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

Published Date: January 5, 2017

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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 best selling author Tyler Cowen, is that Americans today have broken from this tradition—we’re working harder than ever to avoid change. We’re moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.


Of course, this “matching culture” brings tremendous positives: music we like, partners who make us happy, neighbors who want the same things. We’re more comfortable. But, according to Cowen, there are significant collateral downsides attending this comfort, among them heightened inequality and segregation and decreased incentives to innovate and create.

The Complacent Class argues that this cannot go on forever. We are postponing change, due to our near-sightedness and extreme desire for comfort, but ultimately this will make change, when it comes, harder. The forces unleashed by the Great Stagnation will eventually lead to a major fiscal and budgetary crisis: impossibly expensive rentals for our most attractive cities, worsening of residential segregation, and a decline in our work ethic. The only way to avoid this difficult future is for Americans to force themselves out of their comfortable slumber―to embrace their restless tradition again.


The Complacent Class in the Media:

This Century Is Broken—David Brooks, New York Times

Economist Tyler Cowen Thinks Americans Are Too Complacent—Jeffrey Sparshott, Wall Street Journal

The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

Dreaming Small: How America Lost Its Taste for Risk—Edward Luce, Financial Times

The Unseen Threat to America: We Don’t Leave Our Hometowns—Tyler Cowen, Time

The State of the American Dream—Ian Bremmer and Tyler Cowen, Charlie Rose

Perpetual Adolescence: American Life in the 21st Century—Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

Lazy Does It: How American Workers Got Lazy—Matthew Rees, Wall Street Journal

When the Pursuit of Happiness Becomes the Flight from Pain—David French, National Review

Upper Class Elites Might Hate Trump, but They Were Key to His Success—Ana Swanson, Washington Post

America’s ‘Complacent Class’: How Self-Segregation Is Leading To Stagnation—Heidi Glenn, NPR

A Top Economist Says Americans Are Not Nearly as Ambitious or Innovative as They Think—Tyler Cowen, Quartz

The Complacent Class—Tyler Cowen and Brett McKay, The Art of Manliness

How America Gave Up on Change—Walter Frick, Harvard Business Review

The American Wealthy Have Been Redefining Social Status through a Practice Known as ‘Countersignaling’—Tyler Cowen, Business Insider

Wake Up Already, America’s ‘Complacent Class’—Tom Ashbrook and Tyler Cowen, On Point on WBUR

The Comforts of FamiliarityThe Economist

Eat, Think, Light a Fire under the Complacent—Bryan Appleyard, The Times

Debating American Complacency—Tyler Cowen and Noah Smith, Bloomberg

How to Shake Up the Complacent Class: A Debate—Tyler Cowen and Noah Smith, Bloomberg

Tyler Cowen on Complacency, Immobility, and Stagnation—Tyler Cowen and David Beckworth, Macro Musings

Americans Have Become Lazy, and It’s Hurting the Economy—Heather Long, CNN Money


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