©Deirdre Nansen McCloskey | COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

McCloskey's Reply to McInturf
See also letter to the editor of Books and Culture and Reply to McCarraher

Filed under academic interests [bourgeois virtues]

Dear Mr. McInturf:

I could not get the blog to display properly: it gave me a lot of formatting stuff, but I extracted the following:

At any rate, I do admit that my little blurb was probably too critical of a book I haven't read,

Yeah, that's a problem. People take hostile and partial reviews as accurate, without reading, especially if the review reflects their own ideology. My book is cheap!

I believe that the Augustinian diagnosis of capitalistic commodity fetishism as a privation of the fundamental human longing for a sacramental way of being in the world is right on the money.

There is as you know a long, long tension about this in Christian thought. Augustine is one, stoic, world-denying side. The modern left has adopted such a line of, as Milton called them, "budge doctors of the stoic fur." The other side is the ethical enjoyment of God's gifts. "He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:/ Praise him." One can't just mention Augustine and leave the field, yes? One has to argue the case against the world and its riches. My book argues for the defense. Few enough intellectuals do, but that's not in itself an argument. Look for instance at Daniel Horowitz's fine The Morality of Spending (1985), which chronicles the turn against consumption among American intellectuals looking down with alarm on the proletariat.

But honestly, Ms. McCloskey - the business of America is business. Capitalists are not and never have been a minority - not in Hollywood, not in Washington, and not even in New Haven, Ithaca, or Chicago.

You are of course correct about the powers that be. But my quarrel is with the "clerisy," as Coleridge and I call it: the intellectuals. They are against capitalism, or have been since 1848. My book tells why they are mistaken to be so.

One more thing: you write, "we capitalists have a plan-a plan that has actually worked-to make the working class rich and ethical." That is exactly the problem - you identify the good life with the wealthy life.

No I don't, not even in that sentence. Notice "and ethical." The point of the book, which you miss because the review missed it and you are relying on the review (I spent many hundreds of pages making it in fifty different ways) is that "rich" is not the only element of the good life. I am attacking my economist colleagues. But on the other hand it's unethical, isn't it, to want people to remain poor? That's what will happen if capitalism is crushed. How do I know? It did in India 1947-1980 and in China 1948-1980; not to speak of the USSR , or fascism in Spain.

Aside from the fact that global capitalism simply displaces our need for an impoverished working class to the third world,

That's mistaken, and if you will study economics you will see that it is. If you get your economics from a mix of Marx and Augustine, you will have a harder time seeing it. This so-called "need for an impoverished working class" has in fact resulted during the past decade in the fastest rise of world income in history. I mean the billions made better off in China and India among other places. Capitalism makes the working class better off materially. (I thought you had conceded that?) And, as I said, spiritually. I know you find this hard to believe. Unless you wish to stay with your present opinions merely because they are your present opinions, read and ponder.

The ethos of capitalism sees others as threats, as competitors for scarce resources.

No. It's the ethos of humanness, having nothing especially to do with capitalism. What capitalism mainly does, on a gigantic scale, is well illustrated by the internet itself: allow cooperation (not competition) with distant folk. Think of how many people contributed by cooperating to making the keyboard you are typing on.

there is no way around it - the anthropological premise upon which capitalism is founded sees the humans in terms of individual, acquisitive consumers.

That is mistaken, though you are quite right that some of my economist colleagues delight boyishly in imagining it is so. It isn't. People make themselves in consumption, as the anthropologists note, in every society. One anthropologist explicit about this was, for example, the late Mary Douglas.

Capitalism fails if people are not in fact this way, and so rather than "reckoning honestly with human nature," the effect of marketing is to actively create this sort of human.

That's not true. But to face up to the massive evidence you would be well advised to read my book and the works it cites. (It's another matter, I repeat, if you do not wish to face up to the evidence. In that case, stick with what you think now. Don't read people who disagree with you.)

By contrast, Christian anthropology sees the human as an other-oriented, self-giving person whose being was given to her as a gift in the first place and because of that has no need to defend (and create!) it with the accumulation of stuff. This forces it to lay its ax to the root of any capitalistic construction of virtue.

Not so, even in theological terms. Consumption is not the accumulation of stuff. And if you lay the ax to capitalism you are left not with a workers' utopia; it seems from the evidence of the 20th century that you are left with gulags and extermination camps and a materially and spiritually impoverished proletariate.


Deirdre McCloskey