Bourgeois Dignity and Liberty: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey
[forthcoming, University of Chicago Press autumn 2010]
University of Illinois at Chicago
Table of Contents
  1. Front matter and Acknowledgments
  2. “The Tide of Innovation, 1700-Present” (abstract)
    1. The Industrial Revolution was a Great Tide
    2. The Tide Came from a New Dignity and a New Liberty for the Ordinary Bourgeoisie and Its Innovations
  3. “The Anti-Materialist Project of ‘The Bourgeois Era’” (abstract)
    1. Many Other Plausible Theories Don’t Work Very Well
    2. The Correct Story Praises “Capitalism”
  4. “Growth, Quality, Happiness, and the Poor” (abstract)
    1. Modern Growth was a Factor of at Least Sixteen
    2. Increasing Scope, Not Pot-of-Pleasure “Happiness,” is What Mattered
    3. And the Poor Won
  5. “Britain, China, and the Irrelevance of Stage Theories” (abstract)
    1. Britain Led
    2. But Britain’s, and Europe’s, Lead was an Episode
    3. And Followers Could Leap Over Stages
  6. “Saving, Investment, Greed, and Original Accumulation Do Not Explain Growth” (abstract)
    1. It Didn’t Happen Because of Thrift
    2. Nor Because of a Rise of Greed or of a Protestant Ethic
    3. Nor Because of Original Accumulation
  7. “Domestic Reshufflings, Such as Transport and Coal, Do Not Explain the Modern World” (abstract)
    1. Transport or Other Domestic Reshufflings Didn’t Cause It
    2. Nor Geography, nor Natural Resources
    3. Not Even Coal
  8. “Foreign Trade Was Not an Engine of Growth” (abstract)
    1. Foreign Trade was Not the Cause, Though World Prices were a Context
    2. And the Logic of Trade-as-an-Engine is Dubious
    3. And Even the Dynamic Effects of Trade were Small
  9. “Slavery and Imperialism Did Not Enrich Europe” (abstract)
    1. The Effects on Europe of the Slave Trade and British Imperialism were Smaller Still
    2. And Other Imperialisms, External or Internal, Were Equally Profitless
  10. “Commerce in Braudel and the Marxists” (abstract)
    1. It was Not the Sheer Quickening of Commerce
  11. “The Inheritance of Gregory Clark” (abstract)
    1. Eugenic Materialism Doesn’t Work
    2. Neo-Darwinism Doesn’t Compute
    3. And Inheritance Fades
  12. “The Institution of Douglass North” (abstract)
    1. Institutions Cannot be Viewed Merely as Incentive-Providing Constraints
    2. Nor Did The Glorious Revolution Initiate Private Property
    3. And So the Chronology of Property and Incentives Has Been Mismeasured
    4. And Anyway the Entire Absence of Property is not Relevant to the Place or Period
  13. “Science, Bourgeois Dignity, and the Industrial Revolution” (abstract)
    1. The Cause was Not Science
    2. But Bourgeois Dignity and Liberty Entwined with the Enlightenment
  14. “Creative Language, Creative Destruction, Creative Politics” (abstract)
    1. It was Not Allocation, but Language
    2. Dignity and Liberty for Ordinary People, in Short, were the Greatest Externalities
    3. They Warrant Not Political or Environmental Pessimism, but an Amiable Optimism
  15. The Argument of Bourgeois Dignity and Liberty: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World“: A Prècis of the Entire Book.
  16. A List of ‘Not Causes’
  17. Works Cited

15 thoughts on “Bourgeois Dignity and Liberty: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World

  1. Dear Mr. Elert:

    I got the “extraordinära ekonomiska,” which served my vanity. But can you tell me the gist of what you wrote in English?



  2. Dear Deirdre,

    As a Dane I can understand what Elert is writing. He is relating the subject [of The Bourgeois Virtues] and mentioning your visit to the Mont Pelerin society and other accolades. “Extraordinara ekonomiska” refers to the economic development since 1800.


  3. Dear Deirdre,
    “extraordinära ekonomiska” could have referred to your skills as well. :) What appeared as a comment on this site was actually a post on my blog linking here, whereas your comment appeared on my blog as well (very odd indeed).

    I posted a translation of the post in the comment field at my blogg prior to realizing this, you’ll find it here:


  4. Prudentia editors are at fault here. In response to a pingback of Mr. Elert’s post that arrived at, they meant to refer to Mr. Elert’s mention of the Bourgeois Era volumes in a new post but instead copied it as a comment. Prudentia apologizes to all for the confusion.

  5. Basta Niklas,

    Thanks for the translation and your praise. I dearly would like to reach my cousins in sweet Scandinavia! Regards, Deirdre

  6. My Dear Russian Commentators,

    Google Translate does not give very good texts, but so far as I can understand what you are saying (1.) Yes, innovation CAN be bad for the poor (and the rich), but in actual, historical fact it has been enormously good for the poor; (2.) there has been an explosion of Big History recently, and my book Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World is merely the last of at least a dozen in the past few years (mine, of course, is the best!)


    Deirdre McCloskey

  7. This, then, is the point I insist upon, in answer to the objection which you have today urged against me. The Church aims, not at making a show, but at doing a work. She regards this world, and all that is in it, as a mere shadow, as dust and ashes, compared with the value of one single soul. She holds that, unless she can, in her own way, do good to souls, it is no use her doing anything; she holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse. She considers the action of this world and the action of the soul simply incommensurate, viewed in their respective spheres; she would rather save the soul of one single wild bandit of Calabria, or whining beggar of Palermo, than draw a hundred lines of railroad through the length and breadth of Italy, or carry out a sanitary reform, in its fullest details, in every city of Sicily, except so far as these great national works tended to some spiritual good beyond them. Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, Volume 1 John Henry Newman. Part 2. Difficulties in Accepting the Communion of Rome as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Lecture 8. The Social State of Catholic Countries No Prejudice to the Sanctity of the Church

  8. The only kind of bunylilg that’s EVIL these days is bunylilg of gay kids. But what about when gays bully others, as when some bald gay guy yelled ‘youre mother is a whore’ to Bristol at a bar? No media coverage of that. Btw, what about fatness? Is that a condition or an ‘identity’? What if some people have fat genes, like some have gay genes? What if they can’t help but eat a lot just like gays can’t help but to seek out anal sex? What if it’s a part of their natural drive? Then, is Michelle Obama bunylilg and shaming fat kids who are really victims? What if a fat kid commits suicide cuz he was called names? Should kids who called him ‘fatso’ be accused of fatophobia or obesophobia?

  9. The French Revolution and the Communist Gulag are directly lienkd according no less a scholar than Harvard’s Crane Brinton. Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn extensively described the essential simialarities between the USSR and the “Liberte’,Egalite’ and Fraternite’” that lead to the Great Terror.Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained it all quite clearly in virtually everything he wrote.Why are leftists so simultaneously arrogant and ignorant?One is reminded of the reaction of Caffinhals, who replied to the uproar created by the defenders of Lavoisier, who cried, “You are condemning a great learned man to death,” by saying, “The Revolution has no need of learned men.”

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