a16z Podcast: Technology, Mobility, and the American Dream

The irony of our systems working so well — technological, corporate, and yes, even political — is that we’ve become too comfortable: matching to others just like us, producing less, taking fewer risks. But isn’t the very point of technology to make our lives more comfortable? Yes… until “we” — whether an entire class, generation, ethnic group, or country like the U.S. — become a little too complacent. Or so argues Tyler Cowen in his new book, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream.

We’ve even outsourced our mobility to immigrants, observes Cowen (who is also a prolific economics blogger, columnist, and professor at George Mason University and director of the Mercatus Center there). Which is great… until you realize we’re also giving up so much of that dynamism ourselves. This complacency affects everything from how economies to corporations to individuals grow, and we discuss how in this episode of the a16z Podcast (with Alex Rampell and Sonal Chokshi).

“The general problem is that ‘veto points’ build up in a lot of systems as they grow larger and more bureaucratic.” That’s why we have NIMBYism (and a bunch of other such -isms). Corporate cash becomes the new stagnant pool (watch out for those mosquitos!). The stability of real estate becomes a trap. Social media (and even some protest) becomes signaling vs. actually doing something. As for culture: Who defines it? And is it time to bring back the individual quest?