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Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World [Kindle Edition]

Deirdre N. McCloskey
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The big economic story of our times is not the Great Recession. It is how China and India began to embrace neoliberal ideas of economics and attributed a sense of dignity and liberty to the bourgeoisie they had denied for so long. The result was an explosion in economic growth and proof that economic change depends less on foreign trade, investment, or material causes, and a whole lot more on ideas and what people believe.

Or so says Deirdre N. McCloskey in Bourgeois Dignity, a fiercely contrarian history that wages a similar argument about economics in the West. Here she turns her attention to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe to reconsider the birth of the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. According to McCloskey, our modern world was not the product of new markets and innovations, but rather the result of shifting opinions about them. During this time, talk of private property, commerce, and even the bourgeoisie itself radically altered, becoming far more approving and flying in the face of prejudices several millennia old. The wealth of nations, then, didn’t grow so dramatically because of economic factors: it grew because rhetoric about markets and free enterprise finally became enthusiastic and encouraging of their inherent dignity.

An utterly fascinating sequel to her critically acclaimed book The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity is a feast of intellectual riches from one of our most spirited and ambitious historians—a work that will forever change our understanding of how the power of persuasion shapes our economic lives.

Editorial Reviews


“The startling perspective McCloskey brings to the history of economics qualifies her as the Max Weber of our times. This is a wonderfully entertaining and stimulating antidote for the reigning view of Homo Economicus.”

(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

“Over a wide range of nations and times, McCloskey advances the arresting thesis that humble ideas, especially those pertaining to the role of a bourgeois dignity, supply the spark that jumpstarts the rest of the process. Readers will be impressed with the breadth of her knowledge, the clarity of her thought, and the sophistication of this finely wrought book.”
(Richard Epstein)

“Deirdre McCloskey has embarked on a heroic enterprise, the wholesale reconsideration of the modern capitalist economy. The author’s lightness of touch is deeply admirable: competing hypotheses from the Protestant Ethic to technological determinism are rounded up and dispatched in a wonderfully invigorating fashion, and not the least of the many virtues of Bourgeois Dignity is the demonstration that serious argument can also be fun.”
(Alan Ryan)

About the Author

Deirdre N. McCloskey is Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among her many books are The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce; Crossing: A Memoir; The Secret Sins of Economics; and If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

Product Details

  • File Size: 5186 KB
  • Print Length: 592 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (November 15, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,118 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why are we now rich? Explaining the GREAT FACT! December 18, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
We in the Western World tend to take our present day wealth for granted, very much like an entitlement. And McCloskey makes clear just how very rich in real terms we are relative to most human kinds history. We don't stop to ask the logical follow-up question: Why are other societies - such as in Africa and South America - still so poor?

McCloskey's answer is that it is simple: (1)Give the "bourgeoisie" respect; and (2)give these same bourgeosie freedom. It is, according to this very mainline economic historian, THAT simple. It is the path that countries such as South Korea and China have successfully followed to achieve the same wealth and prosperity in little more than a generation.

McCloskey considers - and discards - alternative explanations for what economic historians describe as "The Great Fact." Explantions such as "colonial exploitation," Max Weber's Protestant work ethic, and the "Guns, Germs and Steel" advantage that European nations had over the rest of the world.

On the surface - and before you read her book - you might have concluded that the author was some kind of right-wing apologist. Nothing could be farther from the truth! As McCloskey makes clear, she started off her university and economic career from a Marxist orientation. She makes clear that her political inclinations are still mainly to the "left." In other words, the facts as she discovered them forced the conclusion.

McCloskey is a very literate - and cultured - thinker. This in my opinion is a very, very important book that deserves every intellectually inclined persons attention.
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112 of 146 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking But Not Successful January 4, 2011
Foremost, Bourgeois Dignity is to be recommended because it offers an abundance of economic insights. Professor McCloskey deserves the highest praise for emphasizing the hugely important, predominant role of ideology and innovation in the unprecedented improvement in the standard of living since the close of eighteenth century.

Ultimately, however, Bourgeois Dignity fails to prove that what McCloskey terms "bourgeois dignity and liberty" are, to the virtual exclusion of every other factor, responsible for this economic revolution.

One problem is semantics. It seems that, in "bourgeois dignity and liberty", McCloskey means an ideology that promotes and rewards (materially and psychically) commerce and innovation. Fair enough, but McCloskey's choice of the word "dignity" is highly problematic.

In one historical meaning, in the sense of "being dignified", having dignity meant being worthy of honor, being illustrious, being highly esteemed. One was endowed with dignity by doing or accomplishing something honorable or illustrious or esteemed. In this sense, not everyone was inherently endowed with dignity: it had to be earned, and it could be forfeited. In this historical sense, McCloskey's use of the term "dignity" is not objectionable, and is faithful to the substance of the argument. For example, McCloskey writes of the "bourgeois revaluation" in Holland that started it all: "It became honorable - `Honorable', the aristocrat snorts! - to invent a machine for making screws or to venture in trade to Cathay." (p. 11)

However, in its modern usage, in the sense of the U.N.'s declaration that "all human beings are born...
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Ideas, Unpleasant to Read October 6, 2011
By Bret
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
McCloskey's primary idea in this book is that the explosion in wealth creation that started somewhere around 1800 is due to a changing attitude towards making money; it became cool ("dignified") to make money instead of vulgar, unclean, unholy, etc. She argues this forcefully and completely enough that it seems plausible that she's right and I found it convincing that the change in attitude was at least a factor in the extraordinary explosion of innovation and wealth.

While the ideas and content are excellent, I found the writing painful to read. It could've been written in one-third as many pages without skipping any content whatsoever. After a few hundred pages, it was hard to not start skimming.

I'd love for these ideas to be read by as many people as possible, but I wouldn't want to put anybody through the pain of reading this book. If you have a lot of time and want to read an interesting perspective on economic history, then I recommend buying and at least skimming this book. Otherwise, I'd skip it.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This work deserves serious attention January 17, 2012
This is an excellent, though partial, explanation for why the world only recently became richer and richer. This work deserves, and is getting, serious attention.
The book does seem a bit wordy, but I found it easy to read quickly and understand.

Her goal is to show that there exists a `great fact,' that in the last 200 plus years vast numbers people are 16 to 100 richer than their peasant ancestors, and that typical economic explanations for the `great fact' are insufficient to explain the recent appearance in history of compound growth. She tackles each of the primary explanations in turn and shows that they cannot explain continual improvement. They involve re-distribution or re-shuffling, not a hundred fold wealth creation. The fact common argument that the west grew rich through exploiting and looting the peasants, workers, and third world, is disposed of by explaining at length that the real and imagined victims never had enough wealth in the first place to enrich the ever larger, ever spreading, ever wealthier middle class.

The big change was: Dignity of going in to trade and invention combined with liberty to innovate and trade freely. The paths to respectability lead not just narrowly to Throne and Altar. This explosion of applied innovation created wealth.

The sub-title is "Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World." If one is expecting a full scientific argument for what can explain it, this book offers the key as `liberty and dignity' for common people and especially bourgeois innovators, but does not unlock all the doors for you. Hopefully fuller documentation will be forthcoming.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Half of what I expected, maybe I didn't get it
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Book but, Verbose, verbose, verbose.....
I liked her ideas, but reading the book was a painful experience for me. Way too many compound sentences and way to many references to her colleagues that would have been better... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Delavalle
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent book, well researched and well thought out
This is an excellent book, well researched and well thought out. Of particular interest is the evolution of philsophy, for that is what Ms. Read more
Published 4 months ago by j betts
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great book, great scholarship, great conclusions, free markets and free people fully explained
Published 7 months ago by Loren P Ameen
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the few books that has changed the way ...
One of the few books that has changed the way I look at the world. Ideas, rhetoric, semantics, language are not only important; they are really all there is. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Edward Kless
3.0 out of 5 stars ... 80% appeal to professional economists and historians and 10%...
10% brilliance and 80% appeal to professional economists and historians and 10% unnecessary compounding of names, examples and critique into single sentences that left this reader... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Michael Harper
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Horrible
A few interesting points are made. It might have been worth the 99 cents I paid for it, but I'm not entirely sure. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Benjamin D. Steele
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read. Cuts through so much of the economic, prosperity waffle...
A great read. Cuts through so much of the economic and prosperity waffle of our time. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Richard Peterson
5.0 out of 5 stars Deirdre McCloskey writes about capitalism with fresh, new insights...
McCloskey's style is fluid and integrates knowledge of history, economics, and capitalism. It is a stunning approach to understanding why capitalism creates prosperity.
Published on February 10, 2013 by Jeanne Kipp
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, ground-breaking study
Deirdre McCloskey's exploration of the causes of the industrial revolution is simply a breath-taking achievement: first, because it gathers in one place the fantastic number and... Read more
Published on January 8, 2013 by Martin Gurri
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