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The Complacent Class, Sex Robots, and Deathbed Regrets: A Conversation with Tyler Cowen

Get your daily dose of unconventional economic analysis.

Last week, I sat down with economist Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution and Ethnic Dining Guide fame to talk about his brand-spanking-new book, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream on his home turf at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Cowen posits that "restlessness, ambition, and innovation are key American traits. But today, Americans are working harder than ever to avoid change" and notes that Americans are less inclined to pick up stakes and move, less likely to start a business, more likely to marry someone very similar to themselves, and increasingly focused on minimizing exposure to new, challenging, or different experiences. "As a result, we could see a version of America that is more segregated, more unequal, and no longer the leader of tomorrow's greatest achievements."

This chat covers a lot of territory, but if you only have a couple of minutes to listen, skip to 49:45 to hear Tyler go full economist on his hopes for his final moments.

Photo Credit: Mercatus Center

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  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    J.J. Abrams:time travel::Katherine Mangu-Ward:sex robots

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Sex Robot Deathbed Regret was my nickname in college.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Do you wanna know what your nickname is now?

  • Jerryskids||

    It's almost like if you're poor and hungry and got nothing to lose you're willing to take risks to better yourself whereas if you're a little bit richer and got something to lose the risk of losing what you've got outweighs the potential for more. There's a whole lot of discussion you can find on the psychological aspects of risk aversion that argues people are somewhat irrational on the matter of balancing risks and rewards. Good thing our immigrant ancestors took a risk by crossing the Atlantic to a new world where they had nothing, knew nobody, didn't even speak the language, but they knew they had an opportunity and that's all they asked for. Unlike those greasy spics wading across the Rio Grande to sneak in here - those little shits are poor, they got no families here, hell, they don't even habla the ingles. Why would we want those stupid bastards here stealing all our opportunity?

  • Microaggressor||

    Taco trucks. The answer is taco trucks, right?

  • american socialist||

    Does this make sense?

    "more likely to marry someone very similar to themselves"

    More likely than what? Before? Seems counterintuitive as i would have thought it was less

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I'm leery of that assertion, too. I suspect that it may be the result of changing definitions of "similar" as much as actual shift in behavior. In my Parents' generation (long generations; my Parents were in college during WWII) 'marring someone dissimilar' could easily mean A German Jew marrying a Russian Jew (with Grandmothers on both sides wringing their hands the whole time) or a White Southern Baptist marring a White Southern Methodist. Nowadays, both such unions would be considered 'marrying someone similar'.

  • american socialist||

    Yea i would think interrracial marriages and say different religions etc is more prevalent now than before

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    And considered far more normal.

  • ||

    I'm leery of that assertion, too.

    I'm leery of the (usual) lumping of 'social similarity' and 'fiscal economic drive' together. Nazi Germany and Post-War Japan were pretty fucking industrious *and* pretty homogenous.

    Not that we need to be homogenous to succeed but the absolute idiocy of saying, "This car's not fast/efficient (no matter how fast efficient the car is), it's not the right combination of colors to be fast." is grating. And if he's only talking about echo chambers on Twitter, it's even more aggravating.

  • Paloma||

    My Irish Catholic grandmother was upset when her daughter got engaged to a Catholic ITALIAN doctor who put himself through Harvard Medical School.

  • gaoxiaen||

    "more likely to marry someone very similar to themselves"
    Duh. Gay marriage is legal.

  • american socialist||

    "less likely to start a business"

    I wonder if coddling with welfare, regs, licenseing and permits have anything to do with this. Not sure i would want to jump thru all the hoops and take risks only to have the govt take out taxes if successful

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I also wonder how many businesses are carried on under the radar, and if the proportion has changed.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...but if you only have a couple of minutes to listen, skip to 49:45 to hear Tyler go full economist on his hopes for his final moments.

    I think this group would rather know the time code for the sex robot talk.

  • american socialist||

    You cant simultaneously claim how great everything is and how good we have it as far as standard of living and then proceed to wonder why people dont take risks as much anymore.

    If i am living a good life and I enjoy it....what is wrong with sticking to it

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    It occurs to me that some of this may be that most people can only deal with so much change at one time and our Beloved Betters (*spit*) are demanding one hell of a lot of change of us, on penalty of ruination. The whole boiling of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans, Animal-Schtupper Rights is a honking great big change, and it's accelerating. Also (though our would-be Lords and Masters would like us to forget it, except when it is convenient to them) we are at war. We've BEEN at war with Rabid Islam since at least the 1970's, but its more obvious now. So that's a lot of uncertainty capacity used up before people even think about taking voluntary risks.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    increasingly focused on minimizing exposure to new, challenging, or different experiences. "As a result, we could see a version of America that is more segregated, more unequal, and no longer the leader of tomorrow's greatest achievements."

    It is difficult to imagine the modern American climbing into a horse-drawn wagon and saying, "Whelp, here goes nothin'!"

  • Gracchus||

    To be fair, one has to admit that it wasn't established, middle-class folk trekking westward toward the frontier. They were mostly dirt poor or just a few notches above, with very little property and very poor prospects in the crowded East. Hell, most of the immigrants who came here (and still come here) are like that; poor souls who couldn't hack it out back in the motherland. It's not their fault; just how society worked back then. Most Americans wouldn't do what they did because they don't need to; even poor unemployed workers in coal country have some kinda stake in their communities, however tenuous. I don't see how shaming them does them any favors?

  • AlmightyJB||

    And two income families make moving less likely especially if both have good paying jobs. People also are more likely to let their kids finish school with their friends then relocate unless it's necessary to move and it usually isn't.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "poor souls who couldn't hack it out back in the motherland"

    Or poor folks who would not have been ALLOWED by their 'betters' to hack it. It's hard for someone brought up in North America to grasp just how totally ownership of land was tied up all through Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries. In fact, I'm quite sure I have no very firm grasp of it myself, but at least I know I don't. Even now, with the whole of the 20th Century's overgrown bureaucracy piled on it, ownership of property is far more straightforward in the United States (and also, I believe, in Canada) than almost anywhere else in the world. Which means that families can raise money against property, and invest in new enterprise, to an extent that is impossible for anyone but the 'connected' almost anywhere else.

  • Gracchus||

    Even now, with the whole of the 20th Century's overgrown bureaucracy piled on it, ownership of property is far more straightforward in the United States (and also, I believe, in Canada) than almost anywhere else in the world

    See, statements like that are why people think libertarians are a bunch of kooky crackpots. There's a fair argument to be made that Europe is more restrictive with regards to civil liberties (hate speech laws, libel laws, and mass surveillance to boot), but when you start talking like North America is "the last outpost of freedom" in the whole world, you start sounding like a tin-foil maniac. Yes, Europe has a generous welfare state. That doesn't make it a totalitarian cesspool (even Hayek had the modesty to say they were on the road to serfdom). They still have private businesses over there; still got entrepreneurs and innovators and what-not. It ain't 1984 over there, at least not anymore than it is here.

    Which means that families can raise money against property, and invest in new enterprise, to an extent that is impossible for anyone but the 'connected' almost anywhere else

    Really? Do you really think that people in Europe, or South Korea, or Japan are being oppressed by a heartless welfare bureaucracy? There's a difference between being inconvenienced and being oppressed; the folks in Europe are (according to a libertarian POV) the in the former, while the folks in, say North Korea are in the latter.

  • granite state destroyer||

    I live in Europe, and there are many aspects of everyday European life that feel freer than in the US, especially if you are a parent, like drinking alcohol, or enjoy public nudity.

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