Sunday, 24 April 2016


This 650-page tome just arrived as a perfectly-anticipated gift from my former self to comfort me after Thursday's micro exam. The scent alone of Deirdre McCloskey's much anticipated and exciting finale makes me shiver. It. Is. Here. And I can read it. FI-NA-LLY! (If you are unfamiliar with McCloskey's work, here's a quick overview - pretty much any student of economics or history will have bumped into her work at some point)

As she has hinted in her previous two books on the Bourgeois Era, the conclusive evidence for her rhetoric-based story comes in this Finale. And it's a massive one, quite comparable both academically and in size to Anwar Shaikh's Capitalism. Judging by the Contents page it seems like I'm gonna have to wait another 250 pages or so for the proof and evidence we have been promised for a decade. If it's there, and she can really prove her remarkable explanation for the Industrial Revolution ("The Great Enrichment"), economic history has gotten itself a serious challenge: its perception of the industrial revolution has to change rather dramatically - and my professors' everlasting rhapsody of workers' suffering and exploitation (while relevant) has to be put into proper perspective.

Speaking of Contents page. She's always had a way with words, and the chapter headings of previous books have been quite spectacular, but nothing beats this. How about chapter 17?
It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged That Even Dr. Johnson and Jane Austen Exhibit the Revaluation.
Anyone who knows their Austen would be instantly infatuated. And I'm fairly convinced that this is in response to Piketty's use of literature in his book. Or chapter 32:
Bourgeois Shakespeare Disdained Trade and the Bourgeoisie
Or chapter 63:
The Clerisy Betrayed the Bourgeois Deal, and Approved the Bolshevik and Bismarkian Deals
So here are some extracts from the brilliant Exordium:
"The twentieth-century experiments of nationalism and socialism, of syndicalism in factories and central planning for investment, of proliferating regulation for imagined but not factually documented imperfections in the market, did not work. And most of the pessimisms about how we live now have proven to be mistaken. [...] Perhaps you yourself still believe in nationalism or socialism or proliferating regulation. And perhaps you are in the grip of pessimism about growth or consumerism or the environment or inequality.
Please, for the good of the wretched of the earth, reconsider." (p. xii)
Her explanation of the industrial revolution begins with taking on every other conceivable explanation in the historical literature - and disproving it. That's largely what Bourgeois Dignity is all about:
"The causes were not (to pick from the apparently inexhaustible list of materialist factors promoted by this of that economist or economic historian) coal, thrift, transport, high male wages, low female and child wages, surplus value, human capital, geography, railways, institutions, infrastructure, nationalism, the quickening of commerce, the late medieval run-up, Renaissance individualist, the First Divergence, the Black Death, American silver, the original accumulation of capital, piracy, empire, eugenic improvement, the mathematization of celestial mechanics, technical education, or a perfection of property rights. Such conditions had been routine in a dozen of the leading organized societies of Eurasia, from ancient Egypt and China down to Tokugawa Japan and the Ottoman Empire, and not unknown in Mesoamerica and the Andes. " (p. xiv)
and her case, succinctly put:
"The original and sustaining causes of the modern world, in other words, were ethical, not material. They were the widening adoption of two mere ideas, the new and liberal economic idea of liberty for ordinary people and the new and democratic social idea of dignity for them. The two linked and preposterous ethical ideas - the single word for them is 'equality', of respect and before the law." (p. xxxi)
Dear Deirdre, I've been in love with your work for years. As others idealize Pop Stars or Basket Players, I idealize Econ Historians with a beautiful prose, a sharp mind and an impressive case to make. I'm overly grateful for all the work you've gathered in the Bourgeois Era, and I'm gonna take refuge in your splendid magnum opus as often as I possibly can. No disappointments, I'm sure.

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