Book Review: Average is Over by Tyler Cowen

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership, Book Reviews

Average Is OverAccording to Tyler Cowen,”The widening gap between rich and poor means dealing with one big, uncomfortable truth: If you’re not at the top, you’re at the bottom.” There is no average any longer, and my observations as of late would indicate that Mr. Cowen is on to something.

So who are those who will be at the “top?” Who will “win” in this “Hyper-meritocracy?” The short answer is those who are comfortable with working around intelligent machines. Cowen asserts that “Lacking the right training means being shut out of opportunities like never before.” Having the requisite training, or lack thereof, will determine much in your life from where you live, to the quality of the work you do, to your education and to your kids’ education and more. In addition the trends of globalization, increasingly intelligent machines and the split of economies into stagnant and vibrant sectors are practically irreversible.

The questions that we as a society must face and answer are how will we structure our economy to deal with an accelerating decrease in the number of workers we need to produce the goods and services our citizens require? And who will purchase those goods and services if so many citizens are out of work? These are the hard problems that I believe Cowan referred to at the end of his book The Great Stagnation. How do we strike a balance between the incredibly wealthy few who own the assets of production, the slightly larger group who work with the intelligent machines of production and the vast majority who are left out or are marginalized?

Cowan plays chess. He uses chess and the chess playing supercomputers as a way of expressing where he believes “intelligent” machines are today and what they are capable of doing. I like chess too. Yet Cowan did, I believe, take the analogy too far. The points he made could have been made in far fewer pages, even though it was interesting reading. Instead of overdoing the chess model, I would have loved to have him give a wider variety of examples of how intelligent machines have evolved so far and what they are doing in other parts of our business and personal lives.

The bottom line on all this is that Cowan has presented us with much to ponder about what might lie ahead in the global economy. At the very least, he has added some detail to the argument many of us have been making that the economic and business models we’ve been used to in the past no longer apply. We can use the information in this and Cowan’s previous book to help formulate a new model for ourselves, our economy and our companies.

See this book  on Amazon.