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Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World Paperback – November 15, 2011

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Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World + The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce + The Rhetoric of Economics (Rhetoric of the Human Sciences)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226556743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226556741
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Bourgeois Dignity is packed with ideas: a fact in every sentence, an idea on every page." (Times Higher Education) "The discussions [in Bourgeois Dignity] are intellectually serious but not academically dry or overly technical.... [An] entertaining and informative study." (National Review) "McCloskey's main argument is that when business became a suitable topic for those in the Western bourgeois class, they began to encourage economic innovations both with their money and with their supportive rhetoric. This support of the business world is what caused the growth in wealth of western nations and not in other societies or civilizations." (Chicago Tribune) "Deirdre McCloskey is an outrageously prolific and always fascinating economist and writer.... Bourgeois Dignity is only the latest chapter in what has to be one of the most interesting scholarly careers in America today." (Boston Globe)"

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.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By B Leyden on 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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107 of 138 people found the following review helpful By P. Graham on January 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Bret on October 6, 2011
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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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Anders D. Mikkelsen on January 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
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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