical music (as I did) but now can depend on the Cloud. Economically, the use of “free” content is a mixed bag, as it gives more people a chance to be heard (as it did for me), but makes it harder for many people to make a real living at it (outside of the idea of “Make the A-List”).
He also notes that the level of violence and rebellion has been greater in the past (like the 1960s and early 1970s) than now, but that, as the Black Lives Matter movement (in response to police profiling) shows, the extreme indignation of some people can make this kind of energy come back, and burst into the lives of the sheltered.
He often mentions gay rights, going back to Stonewall in 1969, which was pretty energetic. He gives a nod to gay conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, and notes that gay marriage or abstract equality was not particularly compelling as an idea until after Y2K.
It was easier in the past for someone with “nothing” too work him or herself into wealth that it is today. He notes that even in authoritarian countries like China, it is easier for some people to do this today than it is in the U.S., where people are no longer as “hungry” for wealth or even for others.
Cowen is not optimistic that the Internet, which gave me a second career as a self-made journalist-pundit, will continue to be the source of truth for those who want to store it there. He thinks crime could undermine the entire digital revolution, and be the Big Rip of our complacency. The Great Moderation will indeed end.
Cowen mentions the issue of campus protective environments (example is “Mizzou”) but doesn’t get into the issue of speech codes, micro-aggressions and trigger warnings the way he could. Campus environments are promoting complacency while pretending to favor activism.
|Title, Subtitle:||“The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream“|
|Publication:||St. Martin’s Press, 240 pages, hardcover, 9 chapters, endnotes, index|
(Posted: Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 3 PM)