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Review: The Great Stagnation – How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better

Adriano Marques

Short book, easy and quick to read, goes briskly through American history recollecting all the low hanging fruits it ate that made America this great economy. The subtitle of the book suggests that the author, Tyler Cowen, will make a case that the fruit was the reason why it got sick. Not the case – Cowen goes on to explain why the lack of the low hanging fruits made it sick, and why it is taking a while to recover.

A technological plateau is the reason why we got sick – the pace of innovation have declined in quantity and quality, with less focus on the public benefit instead of private interests. The low hanging fruits were all the discoveries and innovations made by science that revolutionized the way people interacted, reducing distances and optimizing organizations. Now that all those fruits were collected, we’re struggling to come up with the next revolution that will really boost the economy.

Although the book makes some use of other studies to support its statements, I found that some important arguments are out there as if they came from author’s opinion rather than supported by thorough research. Considering the fact that it is a small fast paced book, that might have been one of the reasons why it turned out that direction, aiming at becoming more attractive to read to a bigger population – since it is short – than focusing only at the readers that care about references. Not a huge flaw, though, and doesn’t affect the pleasure of reading or the overall quality of the work and reasonings made by the author.

At the end, he cites the Cognitive Surplus’ concepts as one of the positive trends that might lead us to recover, and I found it very interesting that this is the second book I read that have a reference that author (Clay Shirky) and the terms he coined.

Since the plateau is the reason why we got sick, this book’s suggestion is to praise and value the scientist, and points out that this profession isn’t nearly as regarded as it should, while other professions like Medicine, Law, Artists, Politicians and High Account Traders usually get the biggest focus from society even though they sometimes do not contribute as much as scientific breakthroughs.

Great book, recommend reading. Very short, simple and easy to understand, will give you a new perspective through which you’ll understand our current condition and economy.


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