Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Bourgeois Revaluation: Ideas that changed the world

Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Enriched the World - Deirdre McCloskey, Legatum Institute:

September 16, 2015 - "Why are we so rich? Who are 'we'? Have our riches corrupted us?

"There is a long answer to this question that can be found in my trilogy, The Bourgeois Era. In this trilogy, I explain three things.

"Firstly, how the commercial bourgeoisie — the middle class of traders, dealers, inventors, and managers — is good, not bad.

"Secondly, that the modern world was not made by the usual material causes, all of which have been widespread in other cultures and at other times. It was caused by both technical and institutional ideas among a uniquely revalued bourgeoisie, at first peculiar to northwestern Europe.

"Thirdly, that a new way of looking at the virtues and bettering ideas in this area sprang from a novel liberty and dignity enjoyed by all commoners, and from a startling revaluation by society as a whole of the trading and betterment in which the bourgeoisie specialized.

"The revaluation, called ‘liberalism’, in turn derived, not from some ancient superiority of the Europeans, but from egalitarian accidents in their politics. What mattered were two levels of ideas: the ideas in the heads of entrepreneurs for the betterments themselves (the electric motor, the airplane, the stock market); and the ideas in society at large about the business people and their betterments (this liberalism). What were not causal were the conventional factors of accumulated capital and institutional change. They happened, but they were largely dependent on betterment and liberalism.

"The upshot since 1800 has been a gigantic improvement for the poor, yielding equality of real comfort in health and housing, such as for many of your ancestors and mine; a promise now being fulfilled with the same result worldwide — a Great Enrichment for even the poorest among us.

"These are controversial claims. They are, you see, optimistic....

"For reasons I do not entirely understand, the clerisy after 1848 turned towards nationalism and socialism, and against liberalism. It came also to delight in an ever-expanding list of pessimisms about the way we live now in our approximately liberal societies: from the lack of temperance among the poor to an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Anti-liberal utopias believed to offset these pessimisms have been popular among the clerisy. Its pessimistic and utopian books have sold millions.

"But 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. Most of the pessimisms about how we live now have proven to be mistaken. It is a puzzle. Perhaps you yourself still believe in nationalism or socialism or proliferating regulation. 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."

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