Deirdre McCloskey — shallow and misleading

6 June, 2017 at 14:16 | Posted in Economics | 2 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

Yours truly can’t but agree with Radford here. That said, however, McCloskey sometimes does get it pretty right:

For all its sober achievements, modern economics and its imitators in other social sciences exhibits a good deal of foolishness, strutting about claiming dignity in the manner of John Cleese.

Deirdre McCloskey




  1. Dear Mr. Radford,

    You will want perhaps to reconsider your hasty comment that my account of the role of the market in liberating women is “shallow and misleading,” How much of the history have you read? I do wonder. The state, run by men, has usually been an obstacle to women. The market gives them opportunities, such as the (local) market women in poor countries escaping the domination of their husbands, or the mill girls in Britain and the US in the early 19th century having a market wage between being owned by their fathers and being owned by their husbands. You write as though there is some Third Way. We agree that both state and market have influence, and that occasionally they both do good and bad things to women. But the balance would have been pretty clear to, say, Nancy Astor.

    Deirdre N McCloskey

  2. @McCloskey What about the role of the state in liberating women? The state put women into work during WWII when men were at the front. Surely this led to a new division of labour with permanent effects?

    Perhaps women have a better position in northern European countries. And ex-communist ones too. Would that be because of the state or the market?

    We have to get a way from obsession with the state-market distinction. It is largely a red-herring when it comes to understanding issues relating to capital and production. More could be done by liberating the economics discipline from Model (the religiously imposed construct of Ricardo-Samuelson-Lucas/Sargent).

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