Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Has America Become Complacent?

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Has America Become Complacent?

Article excerpt

Our own behavior is undermining the dynamism America had been known for

"We have met the enemy and he is us.

- Comic-strip character Pogo by Walt Kelly, 1970

WASHINGTON - The same may be true of the economy. So says Tyler Cowen, author of the new book "The Complacent Class: The Self- Defeating Quest for the American Dream. Although we've recovered from the Great Recession, there are widespread fears that the economy will stagnate or grow only slowly. Government won't be able to handle the next crisis, whether it is a war, financial meltdown or pandemic.

Maybe, says Cowen, an economist at George Mason University. But he doesn't blame the usual suspects: debt hangover from the 2008-09 financial crisis (consumers and firms repay loans rather than spend on goods and services); huge trade deficits; or the impotency of government policies - rock-bottom interest rates and big budget deficits - to spur growth.

Rather, Cowen argues, the fault lies mostly with us.

We don't move to new jobs as much as we once did; the cross- state rate of migration is down roughly 50 percent from its 1948-71 average.

We don't form new companies as fast as before; he cites one study estimating that start-ups now represent only 7 to 8 percent of firms, down from 12 to 13 percent in the 1980s. We increasingly cluster with people "like us - in class and educational background - by marrying them and living in the same neighborhoods.

In isolation, none of these trends may be crippling, but collectively they undermine the economy's flexibility and its "dynamism, says Cowen.

If people won't move for work, some productive jobs will go unfilled. The growing segregation by background and lifestyles reinforces the reluctance to move. The scarcity of start-ups hampers job creation and higher living standards.

Cowen blames many of these trends on "complacency. Americans increasingly value security and stability. They "don't like change very much, unless it is on terms that they manage and control, and they now have the resources and the technology to manage their lives on this basis, he argues. …

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