Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero

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An against-the-grain polemic on American capitalism from New York Times bestselling author Tyler Cowen.

We love to hate the 800-pound gorilla. Walmart and Amazon destroy communities and small businesses. Facebook turns us into addicts while putting our personal data at risk. From skeptical politicians like Bernie Sanders who, at a 2016 presidential campaign rally said, “If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” to millennials, only 42 percent of whom support capitalism, belief in big business is at an all-time low. But are big companies inherently evil? If business is so bad, why does it remain so integral to the basic functioning of America? Economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen says our biggest problem is that we don’t love business enough.

In Big Business, Cowen puts forth an impassioned defense of corporations and their essential role in a balanced, productive, and progressive society. He dismantles common misconceptions and untangles conflicting intuitions. According to a 2016 Gallup survey, only 12 percent of Americans trust big business “quite a lot,” and only 6 percent trust it “a great deal.” Yet Americans as a group are remarkably willing to trust businesses, whether in the form of buying a new phone on the day of its release or simply showing up to work in the expectation they will be paid. Cowen illuminates the crucial role businesses play in spurring innovation, rewarding talent and hard work, and creating the bounty on which we’ve all come to depend.

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About the author

TYLER COWEN (Ph.D.) holds the Holbert L. Harris chair in economics at George Mason University. He is the author of a number of explanatory and text books, including The Complacent Class, as well as writing the most read economics blog worldwide, marginalrevolution. Tyler is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, has written regularly for The New York Times, and contributes to a wide range of newspapers and periodicals.
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Additional Information

Publisher
St. Martin's Press
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Published on
Apr 9, 2019
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781250110558
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Free Enterprise & Capitalism
Business & Economics / Government & Business
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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One of America’s most respected economists presents a quirky, incisive romp through everyday life that reveals how you can turn economic reasoning to your advantage—often when you least expect it to be relevant.

Like no other economist, Tyler Cowen shows how economic notions—such as incentives, signals, and markets—apply far more widely than merely to the decisions of social planners, governments, and big business. What does economic theory say about ordering from a menu? Or attracting the right mate? Or controlling people who talk too much in meetings? Or dealing with your dentist? With a wryly amusing voice, in chapters such as “How to Control the World, The Basics” and “How to Control the World, Knowing When to Stop” Cowen reveals the hidden economic patterns behind everyday situations so you can get more of what you really want.

Readers will also gain less selfish insights into how to be a good partner, neighbor and even citizen of the world. For instance, what is the best way to give to charity? The chapter title “How to Save the World—More Christmas Presents Won’t Help” makes a point that is every bit as personal as it is global.

Incentives are at the core of an economic approach to the world, but they don’t just come in cash. In fact, money can be a disincentive. Cowen shows why, for example, it doesn’t work to pay your kids to do the dishes. Other kinds of incentives—like making sure family members know they will be admired if they respect you—can work. Another non-monetary incentive? Try having everyone stand up in your next meeting if you don’t want anyone to drone on. Deeply felt incentives like pride in one’s work or a passing smile from a loved one, can be the most powerful of all, even while they operate alongside more mundane rewards such as money and free food.

Discover Your Inner Economist is an introduction to the science of economics that shows it to be built on notions that are already within all of us. While the implications of those ideas lead to Cowen’s often counterintuitive advice, their wisdom is presented in ordinary examples taken from home life, work life, and even vacation life… How do you get a good guide in a Moroccan bazaar?

A Wall Street Journal and Washington Post Bestseller

"Tyler Cowen's blog, Marginal Revolution, is the first thing I read every morning. And his brilliant new book, The Complacent Class, has been on my nightstand after I devoured it in one sitting. I am at round-the-clock Cowen saturation right now."--Malcolm Gladwell

Since Alexis de Tocqueville, restlessness has been accepted as a signature American trait. Our willingness to move, take risks, and adapt to change have produced a dynamic economy and a tradition of innovation from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs.

The problem, according to legendary blogger, economist and best selling author Tyler Cowen, is that Americans today have broken from this tradition—we’re working harder than ever to avoid change. We're moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. Match.com matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.

Of course, this “matching culture” brings tremendous positives: music we like, partners who make us happy, neighbors who want the same things. We’re more comfortable. But, according to Cowen, there are significant collateral downsides attending this comfort, among them heightened inequality and segregation and decreased incentives to innovate and create.

The Complacent Class argues that this cannot go on forever. We are postponing change, due to our near-sightedness and extreme desire for comfort, but ultimately this will make change, when it comes, harder. The forces unleashed by the Great Stagnation will eventually lead to a major fiscal and budgetary crisis: impossibly expensive rentals for our most attractive cities, worsening of residential segregation, and a decline in our work ethic. The only way to avoid this difficult future is for Americans to force themselves out of their comfortable slumber—to embrace their restless tradition again.

Tyler Cowen’s controversial New York Times bestseller—the book heard round the world that ignited a firestorm of debate and redefined the nature of America’s economic malaise. 

America has been through the biggest financial crisis since the great Depression, unemployment numbers are frightening, media wages have been flat since the 1970s, and it is common to expect that things will get worse before they get better. Certainly, the multidecade stagnation is not yet over. How will we get out of this mess? One political party tries to increase government spending even when we have no good plan for paying for ballooning programs like Medicare and Social Security. The other party seems to think tax cuts will raise revenue and has a record of creating bigger fiscal disasters that the first. Where does this madness come from? 

As Cowen argues, our economy has enjoyed low-hanging fruit since the seventeenth century: free land, immigrant labor, and powerful new technologies. But during the last forty years, the low-hanging fruit started disappearing, and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognize that we are at a technological plateau. The fruit trees are barer than we want to believe. That's it. That is what has gone wrong and that is why our politics is crazy. 

In The Great Stagnation, Cowen reveals the underlying causes of our past prosperity and how we will generate it again. This is a passionate call for a new respect of scientific innovations that benefit not only the powerful elites, but humanity as a whole.
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