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The Tyranny of Dead Ideas OVERVIEW


The Tyranny of Dead Ideas:

Letting Go Of The Old Ways Of Thinking To Unleash A New Prosperity

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas What's the greatest threat to our economic future? The things we think we know—but don't...

America is at a crossroads. In the face of global competition and rapid technological change, our economy is about to face its most severe test in nearly a century—one that will make the recent turmoil in the financial system look like a modest setback by comparison. Yet our leaders have failed to prepare us for what lies ahead because they are in the grip of a set of "dead ideas" about how a modern economy should work. They wrongly believe that
These ways of thinking—dubious at best and often dead wrong—are on a collision course with economic developments that are irreversible.

In The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, Matt Miller offers a unique blend of insights from history, psychology, and economics to illuminate where today's destructive conventional wisdom came from and how it holds our country back. He also introduces us to a new way of thinking—what he calls "tomorrow's destined ideas"—that can reinvigorate our economy, our politics, and our day-to-day lives. These destined ideas may seem counterintuitive now, but they will coalesce in the coming years in ways that will transform America.

A strikingly original assessment of our current dilemma and an indispensable guide to our future, Miller's provocative and path-breaking book reveals why it is urgent that we break the tyranny of dead ideas, for it is only by doing so that we can move beyond the limits of today's obsolete debates and reinvent American capitalism and democracy for the twenty-first century.  

Table of Contents

Introduction: Trapped

1. The Kids Will Earn More Than We Do
2. Free Trade Is "Good" (No Matter How Many People Get Hurt)
3. Your Company Should Take Care of You
4. Taxes Hurt the Economy (and They're Always Too High)
5. Schools Are a Local Matter
6. Money Follows Merit
7. The Tyranny of Dead Ideas

8. Only Government Can Save Business
9. Only Business Can Save Liberalism
10. Only Higher Taxes Can Save the Economy (and the Planet)
11. Only the (Lower) Upper Class Can Save Us from Inequality
12. Only Better Living Can Save Sagging Paychecks
13. Only a Dose of "Nationalization" Can Save Local Schools
14. Only Lessons from Abroad Can Save American Ideals
15. From Dead to Destined Ideas

Afterword: Burying Dead Ideas in Business and Beyond  


Three facts are now poised to shape our economic life for a generation. First, thanks to global competition and rapid technological change, America's economy is about to face its most severe test in nearly a century. Second, our political and business leaders are doing next to nothing to prepare us to cope with what lies ahead. And third, the reason for this inaction is that our entire economic and political culture remains in thrall to a set of "Dead Ideas" about how a modern economy should work. This book is about the threat that individuals, companies, and the country face from the things we think we know, and about the new (and surprising) ways of thinking destined to replace these Dead Ideas so that America will continue to prosper.

The next decade will bring a collision of forces that threaten to disrupt U.S. society, sink the middle class, and call into question the political and business arrangements on which our prosperity and stability have rested for decades. These perils have little to do with the housing- related financial crisis that gripped America in the fall of 2008; in fact, the need to steer our way through this near-term credit crunch now masks longer-term economic challenges that are far more consequential. The stakes couldn't be higher: if America doesn't decisively manage these tides of change, we'll face a backlash against our economic model—which, for all its flaws, has produced more betterment for more people than any other system in human history. If this backlash proves contagious, and other advanced nations lose faith in capitalism's ability to improve the lives of ordinary people, the rich world's efforts to protect its citizens from economic change will doom the developing world to dollar-a-day poverty. The good news is that there are ways to avert this dark scenario and to flourish. The trouble is we're not doing what we need to because of the Tyranny of Dead Ideas...

Read full introduction (printable version)  

Reviews & Press Coverage

NPR's Morning Edition features Matt and Dead Ideas

Tom Friedman (NY Times) cites Matt and Dead Ideas on health reform

U.S. Chamber of Commerce says Dead Ideas a must-read for business leaders

The Conference Board Review—Jan 2009
Frenemies by Matthew Budman
Matt Miller argues that business and government can—and must—work together. Read the article here.

Better Off Dead: A Q&A With the Author of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas:
"It isn't hard to think of ideas that were once considered conventional wisdom—"Women shouldn't vote," "People should be segregated by race"—but were eventually laid to rest. In his book The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash A New Prosperity, Matt Miller writes that the country's biggest problem right now isn't the suffering economy, but a few outdated ideas that "prevent us from responding forcefully in this new situation to improve people's lives."
   —Annika Mengisen, Freakonomics blog at New York (read the full Q&A here)

"Read The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. Matt Miller...has written a fact-based, provocative, and persuasive critique of the cliched notions imprisoning our politics. And he gives us the truths that can set us free."
   —Rich Barlow, The Boston Globe (read the full review here)

"Matt Miller is a one-man economic stimulus package. His ambitious new book...has more intriguing proposals packed into it than might be found in a month of congressional debates. Whatever the book lacks in deep analysis, it more than makes up for in intellectual honesty and courage. Miller acknowledges that our problems are vast and systemic and, thus, the solutions will not come in half measures."
   —Jonathan Shapiro, (read the full review here)

Check out Matt on The Lionel Show on Air America.

"Trillions in government spending, while raising taxes on those who do the most to drive the a frightening proposition. Or is it? That question led me to sit down with Matt Miller, one of the saner voices amid the cacophony. Miller, who so strongly resembles Tom Hanks that you want to ask him about "Wilson," isn't a shouter. A former Clinton budget aide and author of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, he finds the hysteria over Obama's proposed budget misplaced."
   —Kathleen Parker, The Washington Post (read the full column here)

  "In his new book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, Matt Miller nicely lays out the history of American taxes. He begins the story with Adolf Wagner, a 19th-century German economist who predicted that taxes would rise as societies became wealthier. The idea became known as Wagner's Law. "As people grew more affluent," writes Mr. Miller, a journalist and a consultant for McKinsey & Company, "they'd want more of what only government could provide—a strong military, public order, good schools and assorted welfare benefits, services that private citizens would have trouble arranging for on their own."
   —David Leonhardt, The New York Times (read the full column here and another one here)

The Daily Beast recommends Dead Ideas on its new book "cheat sheet" (featuring "must reads")., the hot new site chronicling "the upside of the downturn," features an interview with Matt on Dead Ideas.
   —Lynn Parramore, RecessionWire (read the full post here)

"As Matt Miller argues in his fascinating new book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, the idea that "money follows merit" is a myth."
   —EJ Dionne, The Washington Post (read the full post here)

Matt Miller's prediction of the revolt of the lower upper class "is looking downright prescient."
   —Justin Fox, Time (read the full post here)

"Miller's concise accounts of how each 'dead idea' came to dominate Americans' consciousness are fascinating. . . . His breezy, engaging yet substantive book should prompt a national re-examination that's long overdue."
   —Seattle Times (read the full column here) interviews Matt on the book:
"Matt Miller, a purveyor of unconventional wisdom, has identified six "dead ideas" in his new book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Prosperity to Unleash a New Prosperity (Times Books). And while these zombie modes of thinking are 'tacit assumptions and ingrained instincts broadly shared by business executives, professionals, policy makers, media observers and other opinion leaders,' Miller believes there are a set of relatively simple, though frequently counterintuitive, answers."
   — (read the full interview here) Newsweek/Slate columnist Dan Gross' interview with Matt that's running on The Big Money, Slate and iTunes. It's from Dan's new book podcast series, "Every Day I Read The Book."
Kathleen Parker's nationally syndicated column asks 'Is It Miller Time?'
"Matt Miller gives me a headache. If his name doesn't ring a bell, wait until his new book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, gains traction in the national debate about how to fix The Current Mess. Miller's diagnosis of what ails us is grim but optimistic. (You have to learn to think paradoxically.) And his prescription for a cure is painful because it requires something most humans resist: Change the way we think. He has some compelling ideas that, though they seem at first counterintuitive, are ultimately reasonable... It is first necessary to suppress the instinct to remain comfortable in the familiar and to calm the knee that aches to jerk... Unimaginable is the word for...scenarios Miller outlines in the book, but his arguments eliminate denial as an option. Although there's ample room for dissent, Miller's limber mind informs a rational voice that is crucial to the conversation. Keep the Advil handy."
   —The Washington Post (read the full column here)

"...a certain Greek billionaire... one who never missed in the market even though he lived on an island removed from screens and 24-hour TV [once said] "Beware of noise and bubble." I think by noise and bubble he meant black-and-white thinking, the pessimist's favorite baton. Yes, these are wildly difficult times. But the downside has upside. Bottoms often come bearing gifts.
This idea that there is upside in downward mobility is the theme of Matt Miller's new book... My favorite bit is this: "Psychologists say that narcissists obsessed with their own "specialness" can be cured only when they learn to accept their ordinary humanity. Something like this acceptance in the realm of economic life lies ahead for the U.S. We can't control every aspect of our economic trajectory in this new era. But with the right presidential leadership, we can influence how we think about what is happening—and, more important, what we do about it."
Any economist who can flawlessly argue the link between narcissism and the US. economy is one very non-noise-and-bubble guy."
   —Business Week (read the full blog post here)

"On the domestic side, one model [for Obama] in helping forge new solutions could be a compelling new book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas by Matt Miller. The theme is that unless old myths about government, business and the economy are discarded, new solutions will be elusive."
   —Al Hunt in Bloomberg News, January 4, 2009

"Matt Miller writes and thinks with amazing clarity about some of the most difficult problems this country is facing. The Tyranny of Dead Ideas offers the most plausible way to renovate our political and policy thinking to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century—if we have the guts to go forward. This is must reading for President-elect Obama and for anyone who wants to be a creative citizen in a difficult time."
   —Joe Klein, political columnist, Time

"This book will make you the most valuable contributor to your next workplace discussion of politics or the economy. Matt Miller explains the history of ideas in a way that forces fresh insights about the future. I feel smarter already."
   —Chip Heath, author of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

"To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, our times are piled high with difficulty, and just as we must act anew we must think anew. Matt Miller is one of those few, invaluable voices who is able to reach beyond the truisms of yesterday to help us think anew about tomorrow. I warmly recommend his pathbreaking new book The Tyranny of Dead Ideas."
   —David Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School; Senior Political Analyst, CNN

"In The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, Matt Miller drives a bulldozer into the complacent conventional wisdoms of our society, including the desirability of free trade, of paternalistic corporations, and even of low taxes. You need not agree with every idea to be invigorated by Miller's bold and original vision."
   —Philip K. Howard, author of The Death of Common Sense and Life Without Lawyers

"With crisp prose and compelling arguments, Matt Miller overturns orthodoxies left and right. Whatever your political persuasion, you will agree that The Tyranny of Dead Ideas is a tour de force—the rare book that can reshape the national agenda."
   —Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind

"If Fortune columnist Miller's eerily prophetic book had come out earlier, it could have served as a wakeup call for Wall Street leaders and Washington, D.C. lawmakers before the failure of several venerable financial institutions required government bailouts. The author's prescient observations make a persuasive case for how an American attitude of entitlement and outdated beliefs about government, education, taxes, business, corporate excess and health care threaten our national well-being and our position as a world leader."
   —Publishers Weekly  


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The Tyranny of Dead Ideas