Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern Worldby Deirdre N McCloskey University of Chicago Press
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The big economic story of our times is not the Great Recession. It is how China and India began to embrace neoliberal ideas of economics and attributed a sense of dignity and liberty to the bourgeoisie they had denied for so long. The result was an explosion in economic growth and proof that economic change depends less on foreign trade, investment, or material causes, and a whole lot more on ideas and what people believe. Or so says Deirdre N. McCloskey in Bourgeois Dignity, a fiercely contrarian history that wages a similar argument about economics in the West. Here she turns her attention to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe to reconsider the birth of the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. According to McCloskey, our modern world was not the product of new markets and innovations, but rather the result of shifting opinions about them. During this time, talk of private property, commerce, and even the bourgeoisie itself radically altered, becoming far more approving and flying in the face of prejudices several millennia old. The wealth of nations, then, didn and acirc;t grow so dramatically because of economic factors: it grew because rhetoric about markets and free enterprise finally became enthusiastic and encouraging of their inherent dignity. An utterly fascinating sequel to her critically acclaimed book The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity is a feast of intellectual riches from one of our most spirited and ambitious historians and acirc;a work that will forever change our understanding of how the power of persuasion shapes our economic lives.
Preface and Acknowledgments
1 The Modern World Was an Economic Tide, But Did Not Have Economic Causes. 2 Liberal Ideas Caused the Innovation 3 And a New Rhetoric Protected the Ideas. 4 Many Other Plausible Stories Don’t Work Very Well. 5 The Correct Story Praises “Capitalism.” 6 Modern Growth Was a Factor of at Least Sixteen. 7 Increasing Scope, Not Pot-of-Pleasure “Happiness,” Is What Mattered, 8 And the Poor Won. 9 Creative Destruction Can Be Justified Therefore on Utilitarian Grounds. 10 British Economists Did Not Recognize the Tide, 11 But the Figures Tell. 12 Britain’s (and Europe’s) Lead Was an Episode, 13 And Followers Could Leap over Stages. 14 The Tide Didn’t Happen because of Thrift; 15 Capital Fundamentalism Is Wrong. 16 A Rise of Greed or of a Protestant Ethic Didn’t Happen; 17 “Endless” Accumulation Does Not Typify the Modern World. 18 Nor Was the Cause Original Accumulation or a Sin of Expropriation. 19 Nor Was It Accumulation of Human Capital, Until Lately. 20 Transport or Other Domestic Reshufflings Didn’t Cause It, 21 Nor Geography, nor Natural Resources; 22 Not Even Coal. 23 Foreign Trade Was Not the Cause, Though World Prices Were a Context, 24 And the Logic of Trade-as-an-Engine Is Dubious, 25 And Even the Dynamic Effects of Trade Were Small. 26 The Effects on Europe of the Slave Trade and British Imperialism Were Smaller Still, 27 And Other Exploitations, External or Internal, Were Equally Profitless to Ordinary Europeans. 28 It Was Not the Sheer Quickening of Commerce 29 Nor the Struggle over the Spoils. 30 Eugenic Materialism Doesn’t Work; 31 Neo-Darwinism Doesn’t Compute; 32 And Inheritance Fades. 33 Institutions Cannot Be Viewed Merely as Incentive-Providing Constraints, 34 And So the Better Institutions, Such as Those Alleged for 1689, Don’t Explain, 35 And Anyway the Entire Absence of Property Is Not Relevant to the Place or Period 36 And the Chronology of Property and Incentives Has Been Mismeasured, 37 And So the Routine of Max U Doesn’t Work. 38 The Cause Was Not Science, 39 But Bourgeois Dignity and Liberty Entwined with the Enlightenment. 40 It Was Not Allocation: 41 It Was Words. 42 Dignity and Liberty for Ordinary People, in Short, Were the Greatest Externalities, 43 And the Model Can Be Formalized. 44 Opposing the Bourgeoisie Hurts the Poor, 45 And the Bourgeois Era Warrants Therefore Not Political or Environmental Pessimism 46 But an Amiable, if Guarded, Optimism.
Notes Works Cited
''Bourgeois Dignity is packed with ideas: a fact in every sentence, an idea on every page.'' (Times Higher Education) ''The discussions [in Bourgeois Dignity] are intellectually serious but not academically dry or overly technical.... [An] entertaining and informative study.'' (National Review) ''McCloskey's main argument is that when business became a suitable topic for those in the Western bourgeois class, they began to encourage economic innovations both with their money and with their supportive rhetoric. This support of the business world is what caused the growth in wealth of western nations and not in other societies or civilizations.'' (Chicago Tribune) ''Deirdre McCloskey is an outrageously prolific and always fascinating economist and writer.... Bourgeois Dignity is only the latest chapter in what has to be one of the most interesting scholarly careers in America today.'' (Boston Globe)''
Deirdre N. McCloskey is Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among her many books are The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce; Crossing: A Memoir; The Secret Sins of Economics; and If You're So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise, all published by the University of Chicago Press.