Q&A: Economist Tyler Cowen Thinks Americans Are Too Complacent

The George Mason University author says Americans have lost the pioneer spirit that created a more dynamic country

.. I think this has always been a country that gets things done by plunging in first and figuring out later how to pay for it.

.. we move across state lines at much lower rates. We take fewer risks in many forms. We hold a higher percentage of government-insured safe assets. We are far, far more risk-averse with how we bring up our children—often we don’t even let them play outside anymore. There is a lot of data about how we innovate less.

.. Mobility used to be much higher in our history and in many regards measured segregation is going up.

 .. if you look at lower earners–how many years people stay at home, that a lot of them are less likely to get married, or aspire to own their own home or cars, how many extra hours they spend playing video games or watching pornography or smoking marijuana. To me those are signs of a kind of complacency.
.. There’s a new paper by Erik Hurst and he measures a lot of the less-skilled, out-of-work males and he thinks they are actually very happy or they at least think their situation is OK.
.. everyone thought the internet would help make a more dynamic world. Instead, you suggest it allows people to stay within their comfort zone—they order up the music or food or news they know they like rather than exploring, trying something new.
.. I don’t think of Trump himself as a change agent. I view him as someone who talked a good game on change but in fact has been doing nothing, doesn’t know how to get things done, was mostly about rhetoric. In a way, his biggest promise was to bring back the past and along the way not to cut entitlements. So he’s actually the ultimate complacent president.

.. Q: What will it take to make the U.S. a more dynamic nation again?

A: There’s what we could do and won’t do: Take more chances, start new businesses, deregulate a lot, expose ourselves to a lot more risks, segregate less.

.. I think the actual reality is we will have some kind of crack-up in terms of governance and institutional quality and we’ll be forced to become dynamic again just because we won’t be able to escape risk by burrowing in more deeply.
.. I discuss three scenarios.
  1. One would be a debt crisis, which I don’t think is the most likely.
  2. Another would be a foreign-policy crisis where we just don’t have the wherewithal to respond to it.
  3. And the the third would be this ongoing collapse in the quality of governance, and I think that’s what we have been seeing so far–when nothing the president says seems to matter, no deal can be cut.
The Republican Party has no coherence, the Democratic Party doesn’t either. I don’t think you call it gridlock anymore. Gridlock is very 2011. This is some new phenomenon of chaos and lack of coherence.