Bourgeois Equality – Book Review

Source: WSJ, Jun 2016

What accounts for the wealth and prosperity of the developed nations of the world? How did we get so rich, and how might others join the fold? Deirdre McCloskey, a distinguished economist and historian, has a clarion answer: ideas. It was ideas, she insists—about commerce, innovation and the virtues that support them—that account for the “Great Enrichment” that has transformed much of the world since 1800.

this monumental achievement was caused by a change in values, Ms. McCloskey says—the rise of what she calls, in a mocking nod to Marx, a “bourgeois ideology.” It was far from an apology for greed, however.

Anglo-Dutch in origin, the new ideology presented a deeply moral vision of the world that vaunted the value of work and innovation, earthly happiness and prosperity, and the liberty, dignity and equality of ordinary people.

Preaching tolerance of difference and respect for the individual, it applauded those who sought to improve their lives (and the lives of others) through material betterment, scientific and technological inquiry, self-improvement, and honest work.

Suspicious of hierarchy and stasis, proponents of bourgeois values attacked monopoly and privilege and extolled free trade and free lives while setting great store by prudence, enterprise, decency and hope.

Collectively, they constituted a striking shift in rhetoric that justified new values for a world in which improvement and innovation were not just tolerated but esteemed.

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