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Average is over

Average is over ….. is a book written by Tyler Cowen and if you want only few lines summary then Mr. Cowen believes that America is dividing itself in two. At the top will be 10% to 15% of high achievers, the “Tiger Mother” kids if you like, whose self-motivation and mastery of technology will allow them to roar away into the future. Then there will be everyone else, slouching into an underfunded future of lower economic expectations, shantytowns and an endless diet of beans.

This book is far from all good news,In the eminently readable pages , the economist-blogger outlines a predicted future where technology cleaves society into two disparate classes. The winners will be those whose skills complement those of the new machines. The losers will be, well, everyone else.

HYPER-MERITOCRACY?

Mechanized intelligent analysis means that markets in Cowen’s iWorld are exceptionally accurate at measuring an individual’s economic value. As a result, America will become a “hyper-meritocracy,” where many careers become more demanding as employers will be able to measure economic value with “a sometimes oppressive precision” and “…the self-motivated will find it easier to succeed than ever before.”

Upward mobility will be contingent on self-motivation, not on family background. This means the “slacker twenty-two-year-old with a BA in English, even from a good school” will no longer have a “clear path to the upper-middle-class.”

UNDESIRABLE, BUT PLAUSIBLE

Perhaps most disheartening is the frightening plausibility of the predictions. Cowen notes that the contemporary labor market woes of young workers are “a harbinger of the new world of work to come,” because “lacking the right training means being shut out of opportunities like never before.” The accelerated hollowing-out of the American economy in the wake of the recession bodes poorly for the revival of the middle class. About 60 percent of the jobs lost during the downturn were mid-wage occupations, and 73 percent of the jobs that have been added during the recovery have been low-wage jobs. Political debates are highly polarized, and the political power of the winners in today’s society far outstrips those of the less-fortunate in ways that continue to suggest a vicious circle. For those committed to a more sanguine future, a great deal of work lies ahead

The author points out that we often see the promise of technology long before it delivers. “The advances of genius machines come in an uneven and staggered fashion,” he writes. “For the foreseeable future, you’ll always have to be learning something, reprogramming something, downloading new software, and pushing some buttons, all to have the sometimes dubious privilege of working with these new technological wonders.”

That takes motivation. One of the most interesting sections of Mr. Cowen’s book is his analysis of the future of education. For a select few, he argues, the traditional college experience will still be worth the time and money. They will benefit from close proximity to highly engaged teachers. But for most, a much cheaper model might work better, one in which most of the material is available online and young people are provided with motivators instead of professors—that is, with people who are part drill sergeant and part yoga instructor, able to inspire and put the fear of God into students. No more tweedy snoozers lecturing everyone into oblivion and charging $50,000 a year. Think of college as a gym membership, with trainers to help you make the most of the machines around you.

Education for the masses, writes Mr. Cowen, “will become more like the Marines, full of discipline and team spirit.” This will help the young avoid becoming “threshold earners,” those “content just to get by and who do not push ambitiously for a higher wage or stronger credentials at every step.

In his final chapter, “A New Social Contract?,” Mr. Cowen cruelly lays it all out. “We will move from a society based on the pretense that everyone is given an okay standard of living to a society in which people are expected to fend for themselves much more than they do now.” The top 10% will have it better than ever. The majority will suffer stagnant or falling wages but have more opportunities for cheap education and cheap fun. The rest will fall by the wayside, with government less and less able to take care of them. It will be dazzling at the top, and “meh” to miserable for the rest.

 

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Ritesh Jain

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