©Deirdre Nansen McCloskey | COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

Formal Biography

Deirdre N. McCloskey has been since 2000 UIC Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trained at Harvard as an economist, she has written sixteen books and edited seven more, and has published some three hundred and sixty articles on economic theory, economic history, philosophy, rhetoric, feminism, ethics, and law. She taught for twelve years in Economics at the University of Chicago, and describes herself now as a "postmodern free-market quantitative Episcopalian feminist Aristotelian." Her latest books are How to be Human* *Though an Economist (University of Michigan Press 2001), Measurement and Meaning in Economics (S. Ziliak, ed.; Edward Elgar 2001), The Secret Sins of Economics (Prickly Paradigm Pamphlets, U. of Chicago Press, 2002), The Cult of Statistical Significance: How the Standard Error Costs Us Jobs, Justice, and Lives [with Stephen Ziliak; University of Michigan Press, 2008], The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Capitalism (U. of Chicago Press, 2006), Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World (U. of Chicago Press, 2010), and Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (U. of Chicago Press, 2016). Before The Bourgeois Virtues her best-known books were The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press, 1st ed. 1985, 2nd ed. 1998) and Crossing: A Memoir (U. of Chicago Press, 1999), which was a New York Times Notable Book.

Her scientific work has been on economic history, especially British. Her recent book Bourgeois Equality is a study of Dutch and British economic and social history. She has written on British economic "failure" in the 19th century, trade and growth in the 19th century, open field agriculture in the middle ages, the Gold Standard, and the Industrial Revolution.

Her philosophical books include The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press 1st ed. 1985; 2nd ed. 1998), If You're So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise (University of Chicago Press 1990), and Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics (Cambridge 1994). They concern the maladies of social scientific positivism, the epistemological limits of a future social science, and the promise of a rhetorically sophisticated philosophy of science. In her later work she has turned to ethics and to a philosophical-historical apology for modern economies.

Informal Biographical Remarks

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2000 to 2015 in economics, history, English, and communication. A well-known economist and historian and rhetorician, she has written 17 books and around 400 scholarly pieces on topics ranging from technical economics and statistical theory to transgender advocacy and the ethics of the bourgeois virtues. She is known as a “conservative” economist, Chicago-School style (she taught in the Economics Department there from 1968 to 1980, and in History), but protests that “I’m a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not ‘conservative’! I’m a Christian libertarian.” With Stephen Ziliak in 2008 she wrote The Cult of Statistical Significance, which shows that null hypothesis tests of “significance” are, in the absence of a substantive loss function, meaningless (in 2011 the book figured in a unanimous Supreme Court decision). Her latest book, out in January 2016 from the University of Chicago Press—Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World—argues for an “ideational” explanation for the Great Enrichment 1800 to the present. The accidents of Reformation and Revolt in northwestern Europe 1517–1789 led to a new liberty and dignity for commoners—ideas called “liberalism”—which led in turn to an explosion of trade-tested betterment, “having a go.” The earlier book in the trilogy, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (2010) had shown that materialist explanations such as saving or exploitation, don’t have sufficient economic oomph or historical relevance. The first book in the Bourgeois Era trilogy, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2006), had established that, contrary to the clamor of the clerisy left and right since 1848, the bourgeoisie is pretty good, and that trade-tested betterment is not the worst of ethical schools.