Academic journal article Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics

Not Saving or Psychology, or Science, but a New Liberalism: A Reply to Gaus, Goldstone, Baker, Amadae, and Mokyr

Academic journal article Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics

Not Saving or Psychology, or Science, but a New Liberalism: A Reply to Gaus, Goldstone, Baker, Amadae, and Mokyr

Article excerpt

Well, a philosopher, a sociologist, another philosopher, a political theorist, and an economic historian. This is going to be interesting!

Gerald Gaus' over-generous praise startles me-I didn't set out to write a "great work", and am reluctant to think it is anything close (I blush). I merely intended in the trilogy of The bourgeois virtues: ethics for an age of commerce (2006), Bourgeois dignity: why economics does not explain the modern world (2010), and the present volume to redeem the bourgeoisie and to find out the scientific truth about its role in making the modern world. I thought the job would take one volume. In the end it took some 1,700 pages. The main reason I stopped at three volumes-the present, third volume being even longer than the other two stouts-was articulated by the philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga justifying stopping at his own third volume, on warranted belief: "A trilogy is perhaps unduly self-indulgent, but a tetralogy [not to speak of the hexology I once contemplated] is unforgivable" (2000, xiv).1

You don't write some 1,700 pages of evidence and reasoning about history and economics and ethics and the rest as though writing a bank draft (to quote the young Kant), with a pre-planned and routine outcome. The experience is less like central planning and more like trade-tested betterment. over the twenty years of thinking and reading, among which the twelve years of writing, I hope I made a few discoveries. The chief discovery, I fancy, is that the one essential cause of the modern world, "the central pole of the tent", in the old figure of speech, a cause much more important than any psychological change in the direction of better bourgeois behavior (of the sort Max Weber imagined in 1905), was the sociological and political change unique to northwestern Europe of accepting the bourgeoisie and its fruits. The change in the ideology surrounding ordinary people, allowing them to have a go-"the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice", as the blessed Adam Smith put it-made people bold (1981 [1776], bk. IV, chap. 9, para. 3).2 And inventive. And rich. And cultivated. Thus Bourgeois equality: how ideas, not capital or institutions, enriched the world.

Yet Gerry Gaus, when he hears John W. Chapman speak out loud and bold, says that I didn't "get it entirely right". His theme is that I am insufficiently game-theoretic and institutional, missing my own best point. He asserts, against what he thinks is my (1905 Weberian, psychological, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus) point, that "there is strong reason to question the explanatory power of character traits and attitudes".

Yet on the contrary I am saying that it was not the character traits of the bourgeois, but the ideology of those around them that changed (or if you want a word that Marx did not invent, it's the social rhetoric that changed; or if you wish a less contentious word, the social ethics).

Gerry's misunderstanding is surprising coming from someone who never in my experience makes mistakes in such matters. He must have started from some strong prior conviction, which makes it hard for him to discern the present point. What prior? Hmm. He thinks my main opponent is the late lamented Douglass North and his neo-institutional followers. I admit to arguing against Doug in this volume, and in Bourgeois dignity and in other essays (McCloskey 2010, chaps. 33-36; 2016a, chaps. 14-15; 2013; 2014a; 2016c; 2016d). But Gaus thinks I am fooling myself by opposing Doug. He wants me to recover North's focus on "the institutional rules of the game", by way of Bicchieri's game-theoretic logic, "the rule-governance of social morality". He's slouching towards North. And anyway he's slouching towards an economistic line of argument that notably neglects the autonomous role of ideas.

Economism of course has some merit-I do not want my union card as an economist, Harvard Local 02136 and Chicago Local 60637-to be taken away. …

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