Deirdre McCloskey’s shallow and misleading rhetoric

20 August, 2015 at 17:07 | Posted in Economics | 7 Comments

This is not new to most of you of course. You are already steeped in McCloskey’s Rhetoric. Or you ought to be. After all economists are simply telling stories about the economy. Sometimes we are taken in. Sometimes we are not.

spin-meme-generator-dont-say-capitalism-replace-it-with-either-economic-freedom-or-free-market-3ba401Unfortunately McCloskey herself gets a little too caught up in her stories. As in her explanation as to how she can be both a feminist and a free market economist:

“The market is the great liberator of women; it has not been the state, which is after all an instrument of patriarchy … The market is the way out of enslavement from your dad, your husband, or your sons. … The enrichment that has come through allowing markets to operate has been a tremendous part of the learned freedom of the modern women.” — Quoted in “The Changing Face of Economics – Conversations With Cutting Edge Economists” by Colander, Holt, and Rosser

Notice the binary nature of the world in this story. There are only the market (yea!) and the state (boo!). There are no other institutions. Whole swathes of society vanish or are flattened into insignificance. The state is viewed as a villain that the market heroically battles against to advance us all.

It is a ripping tale.

It is shallow and utterly misleading.

Peter Radford

7 Comments »

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  1. Dear Dr. Syll:

    I do not see how we are going to advance in scientific understanding if we merely sneer at each other. It doesn’t go anywhere, or persuade anyone not already persuaded. It’s satisfying, I realize. Fun, even, in a boyish way. But it’s not serious conversation. I have written three long books on the economics and history of capitalism, and three shorter books on the rhetoric of our field, and ten or so books on economic history and economic theory. If you have actually read and considered any of them, I’d like to hear serious critiques, to deirdre2@uic.uic. Serious critiques improve our scientific findings—we get better by listening, really listening, and then responding as economic scientists. If all you can do is sneer, well, I do not know how we can help each other think about economics or economic history.

    Sincerely,

    Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

  2. You or the other fellow? I’m not clear who is doing the sneering. Set me straight.

    • Dear Dr. McCloskey:
      The quotation is from a post written by Peter Radford and published on the rwer blog. My own small “contribution” consists in the added illustration — befitting, in my opinion, considering your own suggestion of replacing the term “capitalism” with “trade-tested betterment”. Re sneering, I have to confess I can’t detect much of it in Redford’s post. And I do think he has a point when it comes to your dyed-in-the-wool Chicago free market libertarianism and its oversimplistic binary view of the world:

      “It is only in a society rich with alternative networks and channels of development, of outlets for expression and argument, and of institutional ways for accepting or enforcing progress, that the riddance of enslavement can take place. A binary split between an evil state and a virtuous market will not do. Such a split is a device created by economists to make their lives easy and merely suffices as an ideological crutch in their libertarian adventure.”

      Sincerely,
      Lars P Syll

  3. “The market is the great liberator of women; it has not been the state, which is after all an instrument of patriarchy … The market is the way out of enslavement from your dad, your husband, or your sons. … The enrichment that has come through allowing markets to operate has been a tremendous part of the learned freedom of the modern women.”

    Deirdre,

    Is this an accurate account of what you believe or is there more to it?

    Henry.

  4. Deirdre,

    One further question, what do you mean by “market”?

  5. In many ways both Lars and McCloskey have made important contributions in exposing nonsense at the heart of neo-classical economics. (Although what we really need is a full Critical Theory sacking of the discipline.)

    The point here though is that the distinction between market and government when talking about production and related resource allocation is purely artificial. This is particularly evident if you have studied the east Asian economies. What do we call community organisations with local government representatives taking up a lot of the decisions made? What are community organisations, are they private or state?

    In understanding why some countries succeed and fail and why some successful countries decline, the answers are probably largely unrelated to things like ownerships of resources by states or the private sector. Yet, the state/market distinction and obsession is something at the heart of Anglo-Saxon political economy.

  6. […] via Deirdre McCloskey’s shallow and misleading rhetoric | LARS P. SYLL. […]


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