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

Tyler Cowen

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Work and Wages in iWorld

his book is far from all good news. Being young and having no job remains stubbornly common. Wages for young people fortunate enough to get a job have gone down. Inflation-adjusted wages for young high school graduates were 11 percent higher in 2000 than they were more than a decade later, and inflation-adjusted wages of young college graduates (four years only) have fallen by more than 5 percent. Unemployment rates for young college graduates have been running for years now in the neighborhood of 10 percent and underemployment rates near 20 percent. The sorry truth is that a lot of young people are facing diminished job opportunities, even several years after the formal end of the recession in 2009, when the economy began to once again expand after a historic contraction.

Many people are seeing the erosion of their economic futures. The labor market troubles of the young—which you can observe in many countries—are a harbinger of the new world of work to come.

Lacking the right training means being shut out of opportunities like never before.

At the same time, the very top earners, who often have advanced postsecondary degrees, are earning much more. Average is over is the catchphrase of our age, and it is likely to apply all the more to our future.

This maxim will apply to the quality of your job, to your earnings, to where you live, to your education and to the education of your children, and maybe even to your most intimate relationships. Marriages, families, businesses, countries, cities, and regions all will see a greater split in material outcomes; namely, they will either rise to the top in terms of quality or make do with unimpressive results.

These trends stem from some fairly basic and hard-to-reverse forces: the increasing productivity of intelligent machines, economic globalization, and the split of modern economies into both very stagnant sectors and some very dynamic sectors. Consider the iPhone. The iPhone is made on a global scale, and it blends computers, the internet, communications, and artificial intelligence in one blockbuster, game-changing innovation. It reflects so many of the things that our contemporary world is good at, indeed great at. Today’s iPhone would have been the most powerful computer in the world as recently as 1985. Yet to cite two contrasting sectors, typical air travel doesn’t go faster than it did in 1970, and it is not clear our K–12 educational system has much improved.

This imbalance in technological growth will have some surprising implications. For instance, workers more and more will come to be classified into two categories. 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? Are computers helping people in China and India compete against you?

If you and your skills are a complement to the computer, your wage and labor market prospects are likely to be cheery. If your skills do not complement the computer, you may want to address that mismatch. Ever more people are starting to fall on one side of the divide or the other. That’s why average is over.

This insight clarifies many key issues, such as how we should reform our education; where new jobs will come from and why (some) wages might start rising again; which regions will see skyrocketing real estate prices and which will empty out; why some companies will get smarter and smarter, while others just try to ship product out the door; which human beings will earn a lot more and which workers will move to low-rent areas to make ends meet; and how shopping, dating, and meeting negotiations will all change.

What lies ahead of us will be a very surprising time, and it is likely that new technologies already emerging will lead us out of what I called in a previous book “the great stagnation.” It is true that there has been a persistent slowdown in real economic growth in the Western world and Japan, but this book suggests how that might plausibly change. It is not the new technologies per se; it is how some of us will use them.

The technology of intelligent machines may conjure up science fiction visions of rebellious robots or computers that feel and maybe fall in love or proclaim themselves to be gods. The reality of the progress on the ground is based on an integration of capabilities rather than on any one thing that might be described as “artificial intelligence.” What is happening is an increase in the ability of machines to substitute for intelligent human labor, whether we wish to call those machines “AI,” “software,” “smart phones,” “superior hardware and storage,” “better integrated systems,” or any combination of the above. This is the wave that will lift you or that will dump you.

The fascination with technology and the future of work has inspired some fascinating writings, including Martin Ford’s classic The Lights in the Tunnel, the more recent and excellent eBook Race Against the Machine by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, and Ray Kurzweil’s futuristic work on how humans will meld with technology. Debates about mechanization periodically resurface, most prominently in the 1930s and in the 1960s but now once again in our new millennium. Average Is Over builds upon these influential works and attempts to go beyond them in terms of detail and breadth. In these pages I paint a vision of a future which at first appears truly strange, but at least to me is also discomfortingly familiar and indeed intuitive. As a blogger and economics writer, I find that the question I receive most often from readers is—by far— something like: “What will the low- and mid-skilled jobs of the future look like?” This question is on everyone’s mind with a new urgency but it goes back to David Ricardo and Charles Babbage in the nineteenth century. Ricardo was a leading economist of his time who wrote on “the machinery question,” while Babbage was the intellectual father of the modern computer and he—not coincidentally—also wrote on how radical mechanization was going to reshape work.

These questions have reemerged as culturally central because we are at the crux of a technological revolution once again. It’s becoming increasingly clear that mechanized intelligence can solve a rapidly expanding repertoire of problems. Solutions began appearing on the margins of the world’s interests. Deep Blue, an IBM computer, defeated the then–world champion Garry Kasparov in a chess match in 1997. Watson, a computer program, beat Ken Jennings—the human champion—on Jeopardy! in 2010, surpassing most expectations as to how quickly this would happen. Interesting developments, yes, but the technological news is becoming more central to our concerns.

We’re on the verge of having computer systems that understand the entirety of human “natural language,” a problem that was considered a very tough one only a few years ago. Just talk to Siri on your iPhone and she is likely to understand your voice, give you the right answer, and help you make an appointment. Siri disappoints with its mistakes and frequently obtuse responses, but it—or its competitors—will improve rapidly with more data and with assistance from crowd-sourced recommendations and improvements. We’re close to the point where the available knowledge at the hands of the individual, for questions that can be posed clearly and articulately, is not so far from the knowledge of the entire world. Whether it is through Siri, Google, or Wikipedia, there is now almost always a way to ask and—more importantly—a way to receive the answer in relatively digestible form.

It must be emphasized that every time you use Google you are relying on machine intelligence. Every time Facebook recommends a new friend for you or sends an ad your way. Every time you use GPS to find your way to a party.

Don’t write off those robots either, even if they may never pray to God or pass for human beings. In 2011 Taiwan-based Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, announced a plan to increase the use of robots in its factories one hundredfold within three years, bringing the total to one million robots. After recent wage increases in China—to levels still low by Western standards—the company doesn’t consider its labor so cheap anymore. In the United States as well, the use of industrial robots is booming, and the likely future for North America is that of a coherent economic unit where the United States, Canada, and Mexico band together to make major investments in customized robot production and then use these investments to dominate global manufacturing.

Robot-guided mechanical arms are common in the operating room, and computers spend more time flying our planes than do the pilots. South Korea is experimenting with robotic prison wardens that patrol when the inmates do something wrong and report the misdeeds.

Driverless cars are already operating on the streets of Berlin and Nevada, and Florida and California have passed bills to legalize computer-commanded “driverless cars” on their roads. Google’s team has test-driven hundreds of thousands of miles with these cars, so far without an accident or major incident; the one reported five-car pileup happened after a human took over from the computer. Some Google employees have their self-driving vehicles take them to work. These car robots don’t look like something from The Jetsons; the driverless features on these cars are a bunch of sensors, wires, and software. This technology works.

There is now a joke that “a ...

Revue de presse

Praise for Average is Over

“A buckle-your-seatbelts, swiftly moving tour of the new economic landscape.” - Kirkus Reviews

"Cowen has a single core strength...his taste for observations that are genuinely enlightening, interesting, and underappreciated." - The Daily Beast

A bracing new book" - The Economist

"Tyler Cowen's new book Average is Over makes an excellent followup to his previous work The Great Stagnation and I expect it will set the intellectual agenda in much the way its predecessor did." - Slate

"The author roves broadly and interestingly to make his case, outlining radical economic transformations that lie in store for us, predicting the rise and fall of cities depending on their capacity to adapt to this machine-driven world and offering policy prescriptions for preserving American prosperity." - The Wall Street Journal

"Audacious and fascinating." - The Financial Times

"Thomas Friedman - move over. There's a new guy on the block." - Tampa Bay Tribune

"Eminently readable." - The Brookings Institute

"Cowen has a rare ability to present fundamental economic questions without all of the complexity and jargon that make many economics books inaccessible to the lay reader." - The American Interest


Praise for The Great Stagnation

“As Cowen makes clear, many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity” —David Brooks, The New York Times

“One of the most talked-about books among economists right now.” —Renee Montagne, Morning Edition, NPR

“Tyler Cowen may very well turn out to be this decade’s Thomas Friedman.” —Kelly Evans, The Wall Street Journal

“Perhaps it’s the mark of a good book that after you’ve read it, you begin to see evidence for it’s thesis in lots of different areas… it’s well worth the time and the money.” —Ezra Klein, The Washington Post

“Cowen says over the last 300 years the U.S. has eaten all the low-hanging fruit. We’ve exhausted the easy pickings of abundant land, technological advance, and basic education for the masses. We thought the low-hanging fruit would never run out. It did, but we pushed ahead. And thus Cowen’s understated but penetrating summation of the financial crisis: “We thought we were richer than we were.” —Bret Swanson, Forbes

"The Great Stagnation has become the most debated nonfiction book so far this year." - David Brooks, The New York Times

"Cowen's book...will have a profound impact on the way people think about the last thirty years." - Ryan Avent,

Praise for An Economist Gets Lunch

“Part Economic history… part guide to getting a better meal at home or a restaurant. Renowned economist…Professor Cowen is an expert on the economics of culture and the arts.” —Damon Darlin, The New York Times Dining Section

“[a] Calvin Trillin-like ode to tamale stands and ethnic food, the more exotic the better” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review Section

“If one’s goal is to eat well, Mr. Cowen’s rules are golden.” —Graeme Wood, The Wall Street Journal

An Economist Gets Lunch is a mind-bending book for non-economists.” —USA Today Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 3.6 étoiles sur 5  111 commentaires
64 internautes sur 69 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 The Middle Class is Dead - An Economist Predicts the Future 24 septembre 2013
Par Patrick M. Obriant - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
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 internautes sur 126 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 some insights, some rambling, and some speculation 13 septembre 2013
Par Someone is Wrong on the Internet - Publié sur
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
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 internautes sur 61 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Working Together with the Smart Machines 13 septembre 2013
Par Steve T - Publié sur
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 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Potweet 29 octobre 2013
Par Greg K afuso - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
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 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great ideas in a flawed book 23 octobre 2013
Par Stephen G. Ramirez - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
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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