Prof. Deidre McCloskey, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, has distinguished herself in the economics profession for her breadth, and for her tendency to be something of a gadfly. Her deep readings in the humanities — her books address everyone from Cicero to Foucault — have led her to be critical of the methodology and narrow scope of modern economics. Her most recent book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World, applies her preferred — broader and more humanistic — style of economics, positing that modern prosperity is a product of changes in language and mores, not of the material factors economics traditionally encompasses. I interviewed this blazing intellect on her work, and her thoughts on modern economics. Here’s an excerpt from my introduction:
Traditional economic models — the ones we find in Econ 101 — center on labor, capital, technology, population, etc. McCloskey’s economics incorporates two more factors: dignity and rhetoric. Economics, she argues, has failed be a humane science that accounts for the ways in which things like human speech — rhetoric — influence the way a society lives and works. After a detailed examination of traditional explanations of economic growth, McCloskey concludes that each is inadequate, and that the only explanation for the peculiar birth of the modern world is speech: At the beginning of the 18th century, people in the Netherlands and Britain began talking about commerce as a good thing — a novelty at that time. They gave dignity to the bourgeoisie. And that drove capitalism, giving birth to the modern world.
The whole thing is here.