The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

Cowen’s timely and well-written book points to a central feature of contemporary American life: since the 1980s, U.S. society has become less dynamic and more risk averse. The quest for safety and predictability has made the country both more and less comfortable than before. Although many (perhaps even most) Americans enjoy the stability and security that the status quo provides, increasing numbers feel thwarted by the lack of opportunity and slow economic growth that characterize their increasingly static society. Others rejoice that their neighborhoods have not been disrupted by new highways and housing developments, but such “not in my backyard” stances create barriers to economic activity that reduce growth, depress wages, and eliminate jobs. The apparent stability of American society, Cowen believes, is an illusion: behind the placid façade, technological change and global competition have combined with domestic discontent to bring forth a new age of disruption—and, hopefully, renewal. For Cowen, a number of disparate events—from nationwide protests over police brutality to the election of Donald Trump as president—serve as signs that disruptive forces are gathering strength. Only time will tell whether they will yield benign or malignant effects.

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