Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World

University of Chicago Press
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There’s little doubt that most humans today are better off than their forebears. Stunningly so, the economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey argues in the concluding volume of her trilogy celebrating the oft-derided virtues of the bourgeoisie. The poorest of humanity, McCloskey shows, will soon be joining the comparative riches of Japan and Sweden and Botswana.

Why? Most economists—from Adam Smith and Karl Marx to Thomas Piketty—say the Great Enrichment since 1800 came from accumulated capital. McCloskey disagrees, fiercely. “Our riches,” she argues, “were made not by piling brick on brick, bank balance on bank balance, but by piling idea on idea.” Capital was necessary, but so was the presence of oxygen. It was ideas, not matter, that drove “trade-tested betterment.” Nor were institutions the drivers. The World Bank orthodoxy of “add institutions and stir” doesn’t work, and didn’t. McCloskey builds a powerful case for the initiating role of ideas—ideas for electric motors and free elections, of course, but more deeply the bizarre and liberal ideas of equal liberty and dignity for ordinary folk. Liberalism arose from theological and political revolutions in northwest Europe, yielding a unique respect for betterment and its practitioners, and upending ancient hierarchies. Commoners were encouraged to have a go, and the bourgeoisie took up the Bourgeois Deal, and we were all enriched.

Few economists or historians write like McCloskey—her ability to invest the facts of economic history with the urgency of a novel, or of a leading case at law, is unmatched. She summarizes modern economics and modern economic history with verve and lucidity, yet sees through to the really big scientific conclusion. Not matter, but ideas. Big books don’t come any more ambitious, or captivating, than Bourgeois Equality.
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About the author

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey is an emerita distinguished professor of economics and of history, and professor of English and of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of sixteen other books, including If You’re So Smart, The Secret Sins of Economics, The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity, and Crossing: A Memoir, all published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Apr 21, 2016
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Pages
768
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ISBN
9780226334042
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / General
History / Europe / General
History / General
Political Science / History & Theory
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Deirdre N. McCloskey
For a century and a half, the artists and intellectuals of Europe have scorned the bourgeoisie. And for a millennium and a half, the philosophers and theologians of Europe have scorned the marketplace. The bourgeois life, capitalism, Mencken’s “booboisie” and David Brooks’s “bobos”—all have been, and still are, framed as being responsible for everything from financial to moral poverty, world wars, and spiritual desuetude. Countering these centuries of assumptions and unexamined thinking is Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues, a magnum opus that offers a radical view: capitalism is good for us.

McCloskey’s sweeping, charming, and even humorous survey of ethical thought and economic realities—from Plato to Barbara Ehrenreich—overturns every assumption we have about being bourgeois. Can you be virtuous and bourgeois? Do markets improve ethics? Has capitalism made us better as well as richer? Yes, yes, and yes, argues McCloskey, who takes on centuries of capitalism’s critics with her erudition and sheer scope of knowledge. Applying a new tradition of “virtue ethics” to our lives in modern economies, she affirms American capitalism without ignoring its faults and celebrates the bourgeois lives we actually live, without supposing that they must be lives without ethical foundations.

High Noon, Kant, Bill Murray, the modern novel, van Gogh, and of course economics and the economy all come into play in a book that can only be described as a monumental project and a life’s work. The Bourgeois Virtues is nothing less than a dazzling reinterpretation of Western intellectual history, a dead-serious reply to the critics of capitalism—and a surprising page-turner.
Sebastian Mallaby
The definitive biography of the most important economic statesman of our time
 
Sebastian Mallaby's magisterial biography of Alan Greenspan, the product of over five years of research based on untrammeled access to his subject and his closest professional and personal intimates, brings into vivid focus the mysterious point where the government and the economy meet. To understand Greenspan's story is to see the economic and political landscape of the last 30 years--and the presidency from Reagan to George W. Bush--in a whole new light. As the most influential economic statesman of his age, Greenspan spent a lifetime grappling with a momentous shift: the transformation of finance from the fixed and regulated system of the post-war era to the free-for-all of the past quarter century. The story of Greenspan is also the story of the making of modern finance, for good and for ill. 
 
Greenspan's life is a quintessential American success story: raised by a single mother in the Jewish émigré community of Washington Heights, he was a math prodigy who found a niche as a stats-crunching consultant. A master at explaining the economic weather to captains of industry, he translated that skill into advising Richard Nixon in his 1968 campaign. This led to a perch on the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and then to a dazzling array of business and government roles, from which the path to the Fed was relatively clear. A fire-breathing libertarian and disciple of Ayn Rand in his youth who once called the Fed's creation a historic mistake, Mallaby shows how Greenspan reinvented himself as a pragmatist once in power. In his analysis, and in his core mission of keeping inflation in check, he was a maestro indeed, and hailed as such. At his retirement in 2006, he was lauded as the age's necessary man, the veritable God in the machine, the global economy's avatar. His memoirs sold for record sums to publishers around the world.
 
But then came 2008. Mallaby's story lands with both feet on the great crash which did so much to damage Alan Greenspan's reputation. Mallaby argues that the conventional wisdom is off base: Greenspan wasn't a naïve ideologue who believed greater regulation was unnecessary. He had pressed for greater regulation of some key areas of finance over the years, and had gotten nowhere. To argue that he didn't know the risks in irrational markets is to miss the point. He knew more than almost anyone; the question is why he didn't act, and whether anyone else could or would have. A close reading of Greenspan's life provides fascinating answers to these questions, answers whose lessons we would do well to heed. Because perhaps Mallaby's greatest lesson is that economic statesmanship, like political statesmanship, is the art of the possible. The Man Who Knew is a searching reckoning with what exactly comprised the art, and the possible, in the career of Alan Greenspan.


From the Hardcover edition.
Rana Foroohar
Is Wall Street bad for Main Street America?

In looking at the forces that brought our current administration to power one thing is clear: much of the population believes that our economic system is rigged to enrich the privileged elites at the expense of hard-working Americans. This is a belief held equally on both sides of political spectrum, and it seems only to be gaining momentum.
 
A key reason, says Financial Times columnist Rana Foroohar, is the fact that Wall Street is no longer supporting Main Street businesses that create the jobs for the middle and working class. She draws on in-depth reporting and interviews at the highest rungs of business and government to show how the “financialization of America”—the phenomenon by which finance and its way of thinking have come to dominate every corner of business—is threatening the American Dream.
 
Now updated with new material explaining how our corrupted financial sys­tem propelled Donald Trump to power, Makers and Takers explores the confluence of forces that has led American businesses to favor balance-sheet engineering over the actual kind, greed over growth, and short-term profits over putting people to work. From the cozy relationship between Wall Street and Washington, to a tax code designed to benefit wealthy individuals and corporations, to forty years of bad policy decisions, she shows why so many Americans have lost trust in the sys­tem, and why it matters urgently to us all.
 
Through colorful stories of both “Takers,” those stifling job creation while lining their own pockets, and “Makers,” businesses serving the real economy, Foroohar shows how we can reverse these trends for a better path forward.
George F. DeMartino
For over a century the economics profession has extended its reach to encompass policy formation and institutional design while largely ignoring the ethical challenges that attend the profession's influence over the lives of others. Economists have proven to be disinterested in ethics. Embracing emotivism, they often treat ethics a matter of mere preference. Moreover, economists tend to be hostile to professional economic ethics, which they incorrectly equate with a code of conduct that would be at best ineffectual and at worst disruptive to good economic practice. But good ethical reasoning is not reducible to mere tastes, and professional ethics is not reducible to a code. Instead, professional economic ethics refers to a new field of investigation-a tradition of sustained and lively inquiry into the irrepressible ethical entailments of academic and applied economic practice. The Oxford Handbook of Professional Economic Ethics explores a wide range of questions related to the nature of ethical economic practice and the content of professional economic ethics. It explores current thinking that has emerged in these areas while widening substantially the terrain of economic ethics. There has never been a volume that poses so directly and intensively the question of the need for and content of professional ethics for economics. The Handbook incorporates the work of leading scholars and practitioners, including academic economists from various theoretical traditions; applied economists, beyond academia, whose work has direct and immense social impact; and philosophers, professional ethicists, and others whose work has addressed the nature of "professionalism" and its implications for ethical practice.
George F. DeMartino
For over a century the economics profession has extended its reach to encompass policy formation and institutional design while largely ignoring the ethical challenges that attend the profession's influence over the lives of others. Economists have proven to be disinterested in ethics. Embracing emotivism, they often treat ethics a matter of mere preference. Moreover, economists tend to be hostile to professional economic ethics, which they incorrectly equate with a code of conduct that would be at best ineffectual and at worst disruptive to good economic practice. But good ethical reasoning is not reducible to mere tastes, and professional ethics is not reducible to a code. Instead, professional economic ethics refers to a new field of investigation-a tradition of sustained and lively inquiry into the irrepressible ethical entailments of academic and applied economic practice. The Oxford Handbook of Professional Economic Ethics explores a wide range of questions related to the nature of ethical economic practice and the content of professional economic ethics. It explores current thinking that has emerged in these areas while widening substantially the terrain of economic ethics. There has never been a volume that poses so directly and intensively the question of the need for and content of professional ethics for economics. The Handbook incorporates the work of leading scholars and practitioners, including academic economists from various theoretical traditions; applied economists, beyond academia, whose work has direct and immense social impact; and philosophers, professional ethicists, and others whose work has addressed the nature of "professionalism" and its implications for ethical practice.
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