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Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  124 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews

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, an

Hardcover, 592 pages
Published November 30th 2010 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 2010)
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Apr 24, 2011 Buck rated it it was ok
Shelves: dismal-science
My ancestors were illiterate peasants living in their own filth. But that’s okay – so were yours, and you probably don’t have to go back very far to find them (mine crawled out of the rural idiocy of the Scottish Highlands a mere six or seven generations ago). Unless you happen to be reading this in, say, sub-Saharan Africa, you are enormously, fantastically richer than your great-great-grandparents ever dreamed of being. Even if your Visa card is maxed out and your ’92 Honda Accord is emitting ...more
Sean Rosenthal
Interesting Quotes:

"[T]he modern world arose out of an entirely new 'ideology.' Or, equivalently, it arose out of an entirely new social 'rhetoric'--an older term meaning about the same thing. For example, the word 'honest' in Shakespeare's time, as you can see in dictionaries of Shakespearean English or by searching the texts of the plays, was understood mainly as 'noble' (that is, honorable in an aristocratic way, achieved in battle or at court: 'Honest, honest Iago'). Its rhetoric changed rad
Jun 13, 2016 Chris is currently reading it
Brilliant and worldview-changing. McCloskey surveys all the leading explanations for the Industrial Revolution (institutions, trade, science...) and finds them wanting. Her preferred answer is a "bourgeois revaluation" that exalted peaceful commerce and innovation as opposed to the old ways of getting honor through war and conquest....
Oct 07, 2015 Frumenty rated it it was amazing
This is a work of economic history. That's not a topic that I would usually interest myself in, but I heard the author speaking on the radio and I was impressed. The question this book seeks to answer, apparently a perennial one for economic historians, is why did the Industrial Revolution occur when and where it did, and not somewhere else and at another time? The answer, it is asserted, is pretty simple, but all the economists have missed it:

"A big change in the common opinion about markets an
Dan Walker
Feb 23, 2014 Dan Walker rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, economics
I believe Deirdre McCloskey has unlocked the secret to why we are so wealthy today. Most people, and apparently all politicians, walk around believing there is something fundamentally wrong with the world and that money is a big part of the problem. Somehow things just aren't right and what we really need to do is reshuffle the deck and spread the wealth "fairly." Strangely, "fairness" seems to coincide with helping this or that politician win the next election.

Since most people only live a few
William Smith
May 18, 2016 William Smith rated it it was amazing
This is her second volume of six planned on how bourgeois ideas caused the 15x (at least) growth in societal wealth after the 16th century. She argues it was only after merchants and commerce came to be viewed with dignity and respect in the Netherlands, and then Britain, Scotland, the U.S. and later France and Germany, and were given the freedom to innovate and trade, that the world experienced the unprecedented economic growth and improvement in human condition that we enjoy now.
Paul Crider
Feb 09, 2016 Paul Crider rated it it was amazing
McCloskey offers an invaluable contribution to the quest to understand the causes of what she calls the Great Enrichment, that explosion in human capabilities that has been ongoing since ~1800 or so. The book is in its bulk critical of the other theses that have been suggested by other scholars. Her own theory is unique in that it is resolutely non-materialistic. Ideas matter. Art, literature, etc, but especially ethics and our conversation around these ideas all matter as much as the underlying ...more
Andrew Clough
Jul 14, 2013 Andrew Clough rated it it was ok
I was hoping for a book on how people started to respect commerce and how it might have contributed to western economic development. Instead I mostly just got a very unpersuasive attack on competing theories. I spent the book trying to figure out what exactly the difference between her theory and the "Institutions" theory of development was, and didn't find anything in the book to let me figure that out.

Also, listing among the reasons that science couldn't have been responsible for development s
Aug 23, 2015 Carl rated it really liked it
An excellent and enlightening analysis of the reasons why mankind has made so much progress in the last couple of hundred years in comparison to the rest of history. A little tedious to read though.
The American Conservative
'McCloskey’s learning is prodigious—ranging across history, literature, and economics—though always lightly worn. She writes chattily, if at times a bit obsessively, and has a great professor’s ability to make the complex accessible.

Bourgeois Dignity, like its predecessor The Bourgeois Virtues, is a tour de force. If the four subsequent volumes are on this level, “The Bourgeois Era,” as her series is named, will stand as one of the great achievements in intellectual history of our time.'

Read th
Neil Rempel
Jan 18, 2016 Neil Rempel rated it it was amazing is language that caused the industrial revolution.....not economic/material change.....
Alex MacMillan
Jan 06, 2013 Alex MacMillan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thesis-citation
A brilliantly-written culmination of a lifetime researching and critically thinking about why the Industrial Revolution happened. Information contained in ten-page chapters were superior to entire books or even semester-long college courses. This is a must read for anyone who majored in a liberal arts discipline who wants their perspective about the nature of modernity expanded beyond the constraints in their thinking (absorbed unawares) by socialists, neoliberals, conservatives, economists, sci ...more
Petr Špecián
Jul 08, 2013 Petr Špecián rated it really liked it
Although I dislike McCloskey's rather weird and confused methodological writings, here, where she does not try to philosophize too much, she does a pretty good job. The book illustrates the crucial role played in the economic development by ideology and its change, the Burgeois Revaluation, that started the Industrial Revolution. McCloskey's attempt to disprove all competing theories, especially the materialist ones, is persuasive and well written, although a little repetitive at times. Perhaps ...more
Oct 04, 2014 Ari rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I found this book basically unreadable. The author can't stay on a single thought without an endless mess of self-glorifying asides. The premise is interesting -- that wealth is basically about knowledge, not about the accumulation of physical capital or global knowledge. But the author doesn't really stay on the point.
Feb 23, 2014 Sue rated it really liked it
Not really finished, because I dipped and skipped my way through all the economics and quite a few of the pages: McCloskey has a lot to say and says it with a lot of beautifully-crafted words. I did find the book thought-provoking and enlightening and have no doubt that traditional economists consider her a complete iconoclast.
Chris Mericle
May 17, 2012 Chris Mericle rated it it was amazing
Why after tens of thousands of years did England and latter much of the world escape the Malthusian trap? This book is a 500+ debate on the issue, very stimulating.
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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 fifteen 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 tau ...more
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“Nor during the Age of Innovation have the poor gotten poorer, as people are always saying. On the contrary, the poor have been the chief beneficiaries of modern capitalism. It is an irrefutable historical finding, obscured by the logical truth that the profits from innovation go in the first act mostly to the bourgeois rich.” 6 likes
“The change in rhetoric has constituted a revolution in how people view themselves and how they view the middle class, the Bourgeois Revaluation. People have become tolerant of markets and innovation.” 1 likes
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