The Great Stagnation

How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better
Tyler Cowen | Jan 25, 2011

Tyler Cowen's latest e-book is titled "The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better." This new, short e-book addresses questions such as: Has median household income really stagnated in the United States? If so, why? Are the causes political or something deeper? What are the important biases in how we are measuring national income and productivity and why do they matter for economic policy? Are we getting enough value for all the extra money we are spending on the health care and education sectors? What do some major right-wing and left-wing thinkers miss about this phenomenon? How does all this relate to our recent financial crisis?

Along with numerous mentions in blogs and news outlets, Professor Cowen has presented a "Tedx Talk" on "The Great Stagnation."

This e-book is available at and You can read more about this book in a blog post by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.

About e-books: You don't need any special hardware to read an e-book.  Amazon's Kindle is both a device and a free app available for iPhone, Windows PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPad, Android, and Windows Phone 7.  An e-book reader is also available through Penguin.

In the News


"Battered by recession and menaced by China, the US hungers for explanations of its relative economic decline. Tyler Cowen, an economist and blogger, has provided one: that the country has run out of technological juice...This provocative thesis is one reason The Great Stagnation is the most discussed economics book of the year. Another stems from its format. Inspired by Marginal Revolution, the must-bookmark blog for economics nerds that he publishes, Cowen released the book only in electronic form. This ensured a timely arrival just as the US was emerging from financial meltdown and looking for answers."

- James Crabtree, "The spectre of a jobless online world,"
Financial Times

"'The Great Stagnation' is an e-book, and at just 15,000 words, a slim one at that. But it has inspired a raucous discussion in the blogosphere which has spilled over to mainstream media."

- "Stagnation or inequality,"
The Economist

"The new "it" book in Washington these days is The Great Stagnation, a short but provocative e-book by George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen. "

- Brink Lindsey, "Avoiding The Coming Growth Slowdown,"

"His most recent work, The Great Stagnation, has quickly become one of the most talked-about books of the year among economics wonks."

- Matthew Shaffer, "America's Technological Plateau,"
National Review Online

"Tyler Cowen's e-book, "The Great Stagnation," has become the most debated nonfiction book so far this year."

- David Brooks, "The Experience Economy,"
New York Times

"Mr. Cowen's brief new e-book, "The Great Stagnation," on the causes of the American economic malaise, has received a lot of attention in recent days."

- David Leonhardt , "A Conversation With Tyler Cowen,"
New York Times 

"It's possible the most important non-fiction book this year won't be published on paper."

- Nick Schulz, "Beyond The Great Stagnation,"

"As you might imagine, a spirited debate is underway on economics blogs about Cowen's view that the Internet may not really be the productivity bonanza that was once predicted."

- Steve Pearlstein, "Much of nation's recent growth may have been a mirage,"
The Washington Post

 "Is this a good book? Yes, very. Should you purchase and read it? Absolutely."

- Ezra Klein, "The Great Stagnation,"
The Washington Post

 "Tyler Cowen's new book, The Great Stagnation, is terrific. If you want to understand what's going on with the economy, you should buy it right now. In fact, buy two."

- Michael Mandel, "Tyler Cowen's 'The Great Stagnation' Raises Important Questions,
Seeking Alpha

 "This isn't Mr. Cowen's first book, but it is probably his most important — or at least, his most impactful — one. It's not that he has the final say on America's current economic malaise, but rather because he takes the debate in an entirely new direction (new, at least, to most people) that gives so much value to his work."

- Kelly Evans, "The Great Stagnation, Low-Hanging Fruit and America's 'Sputnik Moment',
Wall Street Journal

 "The primary argument of TGS is that the United States has been growing strongly for the past two centuries by relying on lots of low-hanging fruit, but now the days of easy growth are over. In particular, Tyler identifies three sources of easy growth that are no longer open to us."

- Kevin Drum, "The Great Stagnation,"
Mother Jones

 "Mr. Cowen's book is an important one that will have a profound impact on the way people think about the last thirty years."

- Ryan Avent, Free Exchange Blog, "The great stagnation,"
The Economist

 "I had the great pleasure of reading The Great Stagnation late last week. I want all of you to buy it, or rather all of you with e-readers."

- Reihan Salam, "Tyler Cowen's *The Great Stagnation*,"
National Review Online

 "Tyler Cowen's new ebook How The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better is a bravura performance by one of the most interesting thinkers out there. I also think it's a great innovation in current affairs publishing—much shorter and cheaper than a conventional book in a way that actually leaves you wanting to read more once you finish it. My guess is that this is the future of books."

- Matt Yglesias, "The Great Stagnation,"
ThinkProgress blog

"I advise you to read Tyler Cowen's new e-book, "The Great Stagnation," in which he argues that Americans have already picked the low-hanging economic fruit and now face an entirely set of difficult decisions."

- David Brooks, "Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Burke,"
New York Times

"Tyler Cowen's "The Great Stagnation" just might challenge Amy Chua and her shock parenting manual, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," for most-discussed book of 2011. "

- Sydney Williams, "Book Review: The Great Stagnation,"
Seeking Alpha

"Though shorter and less deeply researched than Prosperity, The Great Stagnation covers a lot of the same ground. Cowen's book is similarly compelling and lucid in its interpretation of past economic trends. "

- Timothy Noah, "Don't Worry, Be Happy,"

"Cowen's understated but penetrating summation of the financial crisis: "We thought we were richer than we were.""

- Bret Swanson, "Tyler Cowen's Techno Slump,"

"The best part is a very interesting and perceptive discussion of how the Great Stagnation is putting great strains on many aspects of governance, from political discourse to our ability to finance entitlements and public debts. "

- Scott Summer, "Review of the Great Stagnation,"

"For someone with a number of solid physical-book sellers on his CV, it's an interesting move to publish in a format akin to a Kindle Single."

- Joshua Benton, "Why Tyler Cowen's new book will be on Kindles, not bookstore shelves,"

"Surely new productive technologies will drive a rebound in supply before too long. Right? There's a sort of pessimism creeping into popular thinking that suggests this won't happen. George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen's ebook, The Great Stagnation, captures some of the thinking."

- Alen Mattick, "Shorting Human Ingenuity,"
Wall Street Journal-The Source

"A lot of the force of [Cowen's] argument comes from contrasting the United States' glittering economic performance in the decades following World War II with the decidedly less impressive record in recent decades. "

- Brian Doherty, "Great Stagnation or Return to Normalcy?,"

"Cowen's conclusions are poignant and sobering, but he does provide some clear and actionable suggestions for each of us in the private sector and, more importantly, for our political leaders and lawmakers in Washington:"

- Steve Tobak, "Is the Internet Destroying Our Standard of Living?,"

"Americans have resumed their old patterns of spending, even though we're barely out of the last recession. There are a few reasons for this."

- Room for Debate, "Four Strikes Against Us,"
The New York Times

"If this is correct – and it is hard to dispute – then, as US economist Tyler Cowen argues, there are huge economic implications."

- Will Hutton, "Don't be blinded by the web. The world is actually stagnating,"
Guardian/The Observer

"Mr. Cowen, a contributor to the Economic View column in Sunday Business, says the ability to swiftly release something with "a lot of intellectual content but without the padding of many books" harks back to a time when pamphlets discussing new theories and ideas about economics were churned out regularly. "

- Jenna Wortham, "Shorter E-Books for Smaller Devices,"
New York Times

"But if Cowen is right, it is not at all clear what the cure might be. Cowen blames the disappearance of "low-hanging fruit"."

- Tim Harford, "Bye, bye easy money,"
Financial Times

"Putting out an ebook with a major publisher has its similarities and differences compared to distributing a print edition. Cowen said the actual editing and pre-production of the book was the same, with obviously less emphasis on the front cover design."

- Simon Owens, "Why did a famous economist publish an ebook and forgo a print edition?,"
The Next Web - Technology News, Business and Culture

"Cowen's argument is that the West spent most of the 20th century living off the easy proceeds of the Industrial Revolution."

- Andrew Potter, "Why happiness suddenly matters,"

"Since reading Tyler Cowen's "The Great Stagnation," I've been seeing a lot of support for a claim that I'd initially resisted: the idea that the technological advances of the 19th and early 20th centuries were far more important to both the economy and quality of life than what's come since. "

- Ezra Klein, "How penicillin fooled us,"
Washington Post

"You might argue that it is becoming cheaper to buy "stuff", but more expensive to buy truly "important things" like housing, health care, education for your children, and that the latter matters more for your well-being than I-pods. "

- Tino Sanadaji, "Are We Worse Off Than in 1973?,"
Wall Street Pit

"If the measure of a book is the extent of the conversation it generates, Tyler Cowen's "The Great Stagnation" is a really great book. (If the measure is what I think of it, it's also a great book.)"

- Economics Free Exchange, "What do governments do?,"
The Economist

"Cowen argues that this is the result of a natural slowing in innovation and that we expect too much growth relative to what is possible."

- Russ Roberts, "Cowen on the Great Stagnation,"
Library of Economics Liberty

"Economist Tyler Cowen in his book The Great Stagnation, argues that U.S. economic growth largely plateaued in the 1970s."

- Morning Edition, "Misconception: Can U.S. Economy Grow Indefinitely?,"

"Cowen makes persuasive arguments that productivity in the government sector, public education, and health care have stagnated or fallen since the 1970s, dragging down the average performance of the whole economy."

- Ronald Bailey, "Is the Great Stagnation Real?,"

"While some blame a widening income gap for gutting the middle class, Tyler Cowen says economic growth plateaued in the 1970s and we can't innovate our way out of this mess."

- Virginia Prescott, "Word of Mouth,"

"Among wonks the book has reached that most coveted of states: It must be responded to."

- Brendan Greeley, "Tyler Cowen, America's Hottest Economist,"
Bloomberg BusinessWeek

"In a recent e-book, the New York Times columnist and long time blogger blames "The Great Stagnation" on a slowdown of technological growth. "

- Paul Solmon, "The Great Stagnation,"
PBS NewsHour

"Since its release in January, Tyler Cowen's "The Great Stagnation" has been one of the most talked-about books of the year, both for its thesis -- that America's economy has largely stalled since we used up the "low-hanging fruit" that propelled our growth for centuries, while we have pretended that those easy resources are still there -- and for how it was published, as a $4 "eSpecial.""

- Edward B. Colby, "Q&A With Tyler Cowen as "The Great Stagnation" Debuts in Print,"
International Business Times

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