*Bourgeois Dignity*

by on December 5, 2010 at 4:40 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

The author is Deirdre McCloskey and the subtitle is Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World.  It is on the cultural and intellectual foundations of the Industrial Revolution and I am convinced by the major thesis.  Here is one version of it:

My libertarian friends want liberty alone to suffice, but it seems to me that it has not.  Changing laws is not enough (though it is a good start — and rotten laws can surely stop growth cold.)  True, from 1600 on the new dignity and the new liberty normally reinforced each other, and such a reinforcement is one possible source of the economist's "non-linearities."  Dignity and liberty are admittedly hard to disentangle.  But dignity is a sociological factor, liberty an economic one.

Here is a very good interview with McCloskey about the new book.

1 Daniel Klein December 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm

BTW, I wrote on liberty, dignity, and responsibility as a moral triad:
http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/klein/PdfPapers/LDR.pd

2 tkehler December 5, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Six ounces: you'd better work on … stuff.

a) The link is fine; and b) Deirdre McCloskey — not McCloskley as Tyler writes — is not a "he"; she's a woman, though of course she hasn't been one for that long.

3 BelgianDude December 5, 2010 at 3:16 pm

You economists like to reinvent the wheel, don't you…

The industrial revolution is just science. Even though the Greeks knew that fire and steam could perform work, it was Bacon, Newton and the other scientists who advanced science to a level where steam engines could perform more work than horses could.

I'd say the industrial revolution became inevitable somewhere during the 16th century when protesting Christian europe embraced these two concepts:

-Knowledge and education is good for the masses
-Our ancestors were not infallible, the human race can progress

From that moment on it was inevitable that humans would discover science and advance their technology.
The industrial revolution was just that point were progress gained critical mass

And until that moment science was seen as something for a small elite and ancestors were worshipped: nobody thought it possible that the human race is capable of progressing.
Otherwise the ball would have started rolling much earlier.

And economics, e.g. Adam Smith, is just another one of the sciences.
Economics itself is inevitable.

(And humans have always exploited technological advances to become more productive, that has nothing to do with dignity or liberty.)

4 Matt Young December 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm

The key to the IR is specialization. How do we learn specialization, start there.

5 UserGoogol December 5, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Reading the actual book would help provide context, (and I would like to read the actual book) but saying liberty is an economic concept seems to give libertarians a monopoly on defining liberty that they don't have. Liberty isn't just about property, it's about letting people live their lives as they wish. (For some highly contested definition of "letting.") Which isn't quite the same thing as "dignity," but it's definitely sociological, it's all about how people choose to deal with other people, not just in the production and distribution of scarce goods, but in general.

6 Digital piano December 5, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Its business model was to reverse the trend of industrialization to create more jobs in agriculture. This model has failed because the jobs are peasant farmers in the relatively low productivity.

7 Deirdre McCloskey December 6, 2010 at 9:21 am

Dears,

Oh my, oh my, people seem to have such a great number of thoughts about how we got rich, and seem to hold them with such impressive ferocity! I laughed loudly at the wise remark that "reading the actual book would help provide context." I do hope so! It is a fault of blogging, with its many virtues, that people are encouraged to sound off anonymously about so many things they know so little about. Oh well, the printing press had the same fault, yet helped make ordinary people bold, and innovative.

Love,

Deirdre McCloskey

8 Greego December 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

"The industrial revolution is just science."

If that's the case, how come there are still large parts of the world mired in poverty?

9 Doc Merlin December 6, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I think that liberty is endogenous on dignity.

10 Deirdre McCloskey December 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Dears,

The beat goes on. Tyler is about as far from the "amoral idiot savants" I had in mind as one can imagine. (I could give you names; but it would be unkind.) Tyler is a cultivated economist, which is a rare bird indeed. Such birds should be more common. My suggestion to you-all for developing more of them? Read books outside of economics, as Tyler does. Take a course in Shakespeare or Wittgenstein. Get into opera and blue grass. Listen to Patsy Cline. That way we'll get a humanomics, with useful math and statistics, but with meaning, too.

Regards,

Deirdre McCloskey

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