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Humanism Challenges Materialism in Economics and Economic History

Most of the existing research on economic history relies either solely or ultimately on calculations of material interest to explain the major events of the modern world. However, care must be taken not to rely too heavily on materialism, with its associated confidence in perfectly rational actors that simply do not exist. What is needed for a more cogent understanding of the long history of capitalist growth is a more realistic, human-centered approach that can take account of the role of nonmaterial values and beliefs, an approach convincingly articulated by Deirdre McCloskey in her landmark trilogy of books on the moral and ethical basis of modern economic life.

With Humanism Challenges Materialism in Economics and Economic History, Roderick Floud, Santhi Hejeebu, and David Mitch have brought together a distinguished group of scholars in economics, economic history, political science, philosophy, gender studies, and communications who synthesize and build on McCloskey’s work. The essays in this volume illustrate the ways in which the humanistic approach to economics that McCloskey pioneered can open up new vistas for the study of economic history and cultivate rich synergies with a wide range of disciplines. The contributors show how values and beliefs become embedded in the language of economics and shape economic outcomes. Chapters on methodology are accompanied by case studies discussing particular episodes in economic history.

312 pages | 2 halftones, 6 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Economics and Business: Economics--General Theory and Principles, Economics--History

Rhetoric and Communication


“Fascinating reading . . . . A worthy tribute to a remarkable scholar and woman.”

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Two essays deserve special mention. First, ‘Queering McCloskey's Feminism in Location and History,’ by Robin L. Bartlett, is essential reading for any economist who wants to connect economics with wider currents in social science and the humanities. Second, Steven E. Landsburg's ‘McCloskey at Chicago’ stands out as a heartfelt tribute to a McCloskey's role as a mentor inside and outside the classroom. More generally, the editors deserve credit for the uniformly high quality of the essays and the thorough introduction they provide at the beginning of the volume. . . . Essential.” 


"As big and bold, challenging and courageous, transformative and persuasive as its honoree.”

Claudia Goldin, Harvard University

“These essays in economic history illustrate, substantiate, and honor the work of Deirdre McCloskey, whose pioneering application of quantitative methods to economic history—‘cliometry’—did not result in the economization of cultural life, as one might expect, but in seeing economic life as a culture of free communication. The capitalist goose lays its golden egg by disseminating shared values through persuasive speech, thereby evading both materialistic self-interest and its supposed cure, the notion that politics must save capitalism from itself.  It is hard to tell whether the world is being turned upside down or right side up!”

David Depew, University of Iowa

Table of Contents

Roderick Floud, Santhi Hejeebu, and David Mitch
1          Philanthropic Endeavors, Saving Behavior, and Bourgeois Virtues
Richard Sutch
2          Queering McCloskey’s Feminism in Location and History
Robin L. Bartlett
3          The Spread of Pro- and Anticapitalist Beliefs
Stanley L. Engerman
4          Following in the Path of Deirdre McCloskey: The Lutheran Ethic and the Nordic Spirit of Social Democracy
Robert H. Nelson
5          Economics with Varying Values: McCloskey’s Humanism and Fundamental Insights
Jack A. Goldstone
6          Liberal Advocacy and Neoliberal Rule: On McCloskey’s Ambivalence
Stephen G. Engelmann
7          Economics as the Conversation about the Conversation of the Market
Peter J. Boettke and Virgil Henry Storr
8          Rhetoric and Public Policy: Pathos, Ideology, and the Specter of Health Care
Paul Turpin
9          Humanism, Materialism, and Epistemology: Rhetoric of Economics as Styles in Action
John S. Nelson
10        McCloskey at Chicago
Steven E. Landsburg
About the Contributors


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