Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 21, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Growth, Law

… is from page 122 of Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity:

Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, the countries with bad economic policies are unhappy each in its own way.

Good policies are boringly similar: rule of law, property rights, and above all dignity and liberty for the bourgeoisie.

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Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 11:09 am

So, not “peace, bread, land”, then? Hmmmm….

Love that McCloskey. Thanks for turning me on to her.

jjoxman October 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Agreed. She’s the most brilliantest example of an economist.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm

“and above all dignity and liberty for the bourgeoisie.”

The nerve of those OWS people thinking that they should also have dignity and liberty that is not below anyone else’s dignity and liberty.

Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 1:07 pm

What are you talking about?

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Could have said dignity and liberty for all. She made a different choice.

jjoxman October 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Greg G

This differentiation is important. The point she is making is that the bourgeoisie were not afforded dignity and liberty for a very long time, but that started to change around the 17th century, beginning with the Dutch and English.

Her hypothesis is that economic development took off because the merchant class finally was afforded the same dignity as other people, especially nobles and the clergy.

Read her books before mouthing off.

Randy October 21, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Greg G,
As an experienced vagabond from back in the day, I can tell you that it is possible to have liberty without being productive, but not dignity. Dignity must be earned.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Sorry, didn’t realize everyone was reading the whole book/ books before commenting on the quote. How many books is it necessary to read before commenting on the choice of quote?

Jon October 21, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Well, that depends on the context in which you are responding. If you are going to debate the thesis of the book, it would be best to have read at least the majority of the book. However, if you are going to make a counterpoint, then you can do so without reading the book. At least, those are the guidelines I follow.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Thanks Jon. I thought it was clear I was commenting on the quote. I referred only to the quote, not the book.

Jon October 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm

It actually is a pretty good book, if you ever want to pick it up, even if you disagree with the thesis. Not quite as…academic as some econ books can get.

Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Greg, you don’t have to read the whole book, but it does help if you have some context. Just googling the title and author would have probably yielded enough information to have given you that context.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 2:29 pm

OK, I get it. Historically the bourgeoisie were treated with dignity only after the nobles and clergy but before the working classes. Fair enough. Since we are usually talking here about what current policy should be and the introductory sentence was in present tense, I assumed this was a prescription for current policy rather than simply the historical reference that was intended by the book. I was hasty.

vikingvista October 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm

The problem is, you consistently misrepresent the ideas presented here. This is not a one time error.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm


What are you referring to?

Jon October 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm

C’mon, man. That was kinda uncalled for. The guy admitted he misinterpreted the quote. No need to rub is nose in it.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Thanks Jon but I can take it. I want to know what he is referring to

vikingvista October 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Jon–apparently you haven’t read his other posts.

Greg–you repeatedly misinterpreted views expressed here as pro-wealthy, anti-poor.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm


Can you give me some examples of specific posts here where I have mischaracterized specific people? Should be easy what with all the repetition.

vikingvista October 21, 2011 at 3:10 pm

You’re right, it is easy…


You appear to force everything you read here into a rich vs poor class warfare context of you own presumption. It’s why you misinterpreted methinks in the link above. It’s why you misintrepeted McCloskey. And I doubt we’ve seen the end of it.

J. W. October 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm

The comment thread on the Sowell quotation is a great example. I’m with vikingvista on this one.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm


I must confess that when you said the quote “is very relevant to our time. It is eternally relevant.” I did not take that to exclude our country. I am a lot more clear about what Mc Closky means than what you mean. Do you think it eternally relevant, but not to our country??

As for me calling people “wicked” for having different political views from me you are clearly projecting there. I am far more wiling than you are to tolerate political differences without seeing the other person as “wicked.” I was careful to say that it was a tendency, not a person I was describing as pernicious. I expect that we all have some pernicious tendencies.

Where was it I said that I favored people “living better without effort”? Or that I “find a lot of dignity in slave ownership”?

It is very impressive that could come up with those hallucinations while still finding time to lecture me on misrepresenting other people’s positions.

Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm

The quote is very relevant to our time. It is eternally relevant.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm


When applied to our time is it wise to leave the impression that dignity and liberty might be something that should be reserved for the bourgeoisie rather everyone?

vikingvista October 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm

As always, immune to clarifications.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm


I am not sure what you are referring to in the long thread with Methinks that you linked to. If you read the whole thread you will see that, although we still have any number of areas of disagreement, we arrived at far more common ground than you will see at the end of most debates here. Methinks is pretty good at taking care of herself and making sure she is not misrepresented for long. I stand by what I wrote.

As for seeing more things from me that you disagree with, you should indeed, probably strap in and prepare for the possibility that could happen.

vikingvista October 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Since I explicitly pointed it out to you in that thread, you should have no difficulty finding it. It isn’t disagreement that I am criticising, but false representation. Your classist accusations are quick in coming, unfounded, and apparently impervious to clarification as we see even in this McCloskey thread.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm


I see. I ignored your posts in that thread yesterday because I found them so uninteresting. The first was an invitation to go off on a tangent regarding the dark visions of Ayn Rand. Since neither Methinks or I are Rand fans I stopped reading your comments after that.

Your next post in the thread is the one where you incorrectly accuse me of misrepresenting Methinks. Actually I made it very clear I was referring to the post of a third party to the effect that the unemployed were unwilling to work for lower wages. This is not exactly a new idea in Austrian economics. I look forward to your apology.

vikingvista October 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Go back and actually read my post to you. You quoted part of a sentence from methinks, sticking your own phrase at the beginning of it to change its meaning. A clearer form of misrepresentation does not exist. You also made blanket false representations in that thread about this blog. And you have done so elsewhere, I recall, but tablet navigation makes too tedious to locate.

I am not denying that you post polite and sometimes interesting comments. I’m specifically criticising the crass false representations that appear to be your modus operandi, and reflect a world view that led to your continuing error in interpreting McCloskey.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm


Methinks and I were simultaneously discussing her views and the blog in general. I thought I made extremely clear that I was reacting to a combination of both. I am happy to let others decide for themselves. Bye.

Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm

When applied to our time is it wise to leave the impression that dignity and liberty might be something that should be reserved for the bourgeoisie rather everyone?

Greg, you need to pay attention to what you’re reading.

“Good policies are boringly similar: rule of law, property rights, and above all dignity and liberty for the bourgeoisie.”

Rule of law alone means one law for all men – that all men are treated equally under the law and that the law applies to all men. Thus, it cannot mean one set of rules for one group and different set of rules for another. That should have been your first clue.

it’s regrettable that the quote left you with an unfavourable impression, but it is unreasonable to expect everything to be reduced so that it is both understandable and appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Who are the bourgeousie, Greg? Why is this good economic policy?

I really don’t understand why you’re trying so hard to find something wrong with the quote before you’ve even allowed yourself to understand it.

Greg G October 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm


I understand that the bourgeoisie is the part of the middle class most likely to start a small business. I understand why they are important and the role they play in the economy. I owned my own business for 35 years. My father owned his own business. I have three brothers and a daughter that own their own businesses and my son is talking about starting one soon. Half of my friends own their own businesses.

But I do not share the belief common on this blog that entrepreneurs are so mistreated in this country. I have consistently found that I have almost always been treated with more respect and dignity by people in all walks of life once they identify me as an entrepreneur. I think you can even see that in the tone of our conversation after I revealed that personal information. I have seen just as much of a bloated sense of entitlement among some business people as anyone else in my experience.

I think that this tendency to divide people into income producers and non-income producers, or as viking vista suggested yesterday, into producers and parasites, is pernicious. I think it results in many people being treated with less dignity than they should. I understand why, as a historical development, the bourgeoisie got liberty and dignity before the working class. The rule of law does not force us to treat everyone with equal dignity and liberty out of the courtroom. I think we should try for that anyway even though we might all fall short of it. I still think that, when applied to today, the quote would be more relevant if it had simply said liberty and dignity for all.

Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Good Lord, Greg. Who said anything about “this country”? You clearly still haven’t a clue what McCloskey is talking about and you don’t seem eager to get one.

Viking is correct. You deliberately misrepresent viewpoints expressed on this blog so they better fit your internal narrative. When your error is pointed out to you, you cling to it like a piece of driftwood in the middle of the ocean.

You think it’s wicked to object to people advocating government confiscate other people’s property so that they can live better without effort? You think there’s dignity in that? So, if there’s dignity in using one man for the purposes of another, by extension, I suppose you find a lot of dignity in slave ownership. Why not?

I understand why, as a historical development, the bourgeoisie got liberty and dignity before the working class.

Hmmm. That’s an interesting hodgepodge of mangled history. Maybe you can explain this to me. I’d be very interested in what it is you understand.

muirgeo October 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

“…above all dignity and liberty for the bourgeoisie.”

So being a shill or a protectorate it of the Rent Seeking Class has some dignity to it??? Not for me that is why I am so adamant about NOT joining the club or hiring myself out as one of their jesters. I own capital, I work hard, I am productive and I am middle class but do NOT count me in as part of the modern day bourgeoisie Tory loyalist King supporters…. there is no dignity in that.

Jon October 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

” I own capital, I work hard, I am productive and I am middle class”

Then that makes you bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie are the capital owners.

muirgeo October 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm

No that’s be like calling Jefferson a Tory Loyalist. The easy thing to do would be to sell out and become one of them…. I refuse!

Methinks1776 October 21, 2011 at 6:12 pm

So stupid, yet so dumb.

Randy October 22, 2011 at 2:01 am

The modern use of the term “bourgeoisie” is problematic. Modern Marxists often use the term as you do (not to say that you are a Marxist) to mean the capital owners, but Marx himself used it in its earlier European sense to mean the political class. Marx clearly understood the connections to the political system which allowed the capitalists of his day to exploit workers. In the modern world, the political system exploits workers directly by means of taxation, regulation, mandatory social systems, and propaganda systems which proclaim incessantly that all of the above are really benefits. So, while I completely agree with McCloskey’s concept, I’m not a big fan of the term as she uses it. It wasn’t a political class that slowly gained dignity and liberty (the political classes have always bestowed liberty and dignity upon themselves) – it was a productive class that took for themselves dignity and liberty as a direct result of the value they created.

brotio October 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Since you’re spewing your muirpocrisy across multiple threads, I’ll paste this from “New Individualist” thread:

In case you didn’t know it, TARP was passed by a Democrat-controlled congress. Among those who voted for it were noted socialist stalwarts Nancy Pelosi, Diana DeGette, Bawney Fwank, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Charles Rangel, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. All of these people are at least as regressive as you (although none are as profoundly stupid).

House Democrats voted 172 – 63 in favor of TARP; House Republicans voted 108 – 91 against TARP.

It is amusing that you waddled around Boston Common with a bunch of regressive stooges, protesting those who accepted a government handout, while remaining silent about the Democrats who gave the handout.

It should also be pointed out that you have repeatedly shilled for corporate welfare for ADM, Chrysler, GE, GM, Solyndra, and SolarReserve.

Michael E. Marotta October 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Good policies are boringly similar: rule of law, property rights, and above all dignity and liberty for the bourgeoisie.

Read, also, Jane Jacobs on the Trader Syndrome versus the Guardian. We traders have no stirring anthems, no battle hymns, no songs of lust for profit or greed for gold. As McCloskey say, we bourgerois are boring. We need to find comfort in that, cold comfort, perhaps.

Dan Phillips October 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm

At this point yours is the last comment. You saved the best comment for last!

Jim October 22, 2011 at 7:11 am

Ms. McCloskey is refreshing. Her integrative, multi-disciplinary approach is desperately needed and I submit, dead-on target.

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