Few authors have impacted my worldview more than Tyler Cowen. His latest book, The Complacent Class, fundamentally changed my understanding of what it means to be a risk-taker — and what it means to be American.


In this episode, Tyler and I unpack the factors that are contributing to America’s rising complacency—hint: it’s connected to our obsession with busyness and efficiency—and discuss practical ways to start re-engaging with risk in an authentic way.

Key takeaways from the conversation:

  • Why the proliferation of apps that focus on matching, streaming, and home delivery are making us more complacent, and less prone to taking risks
  • Key questions you can ask yourself to assess how complacent vs how risky you are (also see Tyler’s “complacency quiz”)
  • Why flipping a coin is a great way to decide if you should take a risk or make a change
  • How small changes to your media diet (more movies vs less TV) or how you plan your travel can have a big impact on your “complacency quotient”
  • Why true risk-taking involves putting your fate in the hands of others

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Favorite Quotes

“Often, it’s the decisions you feel the best about that need to be questioned the most. There’s a lot of big life decisions like, ‘Should I take a job with higher pay and more hours?’ Everyone questions that. They ask all their friends. They agonize. But it’s those little preparatory steps, where you just feel you’re making a modest improvement in your circumstances — that’s where the danger lies.”

“I think people nominally have never been more attached to self-transformation, but the actual willingness to take the risks it entails is lower. We want to be able to control everything. We want self-transformation, but on our own terms. That’s a somewhat dubious prospect.”

“Don’t listen to someone tell you how to be non-complacent. It’s a very complacent thing to do, to read some book by a guy [like me] and think, ‘This is my placebo for my own complacency.’ You always want to ask yourself, ‘What I’m doing: Is this a placebo, or is this the real thing?’”

Resources

A quick list of the books and the quiz mentioned in our discussion:

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