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Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation

Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation [Kindle Edition]

Tyler Cowen
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

Widely acclaimed as one of the world’s most influential economists, Tyler Cowen returns with his groundbreaking follow-up to the New York Times bestseller The Great Stagnation.

The widening gap between rich and poor means dealing with one big, uncomfortable truth: If you’re not at the top, you’re at the bottom.

The global labor market is changing radically thanks to growth at the high end—and the low. About three quarters of the jobs created in the United States since the great recession pay only a bit more than minimum wage. Still, the United States has more millionaires and billionaires than any country ever, and we continue to mint them.

In this eye-opening book, renowned economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen explains that phenomenon: High earners are taking ever more advantage of machine intelligence in data analysis and achieving ever-better results. Meanwhile, low earners who haven’t committed to learning, to making the most of new technologies, have poor prospects. Nearly every business sector relies less and less on manual labor, and this fact is forever changing the world of work and wages. A steady, secure life somewhere in the middle—average—is over.

With The Great Stagnation, Cowen explained why median wages stagnated over the last four decades; in Average Is Over he reveals the essential nature of the new economy, identifies the best path forward for workers and entrepreneurs, and provides readers with actionable advice to make the most of the new economic landscape. It is a challenging and sober must-read but ultimately exciting, good news. In debates about our nation’s economic future, it will be impossible to ignore.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 915 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0525953736
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (12 Sep 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C1N5WOI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #155,898 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important idea, perhaps a little repetitive 16 Sep 2013
Review Courtesy of [...]

"The key questions will be: Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not? Are your skills a complement to the skills of the computer, or is the computer doing better without you? Worst of all, are you competing against the computer?"

If you were paired with a machine to do a task, could together you do better than the machine alone? For Cowen, the answer matters more than you might think - with intelligent machines, he believes, lies the answer to The Great Stagnation he has worried about in the past.

There are two types of people in the world, he argues; those who can increase the productivity of machines, and those who will be replaced by them. One group will earn increasingly higher wages and rewards; the other will earn relatively less and less. Average is over, and though machines won't replace human labour entirely, as the Luddites feared, they will completely change how labour is allocated.

This is not to say that computer programmers are the only ones who will make money, of course. Rather, Cowen thinks of working with machines more broadly; using the automatic checkouts in supermarkets, for example, or adapting your smartphone to improve workflow. It is these teams of humans and machines, he argues, that can really make our productivity soar. This is true of life in general, he says, not just the workplace, whether it be relationships, hobbies, or education.

It's a provocative idea, particularly in light of today's concerns over inequality. The Economist this week, for example, quotes Daimler as describing their employees as "robot farming" because the workers are there to shepherd the robots as they do the work; presumably the ratio of sheep to shepherds is diminishing.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Average I am afraid 3 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Unconvincing and overweight to examples from chess. Some good points and a great writing style. But overall not the best book I have read.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars recommend it 4 Mar 2014
By m
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Its a good book for people like myself who dont know much about economy but are interested in the social and political impact of it.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good 22 Sep 2013
By edward
The skill of working with computers becoming more important the example chess where best performers work with computers may reflect how in the future many employment or activity reflects to how well people can use the computers .the skill of using the computer also how access to information and education be more available allowing more mobility on merit
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  111 reviews
64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Middle Class is Dead - An Economist Predicts the Future 24 Sep 2013
By Patrick M. Obriant - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Tyler Cowen writes the terrific Marginal Revolution blog [...], teaches economics at GMU, and in his spare time writes books. In "Average is Over" Cowen examines the trends of the last 30 years including the introduction of smart technology, polarization of high and low wage earners, outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, wage stagnation. Cowen uses the prizm of chess, chess software, and chess software games as both analogy and predictor for future of how technology and technology / human interfaces will evolving and projecting these trends forward into the next 20 - 30 years.

Given the trends from today Cowen's "Average is Over" makes a strong and highly plausible argument for a likely American future. Perhaps even the most likely future.
The good news -
The already expensive, livable, and elite cities become even more so. For those self motivated, hard workers from anywhere in the world and nearly any economic background, the future looks extremely bright. Their tools and access to smarter training gets better and better. Online classes are easy to access worldwide. Smart technology gets smarter becomes "genius" but still works far better with people than without. Productivity (and wages) for these top 10-15% continues to increase. Even if you cannot work with "genius computers" managing, hiring, training, assisting, or coaching those who can will still be lucrative.

The not so good -
What does the rest of Cowen's America 2033 look like?
Older and poorer. Invest in micro housing and trailer parks in Texas. Maybe it won't be so bad. [...] or maybe it will be.[...]
Cowen correctly points out the huge pitfall in online education. "Online education can thus be extremely egalitarian, but it is egalitarian in a funny way. It can catapult the smart, motivated, but nonelite individuals over the members of the elite communities. It does not, however, push the uninterested student to the head of the pack." The remaining 85% stagnate albeit with access to cheap fun and cheap education. Many of the 85% will live quite well as they benefit from the near free services but others will fall by the wayside.

But maybe it does not have to be this way. Cowen himself points to a potential way out. Education has typically failed to motivate. And even the best online courses are probably even worse than most classroom teachers. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." There are however a few coaches who have demonstrated the ability to motivate. [...] I never met Coach Fitz but I certainly met mine as a lazy 8th grader on the football field in the form of a 5 foot 4 inch Woody Hayes disciple named John Short. Could this be bottled and taught? The future for your kids and the rest of us American 85 percenters may depend on motivators like these.

What the end of average will look like to colleges.

"It will be a brutal age of good schools and also mediocre schools undercutting each other in terms of price and thus tuition revenue. If it costs $200 to serve a class to another student, how long will it be before an educational institution undercuts a competitor charging $2,000 for those credits?"

This is a highly original book. I strongly recommend this especially for a high school senior or college freshmen.
106 of 126 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars some insights, some rambling, and some speculation 13 Sep 2013
By Someone is Wrong on the Internet - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The real insight here is that the key skill in our economy is and will be figuring how to use computers creatively, even if you don't work in "IT" as such. Cowen's paradigm example is "freestyle chess," which involves using sophisticated programs (or anything else you want) to figure out the best moves. Analogously, professionals rely a great deal on web searches to supplement their expertise, economists now focus on using computers to do creative things with data sets, etc. in my own job as a lawyer, I know I've managed to get out of some tight situations with a few Excel tricks and a knack for database searches. So, this part of the book seems about right.

If only he had left it at that. Larded on top of this insight is a lot of rambling that just reiterates the insight over and over again. Even worse, Cowen indulges in a lot of weird futurologist speculations that will probably sound silly in a few years, like the hype about virtual reality in the 90s.

Cowen's main thesis -- soon, the haves will be super-productive computer virtuosos, and the have-nots will be everyone else -- is part and parcel of this futurology. My response is: who knows? For example, he doesn't really explain why the have-nots won't just redistribute away the ridiculous earnings of the computer virtuosos. He does mutter a few words about how it's hard to tax the rich, though he doesn't actually provide a review of the data. So, you're still left with: who knows?
50 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Working Together with the Smart Machines 13 Sep 2013
By Steve T - Published on
In Average is Over, Tyler Cowen describes a future in which smart machines help drive us beyond the technological plateau he has written about previously. Much of the book is focused on what jobs will be like in the age of "mechanized intelligence" and robots.

Cowen thinks the answer is that people and machines will collaborate. In the future, people with strong technical skills (programmers, etc.) will do well, but there will also be strong opportunities for people who can leverage smart machines in more general ways. The most important qualities for success will be conscientiousness and attention to detail and comfort with (and a willingness to listen to advice provided by) technology. The ability to use technology effectively as a marketing tool may be the biggest opportunity of all.

(For another perspective on AI/robotics and the future job market, see also The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future).

Cowen believes technology will also be used to intensively monitor productivity and maybe even assign ratings similar to today's credit scores. Those who don't do well from the start, may find it very difficult to recover. Freestyle chess is used to illustrate the type of machine-human teamwork Cowen envisions, and I found this very interesting, although I am not a chess player.

I found the book to be a bit depressing in some of its predictions. Cowen sees increasing inequality as many people are simply left behind. He also sees more very wealthy people. The top of the income distribution will gain even more influence, and won't support an expanded safety net. Cowen does not foresee a popular uprising because the country is getting older. So what happens to the people who are left behind? Low cost living arrangements will evolve, perhaps even shantytowns or tent cities (which we have already). Public services will be substandard but homes will be cheap. There will also be lots of cheap or free forms of entertainment.

While I personally hope that Cowen's vision does not come to pass (at least in its entirely), I found the book to be a very useful take on the future. As Tyler would say himself: interesting throughout.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Potweet 29 Oct 2013
By Greg K afuso - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am shocked to read that many other reviewers think this book is a rosy vision of the future. In my 20's I read every single work of Kurt Vonnegut and the three books that have haunted me throughout my adult life were "Cat's Cradle", "God Bless you Mr. Rosewater" and "Player Piano". All through the reading of Mr. Cowen's, "Average is Over", the same uncomfortable feeling of dis-utopia seeped into my psyche, like Vonnegut's cautionary tales of a society which has forsaken humanism in exchange for personal riches and power. Why 'uncomfortable'? Because the book is so convincing as an inevitable conclusion, like witnessing a shopping cart make its way down a sloped parking lot and into the fender of a brand new car that some schmuck purposely parked away from other cars so it wouldn't get a door ding. And so, according to "Average is Over", in 50 years time the world will see that less will do more, and more will earn less. That an oligarchy of the rich will pacify the underemployed masses with video games, internet, televised sports and cable television. And the un-talented, un-loved and sick will get service jobs in personal care, will form twitter communities and receive subsidized healthcare. On the bright side there's a possibility that some big booboo of historical circumstance might happen to throw the Average is Over equation out of maybe one day when we might reach the cusp of being unable to sustain 10 billion people on this planet and trigger a Malthusian event that will hit the human race like 'Blue Ice 9'. So, if you are an 'X' like me with little kids, a good education, a good job, money in the bank and little debt, read this book, and see what you get out of it; Maybe you can watch the shopping cart roll down the hill and make sure it's not your car that gets hit.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas in a flawed book 23 Oct 2013
By Stephen G. Ramirez - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Buy this book! Read about "Hyper-Meritocracy" in chapters 1 to 3. Read about the incredible prowess of human plus machine intelligence in chapters 4 and 5. Skip chapters 6 through 11 or you may get bored and not finish the book. That would be a shame because you would miss Cowen's predictions in chapter 12 "A New Social Contract?"

Chapter 12 was worth the price of the book to me. This is the most plausible scenario I have read for the future consequences of ever-increasing income inequality and meritocratic social segregation. It is not as grim a picture as that painted by Charles Murray. Old folks will get their way for many years to come but the world won't end as a result.

There's pure gold in this book. Don't be put off by Cowen's ramblings in the middle chapters.
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