Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where the Bourgeois Virtues Are Found

Excerpt from Steven Horowitz's blog on The Freeman:

"Economic historian Deirdre McCloskey has just published the second volume [Bourgeois Dignityof her multi-volume look at the history of capitalism and its relationship to the “bourgeois virtues.”  What she means by the latter are the basic virtues of the middle class, from prudence to love to justice.  What makes this approach interesting is that critics of capitalism have long suggested that there were very few virtues associated with the bourgeoisie, mostly because capitalism itself requires and encourages what they saw as the unvirtuous behavior related to greed and self-interest.

In the first volume McCloskey convincingly argues that market relationships civilize us and lead us to treat one another, especially strangers, with openness and kindness, which was previously unknown in history.  In the words of economic anthropologist Paul Seabright, markets turn strangers into “honorary kin.”

Markets do this because they encourage us to treat others as equals in that we approach them, especially strangers, most often as traders.  They have rights to their property, we have rights to ours, and those rights limit the ways we can interact. But they leave exchange available as a way to get the things we want.  The mutuality and reciprocity of exchange both require and encourage us to treat one another humanely, with justice, and as equals.  In other words, markets lead us to treat strangers as fully human."
Link to full blog:
Where the Bourgeois Virtues Are Found | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty:"Economic historian Deirdre McCloskey"

I've just begun reading The Bourgeois Virtues on Amazon's Kindle, which I've had since Christmas 2009, but have only recently begun purchasing volumes and using it. I particularly like the automatic "bookmark" function. Anyway, promoting Kindle aside, McCloskey's writing style is loose and conversational, which is radically different from other economics, philosophy, and history books I've read.  Reviews of The Bourgeous Virtues have been mixed. Most giving it high ratings, but don't find her evidence all that compelling and complain that her writing is a bit scattered. Reviewers are hopeful that she will answer their questions in her next 3 volumes in the series, with the 2nd volume, Bourgeous Dignity, soon to be available. Reading the reviews has convinced me to also get Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments. McCloskey views her 4 volumes as a modern day version of Smith's work.

I remember Objectivist-friendly philosopher George H. Smith (most known for Atheism: The Case Against God ) recommending The Theory of Moral Sentiments many years ago. Those not familiar with Objectivism, the philosophy attempts to provide a internally consistent framework between the ethics of self-interest, the practice of certain virtues (rationality, pride/self-esteem, benevolence, integrity, justice, purpose/productivity), and the political system of libertarianism (i.e., private property, rule of law, & free markets). Given my affinity for Objectivism, I am hopeful McCloskey's works provide further elaboration for the links between virtue and capitalism, especially in the area of historical evidence. When I'm done, I'll share my thoughts as to whether McCloskey's work accomplishes that.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rand Paul's Victory Speech

An outstanding political speech that clearly lays out a libertarian philosophy that he will bring to the US senate. The MSNBC panelists sound a bit afraid! One is afraid that Rand Paul alone will cause a world-wide depression. One of my favorite quotes, "He's not beholden to anybody....this guy is the lead dog in the Tea Party....He came out and almost dictated this how it's going to be!"