The Vices of Economists, the Virtues of the Bourgeoisie

By Deirdre N. McCloskey | Go to book overview

Preface

I CONTINUE here to think about some issues raised in an inaugural address (in Dutch "oratie") delivered at Erasmus University of Rotterdam on May 10, 1996. I've thought about them some before, in Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics ( 1994), If You're So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise ( 1990), and The Rhetoric of Economics ( 1985). Here my thoughts lurch forward a little. The issues could be put as "Whither Economics?" It's a question you ask when troubled. The field I love and was first educated in is having problems, of which the troubled men in economics are only half aware. I think the problems came from three plausible projects by three brilliant men of the 1940s that have not worked out as planned.

Frankly, it's worse. The three projects of the 1940s--statistical significance, blackboard proofs, and social engineering--have not worked out as economics. Much of modern economics involves the three "vices," and therefore much of it has to be done over again. The core of all three was the mechanization of economics. The mechanization has produced an intellectual tragedy. You can admire the courage of the tragic heroes, but still weep.

The word "vice" in the title, "The Vices of Economists," seems a strong one to use in this unbelieving age. I mean it only as the opposite of another old word which ought to get a new life: "virtue." People associate "virtue" and "vice" with religious fundamentalism. But in former times the words were used routinely by writers like Adam Smith to name the good and bad as

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The Vices of Economists, the Virtues of the Bourgeoisie
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface 5
  • Acknowledgements 7
  • Contents 9
  • Chapter 1 the Boys in the Sandbox 11
  • Chapter 2 the Irrelevance of Statistical Significance 21
  • Chapter 4 the Arrogance of Social Engineering 97
  • Chapter 5 a New, Modest, and Bourgeois Science of Economics 121
  • Works Cited 131
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