"Inside Job" is a Provocative Movie
Bourgeois Dignity and Humanistic Economics

McCloskey on Why "Life in the Market Is Good for You" (from Accepting the Invisible Hand)

Mark D. White

As we approach the climactic finish of our chapter-by-chapter preview of Accepting the Invisible Hand: Market-Based Approaches to Social-Economic Problems (now available), we come to Chapter 7 by Deirdre McCloskey titled "Life in the Market Is Good for You." (You can use the following links to find previews of the chapters by White, Meadowcroft, Gwartney and Connors, Baker, Blevins, Ramirez and Wight, and Garnett, as well as the book's preface.)

Adapted from her landmark book The Bourgeois Virtues, McCloskey's chapter discusses common misperceptions about the propriety of market work, in particular trade but also "menial" labor, and how intellectuals throughout the ages have dismissed its importance to the good life. Of course, throughout the chapter she references literature, poetry, theatre and film, as well as economists, philosophers, theologians, and more.

It is difficult to pick out a passage to quote, but here's one of my favorites:

Chaplin’s 1936 movie Modern Times or the opening scenes of Sillitoe’s angry-young-man novel The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959; movie 1962) say that many factory jobs are monotonous. Granted. I have not worked in a factory. But the monotony is of course pretty common in nonindustrial society, too. Planting rice is never fun. The idiocy of rural life is not always better for the soul than the idiocy of urban life. I have worked as a farm laborer. Ironically, only since Romanticism and the rise of prosperous, healthy cities—London stopped killing more people than it bred by the end of the eighteenth century—have Europeans looked fondly back on their village roots. (p. 160)

(And I'll always thank her for teaching me, in The Bourgeois Virtues, how to pronounce Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, another highly recommended book - see p. 156 for that!)

BD And I would be remiss if I didn't mention McCloskey's new book, published this month by Chicago, titled Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. I expect it to be as rewarding and deeply pelasurable as was The Bourgois Virtues, and I hope discussion of it will be forthcoming on this blog (hint, hint).



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