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The Complacent Class – Tyler Cowen

Economists bring an interesting set of methodologies and skills to the examination of what many of us are surprised to find economists looking at in the first place.

Milton Friedman is famous for exploring the political and societal ramifications of economic events and trends – as well as the reverse. Thomas Sowell is particularly brilliant and enlighteningly incisive in his expansion of this work to culture, communities, and families. Steven Levitt, of “Freakonomics” fame, most visibly applies this discipline to a wonderful range of issues of every-day life with delightful and eye-opening results.

Tyler Cowen is a member of the group, and an educational and effective one. His latest book, “The Complacent Class,” is more in the style of Thomas Sowell, in that his principle target is American culture and society. But he sometimes steps into Steven Levitt territory when he explores peculiarly American qualities of crime, public discontent, and societal restlessness across the generations, from the mid-20th century to today. And his conclusions and speculations are just as perceptive and provocative as those of his peers.

In “The Complacent Class,” Cowen argues that Americans risk all we have struggled for across the epochs of our history because, essentially, we have come to be satisfied with what we have attained, and to be complacent about how enduring it will be. He examines various ways this is evident in crime statistics, geographic mobility, societal restlessness, governmental social and economic policies (and in particular the inflexibility that are attendant on them). He then shows how governmental policy flexibility and dynamism on the one hand, and these same traits in the broader society on the other, are both reflections of and consequences of each other.

Along the way, he makes trenchant observations about the various components of the complacent classes – observations which will gratify or dismay, in turn, those of us on one side or another of various contemporary political and ideological debates. And he concludes with a prediction that should both reassure, and unsettle, us all.

Pick up “The Complacent Class” by Tyler Cowen. You will find yourself beneficially immersed – involved – in the discussion he so expertly and entertainingly presents.


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Commentary Magazine - a truly intelligent, balanced, and engaging resource - offers an excellent podcast twice a week presented by the magazine's editor and two of his senior writers. It is topical, of course. It is both enlightening and entertaining. And, as the presenters often take plainly differing approaches to the subjects at hand, the resulting debate is never superficial.

This offering, below, was about the "death of expertise." The presenters talk about the problems created for itself by the expert class flowing from the exaggerated claims they made for themselves.

The most recent evidence of the hollowness of such claims has been the failure of the Clinton campaign (with respect both to the experts who so confidently managed it, and to virtually all expert predictions for its success), the numerous errors made in the first month of the Trump presidency, and the Oscars debacle - all of these events run by people who presented their expertise as beyond question.

The presenters offer intriguing discussions of the related "culture of credentials," as well as the use of presumably unimpeachable expertise as a political tool to silence opposition (such as is often claimed to be the case regarding the climate debate).

This has all led to wars on expertise, competence, and legitimacy. The presenters themselves seem as miffed at this as they are invigorated by it.

Give it a listen, and come to your own conclusion. You'll enjoy the time so well spent - and perhaps you'll subscribe to the podcast series - an excellent way to get balanced, honest, "expert" commentary on vital current events.
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