|Deirdre Nansen McCloskey|
|Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication
University of Illinois at Chicago
Deirdre McCloskey taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2000 to 2015 in economics, history, English, and communication. A well-known economist and historian and rhetorician, she has written 17 books and around 400 scholarly pieces on topics ranging from technical economics and statistical theory to transgender advocacy and the ethics of the bourgeois virtues. She is known as a “conservative” economist, Chicago-School style (she taught in the Economics Department there from 1968 to 1980, and in History), 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.” ... more »
The Oxford Handbook of Professional Economic Ethics, co-edited by George DeMartino and Deirdre McCloskey, is now available. It explores a wide range of questions related to the nature of ethical economic practice. The Handbook brings together new contributions of leading economists, professional ethicists, and others, all of whom probe here what it means to be an ethical economist, and what is required of economics to be a responsible profession. The Handbook widens substantially the terrain of economic ethics by examining the ethical entailments of academic and applied economic practice.
In a new interview, Scott Douglas Jacobsen asks McCloskey about her self-description as "a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man."
"What interrelates these philosophies and positions?"
"Nothing interrelates them. That is the serious joke in my self-descriptions. Anyone who tries to keep philosophical consistency through her life is going be dominated necessarily by her immature plan for philosophy—whatever it was at age 14. It's like the many intelligent people who decide in their wisdom at age 14 to be courageous, independent-thinking atheists (following slavishly in this most of the intelligent children in their cohort), and then never pause at age 30 or 60 to reexamine the 14-year old's life plan. It’s childish—though unhappily it characterizes many otherwise intelligent people."
"The English Leveller Richard Rumbold, facing the hangman in 1685, declared, 'I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.' Few in the crowd gathered to mock him would have agreed. A century later, many advanced thinkers like Tom Paine or Mary Wollstonecraft, did. By 1985 virtually everyone did. And so the Great Enrichment came."
McCloskey interacts with the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Rawls, James Buchanan, and Martha Nussbaum (and more, of course) in a new paper (.pdf) for the American Philosophical Association Pacific Division annual meeting in San Francisco on March 30.
"We need direct ethical change, and that is to be achieved not by a Fifth Great Awakening but by the recovery of explicit and full ethical talk. Only that will protect the constitution, or result in wide capabilities, or give birth to a society of love."
McCloskey challenges "a gaggle of Tory/Liberal economists" over the prospects for future economic growth.
"In short, no limit to fast world or U.S. or European growth of per-person income is close at hand, no threat to ‘jobs,’ no cause for pessimism—not in your lifetime, or even that of your great-grandchildren."
For a conference at the University of Chicago this month, McCloskey looks for law and economics in poetry.
"And indeed why would one expect to 'find economics, or law, in a literature'? What would be the point? It is: to lean against the premise in Irish poetry, or English and American poetry, or indeed in Mesopotamian poetry, Chinese poetry, Italian poetry, and it seems in every poetic tradition—I solicit exceptions to the rule—that law and the economy are not proper poetic subjects."
The third and final book of McCloskey's Bourgeois Era trilogy will be published in April by University of Chicago Press.
"Time to rethink our materialist explanations of economies and histories," says McCloskey in an essay for National Review.
"...what mattered were two levels of ideas: the ideas for the betterments themselves (the electric motor, the airplane, the stock market), dreamed up in the heads of the new entrepreneurs drawn from the ranks of ordinary people; and the ideas in the society at large about such people and their betterments—in a word, liberalism, in all but the modern American sense. The market-tested betterment, the Great Enrichment, was itself caused by a Scottish Enlightenment version of equality, a new equality of legal rights and social dignity that made every Tom, Dick, and Harriet a potential innovator."
"The calming has mainly come, as Lincoln said in 1858, through public opinion, not laws: 'he [or she, dear] who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.'"
McCloskey discusses the importance of social dignity for ordinary people in a new essay for the American Spectator.
"To confine honor to an elite, whether social superiors or social engineers, is to suppose that we already know who are hoi aristoi, the best suited to rule, and that the best already know how exactly we mere occupants are to be flogged or planned or nudged into submission. For our own good. It is the traditionalist’s error, yet also the progressive’s error, to suppose there is nothing to be discovered. As Harry Truman said, an expert is someone who doesn’t want to learn anything new, because then he wouldn’t be an expert."
"People say that Sweden is 'socialist.' Poles know that this is silly, having experienced real socialism until 1989, and during communism going over to Sweden to make money in a capitalist way. 'Socialist' Sweden even nowadays is bourgeois and 'capitalist,' and not much less so than the United States. … To rise into the top rank of rich countries, Poland needs to change its ideology."
"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 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 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).
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."
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 tells Karen Shook of Times Higher Education what she's reading now, and what books captivated her during childhood:
Winnie-the-Pooh, of course, and The Wind in the Willows (which I found unreadably overwritten when I tried it on my own children) and The Jungle Book and the Book of Knowledge, a splendid children’s encyclopedia (a joint US-British venture)—all of which infected an American child with nostalgia for Britain c.1900. I carry on, to the point of following cricket and favouring a half of warm bitter with my mushy peas.
The American Statistical Association has issued a commendable statement regarding regrettable common practices related to "statistical significance." The statement and an accompanying short paper are available free from the American Statistician. An email announcement of statement to ASA members said, in part:
"Today, the American Statistical Association Board of Directors issued a statement on p-values and statistical significance. We intend the statement, developed over many months in consultation with a large panel of experts, to draw renewed and vigorous attention to changing research practices that have contributed to a reproducibility crisis in science.
"'Widespread use of "statistical significance" (generally interpreted as "p < 0.05") as a license for making a claim of a scientific finding (or implied truth) leads to considerable distortion of the scientific process,' says the ASA statement (in part). By putting the authority of the world's largest community of statisticians behind such a statement, we seek to begin a broad-based discussion of how to more effectively and appropriately use statistical methods as part of the scientific reasoning process.
"In short, we envision a new era, in which the broad scientific community recognizes what statisticians have been advocating for many years. In this 'post p < .05 era,' the full power of statistical argumentation in all its nuance will be brought to bear to advance science, rather than making decisions simply by reducing complex models and methods to a single number and its relationship to an arbitrary threshold. This new era would be marked by radical change to how editorial decisions are made regarding what is publishable, removing the temptation to inappropriately hunt for statistical significance as a justification for publication. In such an era, every aspect of the investigative process would have its appropriate weight in the ultimate decision about the value of a research contribution."
"Her gender change may be the least iconoclastic thing about her," says a new profile of McCloskey (also in .pdf format) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is accompanied by an interview with McCloskey on writing.
"I tell my students...that—short of Borges—writing can be learned like any skill. We are not all as gifted as Edward Leamer is in econometrics, but we can learn the tricks if we study them.'"
“Research should direct economics...back towards human meaning in speech,” writes McCloskey in a new conference paper, “Adam Smith Did Humanomics: So Should We.”
"...people do not merely silently offer shillings and silently hand over haircuts. People are not, as Samuelsonian economics supposes, vending machines. They talk, or as Arjo Klamer puts it, they converse. And in conversing they open each other to modifications of the price, it may be, and anyway they establish, as we say, the 'going' price—which is how the paradoxes of continuous traders and so forth in Arrow-Debreu formulations are solved in practice, and why experimental markets work so amazingly well despite not satisfying the Arrow-Debreu conditions even approximately."
McCloskey's session paper for the Allied Social Science Associations annual meeting seeks to provide "A Humanistic and Social Scientific Account" of "the largest social and economic change since the invention of agriculture."
"The reward from allowing ordinary people to have a go, the rise at first in northwestern Europe and then worldwide of economic liberty and social dignity, eroding ancient hierarchy and evading modern regulation, has been anything from 2,900 to 9,900 percent. Previous ‘efflorescences,’ as the historical sociologist Jack Goldstone calls them, such as the glory of Greece or the boom of Song China, and indeed the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century in Britain, resulted perhaps in doublings of real income per person—100 percent, as against fully 2,900 percent since 1800."
Helen McCloskey's poetry collection The Curve of Nature is now available for download here (.pdf).
McCloskey chats about the modernization of the Middle East on BBC Radio 4's "Start the Week" program.
"The sheer accumulation of oil wealth is not going to be so sheer very soon. It will run out. Saudi Arabia is on the margin of the world economy, and if it's going to succeed for its people it has to adopt free enterprise, along with which goes, I claim, freedom generally."
A new video series from the Institute for Humane Studies features McCloskey in conversation regarding gender freedom. A trailer for the series is embedded above, and you can watch the first, second, and third episodes on the IHS's Learn Liberty website.
On the occasion of Steven N. S. Cheung's 80th birthday, Deirdre McCloskey remarks on meeting and learning from Cheung at Chicago.
In a forthcoming paper for the Journal of Institutional Economics, Deirdre McCloskey replies to defenses of neo-institutionalism—by Avner Greif and Joel Mokyr (also forthcoming), Richard Langlois, Robert Lawson, and Guido Tabellini—made in response to McCloskey's earlier critique.
McCloskey gives an interview (.pdf) to EA, the Institute of Economic Affairs's magazine for secondary-school students, on Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
"The danger is that each new generation will not realize how great the Bourgeois Deal has been, and will forget how bad the earlier deals have been."
McCloskey participated in a discussion with Susan Shell and Yuval Levin on October 1 (watch video) at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. McCloskey's paper for the event, "Economic Liberty as Anti-Flourishing: Marx and Especially His Followers," is available here (.pdf).
McCloskey presented arguments from her forthcoming Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World at the Legatum Institute in London on September 16. A video of the lecture is available, and also Times Higher Education made a report.
This new publication from McCloskey is a précis of her widely read review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
"For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell, and become huffy and scornful when some idiotic optimist intrudes on their pleasure. Yet pessimism has consistently been a poor guide to the modern economic world."
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."
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.
McCloskey talks to Chicago's Windy City Times about career, crossing, and change in a free society.
"[Using] the arts...is the way that anything changes in a free society. But the arts in question are not mainly avant-garde installations or street theater. The arts that matter have to be popular. I mention 'Transamerica,' which by itself did more for trans equality than a hundred angry assaults on convention through cutting edge art. The press needs to stand up—I am getting, as I told you, a crazy amount of publicity these weeks in London. 'OK, Deirdre, act well, act like a graceful but strong woman, don't scare the horses.' It makes the transphobes look stupid."
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.
"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.