©Deirdre Nansen McCloskey | COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL



Formal Biography

Deirdre N. McCloskey has been since 2000 UIC Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trained at Harvard as an economist, she has written sixteen books and edited seven more, and has published some three hundred and sixty articles on economic theory, economic history, philosophy, rhetoric, feminism, ethics, and law. She taught for twelve years in Economics at the University of Chicago, and describes herself now as a "postmodern free-market quantitative Episcopalian feminist Aristotelian." Her latest books are How to be Human* *Though an Economist (University of Michigan Press 2001), Measurement and Meaning in Economics (S. Ziliak, ed.; Edward Elgar 2001), The Secret Sins of Economics (Prickly Paradigm Pamphlets, U. of Chicago Press, 2002), The Cult of Statistical Significance: How the Standard Error Costs Us Jobs, Justice, and Lives [with Stephen Ziliak; University of Michigan Press, 2008], The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Capitalism (U. of Chicago Press, 2006), Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World (U. of Chicago Press, 2010), and Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (U. of Chicago Press, 2016). Before The Bourgeois Virtues her best-known books were The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press, 1st ed. 1985, 2nd ed. 1998) and Crossing: A Memoir (U. of Chicago Press, 1999), which was a New York Times Notable Book.

Her scientific work has been on economic history, especially British. Her recent book Bourgeois Equality is a study of Dutch and British economic and social history. She has written on British economic "failure" in the 19th century, trade and growth in the 19th century, open field agriculture in the middle ages, the Gold Standard, and the Industrial Revolution.

Her philosophical books include The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press 1st ed. 1985; 2nd ed. 1998), If You're So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise (University of Chicago Press 1990), and Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics (Cambridge 1994). They concern the maladies of social scientific positivism, the epistemological limits of a future social science, and the promise of a rhetorically sophisticated philosophy of science. In her later work she has turned to ethics and to a philosophical-historical apology for modern economies.





Informal Biographical Remarks

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2000 to 2015 in economics, history, English, and communication. A well-known economist, historian, and rhetorician, with eleven honorary degrees from U.S. and European universities, she has written 19 books and around 400 scholarly and popular pieces on topics ranging from technical economics and statistical theory to transgender advocacy and the bourgeois virtues. Her books and articles have been translated into a dozen languages, from Swedish to Chinese.

She is sometimes regarded as a “conservative” economist, University-of-Chicago-style—she was a tenured associate professor in the Economics Department there in the 1970s, and in 1979 also in History, and still practices the “cliometrics” she pioneered. But she protests that “I’m a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, ex-Marxist, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not ‘conservative’! I’m a Christian classical liberal.” Her most recent popular books, for example, are Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All (Yale University Press, 2019) and with Art Carden Leave Me Alone and I’ll Make You Rich: The Bourgeois Deal (University of Chicago Press, 2020). Also in 2019 the Chicago Press published a third edition of her classic manual on style, Economical Writing, and a 20th-anniversary re-issue of Crossing: A Transgender Memoir, with a new Afterword. But she’s technical and quantitative, too. For example, with Stephen Ziliak in 2008 she wrote The Cult of Statistical Significance, widely praised, which shows that null hypothesis tests of “significance” are, in the absence of a substantive loss function, meaningless. The point, made long before McCloskey by a few statisticians, is becoming widely accepted, for example in the American Statistical Association, though not yet in economics and medicine.

Her latest scholarly book again from the University of Chicago Press, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (2016), was the final volume of the Bourgeois Era trilogy. It argues for an “ideational” explanation of the Great Enrichment of 3,000 percent per person 1800 to the present in places like Britain and Japan and Finland. The accidents of Reformation and Revolt in northwestern Europe 1517–1789 led to a new liberty and dignity for commoners—ideas called “liberalism” in the proper sense—which led in turn to an explosion of commercially tested betterment, “having a go.” The second book in the trilogy, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (2010), had shown that materialist explanations such as saving or exploitation, don’t have enough economic oomph or historical relevance to explain the Enrichment. The alleged explanations that do not focus on the new ideology of “innovism”—her name for the ill-named “capitalism”—are mistaken. And the Enrichment did not corrupt our immortal souls. The inaugural book in the trilogy, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2006), had established that, contrary to the clamor since 1848 of the clerisy left and right, the bourgeoisie is pretty good, and that commercially tested betterment is not the worst of ethical schools. In short, the trilogy looks forward, if populism does not spoil the prospect, to a world of universal dignity and prosperity created by liberal innovism.