|Deirdre Nansen McCloskey|
|Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication
University of Illinois at Chicago
Deirdre McCloskey is an economist, historian, and rhetorician who has written sixteen books and around 400 scholarly pieces on topics ranging from technical economics and statistics to transgender advocacy and ethics. She is known as a "conservative" economist, University-of-Chicago style (she taught for 12 years there), but protests that "I'm a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not 'conservative'! I'm a Christian libertarian." Her latest book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World, argues that an ideological change, rather than saving or exploitation, is what made us rich... more »
"What I love about this project is in my old age, or as we say, now, my late-middle age, I found a project that I think uses my skills; whatever they are, it uses them. So I’m an economist, so I do quantitative work, and I get the numbers right. But I’m also an English professor, and so I use theater and plays, and poems, and so on to illustrate those points. So it’s not my life’s work; it’s my end-life’s work, which I find very pleasant, because so often people’s careers end with a whimper, and mine is ending with a bang, which I like a lot."
Following Bruce Jenner's coming out, McCloskey offers a reminiscence and some reflections on calmness in the Des Moines Register, and she advises readers to watch Diane Sawyer's interview with Jenner.
In the manuscript of Bourgeois Equality, as submitted to University of Chicago Press, McCloskey writes that her now-completed trilogy "chronicles, explains, and defends what made us rich."
"The cause of the bourgeois betterments…was an economic liberation and a sociological dignifying of, say, a barber and wig-maker of Bolton, son of a tailor, messing about with spinning machines, who died in 1792 as Sir Richard Arkwright possessed of one of the largest bourgeois fortunes in England. The Industrial Revolution and especially the Great Enrichment came from liberating the commoners from compelled service to an hereditary elite, such as the noble lord, or compelled obedience to a state functionary, such as the economic planner. And it came from according honor to the formerly despised of Bolton—or of Ōsaka, or of Lake Wobegon—commoners exercising their liberty to relocate a factory or invent airbrakes."
"Adding laws onto an ethically corrupt state will not change much of anything, because the monopoly of violence goes on tempting. The mechanical rules of bribery in Stockholm are probably the same as in Delhi, and the jaywalking rules in Berlin the same as in New York. The difference is ethics. Without ethics no amount of institutional ‘redesign’ would yield the honest government that Swedes have and that American progressives fantasize about."
Deirdre McCloskey took part in a "Shakespeare and Economics" panel at the 2015 Allied Social Science Associations meeting in Boston. Her presentation, based on a portion of her forthcoming book Bourgeois Equality, is titled "Bourgeois Shakespeare Disdained Trade and the Bourgeoisie" (download full paper or reading copy here).
McCloskey is among eight economists who offer "ideas to jump-start wage growth" in a Financial Times forum. She writes, in part:
"Let betterment proceed by stripping away the silliest of the regulations, many of them emanating from Brussels, and the rest from special interests, or plain monopoly. To suppose that restricting free exchange makes the poor or the median better off is magical thinking. Give up the minimum wage, the 'protection' of jobs, the over-regulation of banking and the support for monopolies from taxis to surgeons."
McCloskey has recorded a podcast on her forthcoming book Bourgeois Equality—the last in her Bourgeois Era trilogy—with hosts Ron Baker and Ed Kless of the VeraSage Institute.
"It matters ethically, of course, how the rich obtained their wealth… What does not matter ethically are the routine historical ups and downs of the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, or the excesses of the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent, of a sort one could have seen three centuries ago in Versailles. … There are ways to help the poor—let the Great Enrichment proceed, as it has in China and India—but charity or expropriation are not the ways."
Evan Davis, who interviewed Deirdre McCloskey for an episode of BBC Radio 4's "Analysis" program (listen), has written a column pitting McCloskey's views on capital and inequality against those of the economist Thomas Piketty, author of the acclaimed Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
The Online Library of Liberty is featuring new commentary on Deirdre McCloskey's books Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity, including a lead essay by Donald Boudreaux, responses from Joel Mokyr, John Nye, and McCloskey (.pdf), and further discussion.
Paul Solman interviews Deirdre McCloskey—and Enno Schmidt, Charles Murray, Veronique de Rugy, David Graeber, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, Barbara Bergmann, and Megan McArdle—for PBS NewsHour (video) on the policy of a guaranteed basic income.
In this essay McCloskey reviews the intellectual history of the seven principal virtues and emphasizes that they comprise a system.
"The system of the virtues developed for two millennia in the West had been widely abandoned by the end of the eighteenth century, with Machiavelli, then Bacon, then Hobbes, then Bernard Mandeville as isolated but scandalous precursors of Kant and Bentham, who then rigorously finished off the job. It was not dropped because it was found on careful consideration to be mistaken. It was merely set aside with a distracted casualness, perhaps as old-fashioned, or as unrealistic in an age with a new idea of the Real, or as associated with religious and political systems themselves suddenly objectionable."
McCloskey gave the commencement address at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, on May 15. Read it here.
"We humans need the transcendent. I don’t mean we should need it, or that virtuous people need it, or any other conditional need. It just turns out that humans think a lot about the transcendent. A life without a belief beyond our normal lives is not fully human."
In the Journal of Institutional Economics, McCloskey offers "A Critique of Neo-Institutionalism", arguing that the Great Enrichment "was by a factor of upwards of a hundred, which cannot be explained by routine movements to an efficient equilibrium."
"No institution—not the state or the church or the university or the republics of science and letters—rationally intended the frenetic betterment that has characterized the West and now the rest since 1800. … The economists want to reduce motivation to predictable Max U. But the point is that the modern world was not predictable. It depended on the new and liberal notion of liberty and dignity, and their unpredictable results in betterment for all."
Deirdre McCloskey has published a review essay of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century in the latest issue of Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics.
Also, on November 11 McCloskey participated in a panel discussion of the book, hosted by Policy Exchange.
In an essay taken from the manuscript of her forthcoming Bourgeois Equality, McCloskey criticizes the common reliance by economic theorists on outdated narratives of the Industrial Revolution and the succeeding Great Enrichment.
"Acemoglu and Robinson and the rest are accepting a leftish story of economic history proposed in 1848 or 1882 by brilliant amateurs, before the professionalization of scientific history, then repeated by Fabians at the hopeful height of the socialist idea, and then elaborated by a generation of (admittedly first-rate, if mistaken) Marxian historians, before thoroughgoing socialism had been tried and had failed, and before much of the scientific work had been done about the actual history—before it was realized, for instance, that other industrial revolutions had occurred in, say, Islamic Spain or Song China…"
In this recent speech, McCloskey presents many of the arguments found in the three books of her now-completed "boxed set" on the Bourgeois Era.
McCloskey tells ieaTV about the magnitude of economic changes over the past two centuries and explores the causes of those changes.
Deirdre McCloskey speaks with Stephen Sackur of BBC's "HARDtalk" (video) about inequality, markets, and virtues.
"Every enterprise in a capitalist economy works through solidarity, love, sympathy, common courtesy… Any economy, socialist or capitalist or however you wish, is a mixture of the virtues of love, hope, and faith, on the one hand, and the virtue of prudence—which by itself is called greed, but when it's in tune with justice and courage and temperance and love, it works pretty well."
"What changed in Europe, and then the world, was not the material conditions of society, or 'commercialization,' or a new security of property, but the rhetoric of trade and production and improvement—that is, the way influential people talked about earning a living, such as Defoe, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Hume, Turgot, Franklin, Smith, Paine, Wilkes, Condorcet, Pitt, Sieyes, Napoleon, Godwin, Humboldt, Wollstonecraft, Bastiat, Martineau, Mill, Manzoni, Macaulay, Peel, and Emerson."
McCloskey finds in these the causes of the great increase in material well-being over the past two centuries.
Deirdre McCloskey offered this talk as part of UNL's "Humanities on the Edge" series.