See “Resolve to read a business book,” Chicago Tribune, 10 December 2010.
Original entry » || Excerpt:
Taking a note from that page, Deirdre N. McCloskey, sage of the history of capitalism, opens The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce by exploring Vargas Llosa’s thoughts on globalization:
Globalization extends radically to all citizens of this planet the possibility to construct their individual cultural identities through voluntary action, according to their preferences and intimate motivations. Now, citizens are not always obligated, as in the past and in many places in the present, to respect an identity that traps them in a concentration camp from which there is no escapeâ€”the identity that is imposed on them through the language, nation, church, and customs of the place where they were born.
McCloskey’s sweeping, humorous survey of ethical thought and economic realities takes on more than just Vargas Llosa, spanning from Kant to Bill Murray and back to American economics in a surprising page-turner. While waiting for the sequel, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World , to appear from the University of Chicago Press this fall, be sure to check out an excerpt (including nods to Vargas Llosa, Alfred Tennyson, and Chicago-style pizza) from The Bourgeois Virtues online.
Even in the “dismal science,” there are dazzling stylists. Deirdre McCloskey’s Economical Writing is a treat that can benefit academics in all fields. McCloskey took Strunk and White as her model and wrote a terrific little book of her own. She does what all good writers doâ€”delivers her information in a way that makes you want to keep reading. She pleases as she instructs.
The book was originally known as The Writing of Economics and was published in 1986, when Deirdre was still Donald McCloskey. It was revised in 1999 and renamed Economical Writing, after the author had undergone sex-reassignment surgery. Minutes after finishing the book, I e-mailed McCloskey a gushy letter. During a series of exchanges, I wondered if the revisions were affected by her sex change. She said no, that the book is mostly just her, though in the revisionsâ€”and in generalâ€”her writing style as a woman is more playful and more personal.
I’m reading some fascinating works on writing and rhetoric in preparation for various parts of my book. Most recently I’ve begun Deirdre McCloskey’s The Rhetoric of Economics (2nd edition, 1998, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press), a delightful rhetorical analysis of economic discourse in which she dissects the ways in which economists convince one another and others of the truth of their assertions. According to McCloskey, much of what many economists consider unassailable scientific truth is really rhetorical “smoke and mirrors.”
Go to ORIGINAL POST, “Capitalism versus the good old days”
Some wise words from Deirdre McCloskey, for those who fear that things were healthier in the good old days and that we are degrading our environment and living less authentic lives:
"â€˜Ah, but the environment was better.' Briefly for now, no. Consider that you may be mistaken. Air quality during the past fifty years has improved in some respects in every rich city in the world. Let us then be rich. Remember smoky crofters' cabins. Remember being tied in Japan by law and cost to one locale. Remember American outhouses and iced-over rain barrels and cold and wet and dirt. Remember in Denmark ten people living in one room, the cows and chickens in the other room. Remember in Nebraska sod houses and isolation. Remember a very reasonable terror in the face of nature, wolves roaming in packs during the seventeenth century even in the highly urbanized Low Countries. Remember horse manure in New York and soft coal in London. This is what we have escaped, thanks to that used-up liberal capitalism.â€
That's from The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (University of Chicago Press, 2006), which I discussed briefly here: "Why life is 255 times better now than in 1800.â€
McCloskey mentions another datum, excerpts from a diary kept by midwife Martha Ballard of Hallowell, Maine from 1785 to 1812:
"I attended funeral of [name of child obscure], who deceased being 4 years and 1 day old â€¦ Captain Lamb's wife, and Solon Cook's, and Ebeneezer Davis, Jr.'s wives died in child bed; infants deceased also â€¦ A storm of snow; cold for March â€¦ I had two falls; one on my way there, the other on my return â€¦ I traveled some roads in the snow where it was almost as high as my waist â€¦ I was at home this day making soap and knitting â€¦ Was called at a little past 12 in morning by Mr. Edson, to go to his wife being in travail â€¦ The river [was] dangerous but [I] arrived safe through Divine protection â€¦ I could not sleep for fleas. I found 80 fleas on my clothes after I came homeâ€¦ Cleared some of the manure from under the out house â€¦ Iced-over rain barrel.â€
McCloskey notes: "Martha Ballard lived a typical precapitalist life. Is any of this, dear reader, typical of your life in a modern bourgeois society?â€
(Perhaps not, he answers to himself, sitting in his air-conditioned family room on a humid day, sipping imported coffee while browsing the web on his laptop and watching a soccer game broadcast live from the other side of the world, kids splashing noisily in the backyard pool).
Some texts are ever-relevant, ever popular. Recent blog excerpts:
From Mark Liberman’s “Language Log” (UPenn) April 5, 2010:
And from Liberman’s September 16, 2004 archives of the same column:
[T]here are a couple of gems among the first five titles [in Prickly Paradigm's new online resource of pamphelts].I was especially taken with Deirdre McCloskey’s The Secret Sins of Economics. It’s a great pamphlet, engaging and fun to read and (at least for an outsider) quite convincing. [View original entry.]
About another of McCloskey’s “gems,” Thomas Mandl writes in his “Constant Education” column (March 30, 2010):
Praise thy Web because She gives us Deirdre McCloskey, who has taken upon herself to teach some basic writing rules to theoretical minds and liberate humanity from illegible words. Her 15 rules of economic writing are a gift that every human being interested in clear prose should read. If you do not want to help yourself by spending 30 minutes on these rules, you can read a one-page summary. If you, however, want to go the whole nine yards you can read Professor McCloskey’s book, Economical Writing. [View original entry.]
Abstract from Gustavo Morles’s (28 Feb. 2010 draft version of) “The Rhetoric of Economics: Why Words are Important”:
By looking at historical evidence McCloskey concludes that the great transformation of the Industrial Revolution was made possible by the change in attitudes, reflected ultimately in the change in rhetoric, towards bourgeois values. This paper explores the importance of the change in rhetoric by looking at the impact of the more recent change in attitudes against bourgeois values. [It] argues that what Weigel identifies as the current European crisis of civilizational morale is ultimately a product of turning away from the rhetoric that made the Industrial Revolution possible. Weigel warns that today's European crisis could be tomorrow's American crisis. [We argue] that the election of Barack Obama has accelerated America's turn towards the "European Modelâ€ and its anti-Bourgeois rhetoric.