Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 11, 2011

in Civil Society, Reality Is Not Optional

… is from page 1 of Deirdre McCloskey’s 2006 book The Bourgeois Virtues:

In a fallen world, the bourgeois life is not perfect.  But it’s better than any available alternative.

Be Sociable, Share!



51 comments    Share Share    Print    Email


W.E. Heasley November 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm

W.E. Heasley November 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm

“In a fallen world, the bourgeois life is not perfect. But it’s better than any available alternative“.


In a collectivist world, for those toiling under collectivism life is not perfect. Unfortunately, in a collectivist world, there is no available alternative.

indianajim November 12, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Collectivist “life” is not life; it is the slow death of a thousand cuts.

Greg Webb November 11, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Excellent quote! And, she’s exactly right. Life becomes awful when someone thinks that he can perfect life if given enough power and other people’s money.

Avi Mulye November 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm

very well said.

Doc Merlin November 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm


Scott G November 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Great quote Don.

One of the great discoveries in my life is my preference to work to provide products to people willing to buy those products with their own money, as opposed to taking the less risky and less satisfying path of selling products to government customers who have to spend the other people’s money in the current fiscal year on products those people probably don’t even want. Bourgeois life simple and satisfying.

I encourage everyone reading this who currently sells products to the government to ask yourself if you feel a lack satisfaction providing products that few people would buy with their own money.

vidyohs November 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Outside of a rare few objects (like weapons forbidden to the public), how do you separate the two?

A screw is an egg is a auto is a shirt is a pencil is a telephone is a tire is a calculator is a chair is a window pane is a cement curb is a decorative shrub is fuel is……..you get the idea. All those things are desired and used by both the public spending its own money and by the people in government also spending your money.

I believe I understand the idea you are trying to get across, if I am correct you are saying you like satisfying customers who buy in desire of personal consumption, not buyers who buy, often or maybe typically, in the formality of buying. Yes?

Scott G November 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Much good in your reply here vidyohs. Thanks for straightening me out. I was thinking weapons and security products when I posted my original comment. After I posted I realized that I had not thought about what other products there are that people sell to the government.

Anyone who works for the government sells their labor to the government. I imagine the poor souls working for the IRS and the U.S. Forest feel less satisfied with their work than they would if they were working in the private sector. Maybe, maybe not.

I was thinking about the military-industrial-congressional-complex and its crowding out of the private sector. I work at a company which sells to private and government customers and it really disappoints me to see the managers of my company giving priority to the government projects due to their lower risk and higher margin. Its disturbing to see people who feel they are doing good when in my mind they are selling products to Big Brother. Do you feel they are making a mistake?

vidyohs November 12, 2011 at 8:44 am

Ach me bucko! When you talk to me about government spending, that leads to government waste as well as completely negligent attitudes by the individuals in government (in general, there are exceptions though rare) as to how the public’s money is spent, and my face goes red, my blood pressure up, and …….well it isn’t a pretty sight.

It is that very subject as much as anything else that drove me to become a radical for the rediscovering of individual freedom.

“Its disturbing to see people who feel they are doing good when in my mind they are selling products to Big Brother. Do you feel they are making a mistake?”

My friend, now there is a question that requires a lot of very deep thought, and some roundtable discussion with a group of very intelligent friends. Those two sentences generate so many philosophical questions that I am not sure a format like the Cafe is one in which it can be answered adequately.

Does a producer, or seller, have a moral or legal responsibility for the purchaser’s use of his product once the fully disclosed sale is completed and the buyer understand all the ramifications of the use of the product?

I would say no to the legal question, but possibly on the moral side.

If I sell a gun to a man who I believe wants it for use as described in the 2nd amendment, I believe I have no moral obligations beyond believing the man is sane. However, if I am suspicious that the man intends to use it for crime, including murder, I would say yes, I have an individual moral responsibility to not sell the gun

Now to the selling to the government, if we accept the libertarian philosophy regarding a market and the bedrock purpose of a business, the I do not fault the producer or wholesaler for selling to any buyer, public or private. After all the producer or wholesaler is in business to produce a profit. So do I as the producer or wholesaler have a legal or moral duty to decide who I sell to when the question does not involve crime, life or death?

I would say no to both the legal and moral question, and I would place those considerations or duties on the buyers using public money. They buyers are the ones who owe the public fudiciary responsibility, and it is the public who should exercise control over those public officials, not the producers of products.

That is my answer at the moment. Perhaps further thought and/or round table discussion may cause me to alter my position somewhat, or change totally; but honestly, I doubt that.

My last thought is that it is you and I who should be doing our best to push the public to control a run-amok government. If government spending were some how brought under control then your uneasy feelings would disappear.

Well, okay, another last thought. It is my observation that the only group that has amassed any power at all that can be used to force alteration of the ways of government, and who seem to be focused primarily on that issue, is the Tea Party.

Invisible Backhand November 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Surprisingly, the author pays scant attention to economics throughout the book; and when she does mention the subject of her real expertise, the analysis is somewhere between skimpy and non-existent. She identifies herself as a Chicago-school economist, and to prove her bona fides she suggests in the book’s executive summary that there is no such thing as a public good (citing as support only Coase’s justly famous article about lighthouses in England, despite subsequent work by van Zandt showing that Coase’s lighthouses were all heavily subsidized from public coffers). And in strong contrast to Adam Smith, who believed in publicly owned (or crown-owned) parks for purposes of public recreation (as opposed to lands privately-owned for economic production), McCloskey identifies herself as a “free-market environmentalist,” who promotes priviatization of our national parks. Admittedly, these concerns reflect my interests as a scholar who works in the area of environmental law and economics. Nevertheless, McCloskey has a great deal of work left to do to explain to the readers why, in her ethical framework, all environmental goods should be private owned (as if they could be) and left exclusively to the work of market forces.

I may be missing something here. Perhaps this really is the most important book since “The Theory of the Moral Sentiments,” and I just don’t get it. Or, maybe I do get it and this is simply a bad book.


kyle8 November 12, 2011 at 6:31 am

Translation: Everything must be government! How dare anyone suggest otherwise! I’m a whiny snot nose passing myself off as a scholar! I hate everyone who doesn’t worship at the altar of big government! WHAAAA!

Daniel Kuehn November 12, 2011 at 8:52 am

I like McCloskey and take issue with this review, but your “translation” makes no sense. If you’re just going to make up what the counter-argument is, why even bother? You’re effectively talking to yourself. People get medicated and institutionalized for that sort of behavior.

Methinks1776 November 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

You know what they say about people living in glass houses, kid.

Greg Webb November 12, 2011 at 10:22 am

Admittedly, these concerns reflect my interests as a scholar who works in the area of environmental law and economics

Wait a minute! I thought that, to big-government advocates, conflicts of interest always disqualified any criticism. So why post this criticism of McCloskey’s book by someone who admits his conflict. Hypocrisy!

vidyohs November 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

Sheesh stupid troll,

You’ve quoted a man who seems to have no bona fides for his opinions other than he offers them. Why do you suppose any one should give more weight to Daniel Cole’s opinion than Kyle8′s opinion which follows your comment?

Tell us all how Daniel Cole is superior to McCloskey in the study and advancement of economic theory. That might help us understand why you think it is relevant to quote him.

Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Why do you suppose any one should give more weight to Daniel Cole’s opinion than Kyle8′s opinion which follows your comment?

Because of this:

42 of 64 people found the following review helpful

Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Wow! 42 people thought his review was helpful, while 24 took the time to say that he was an idiot. And, the rest of us did not bother to comment because we thought that he was so stupid.

vidyohs November 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Stupid troll,

What does helpful in that context mean? You don’t have the slightest clue what it means to those 42. For all you know it can mean that it was helpful in that it encouraged them to buy the book, which the ultimately agreed with and though wise. You don’t know.

You assume it supports your negative view, but knowing your assumptions from your past spewing of idiocy I say your assumptions are quite likely wrong.

You really are an inferior intellect, stupid troll.

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 12, 2011 at 6:44 pm

“I just don’t get it. ”

That’s an admission that you should include on all your posts.

House of Cards & Economic Progress November 11, 2011 at 10:04 pm

In a fallen world, . . .

McCloskey is a good scholar, too. In the Judeo-Christian view of things, when Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit, it wasn’t simply Man who fell. All of Nature fell from its original paradisal state, too.

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck’d, she eat:
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.

John Milton, “Paradise Lost,” Book IX

Invisible Backhand November 11, 2011 at 11:08 pm

That’s profound. It’s like McCloskey embodied both Adam and Eve.

vidyohs November 11, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Who says the bourgeois life is not perfect in any world? From what superior vantage point does McCloskey or anyone else make that judgment? Isn’t that kind of ballsy of McCloskey?

Many bourgeois think their every day life is perfect, just ask ‘em.

Invisible Backhand November 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I wouldn’t describe McCloskey as ‘ballsey’ any more.

Daniel Kuehn November 12, 2011 at 8:53 am

Crude – but pretty funny :)

Ubiquitous November 13, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I wouldn’t describe McCloskey as ‘ballsey’ any more

Nevertheless, IB, it’s much better for a man to have a twat, than — in your case — be one.

Mesa Econoguy November 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Delayed reaction/election day quotation redux Don:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

Greg Webb November 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

Mission accomplished! Most recently in 2008.

Mesa Econoguy November 12, 2011 at 12:25 am

I’m fairly certain Barry isn’t the bottom of the progressive barrel.

I mean, look at his veep, for Chrissakes:


Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 12:13 am

Hey it’s the child molester. Talked to your neighbors lately about Penn State?

Mesa Econoguy November 12, 2011 at 12:33 am

Hey full retard. Whassup?

Still not Greg, but I have passed along your regards to him. Since he’s a lawyer, he may be contacting you soon, so stay tuned there, chief.

I thought your Penn State global warming buddy Michael Mann, inventor of the craptastic and shit statistic “hockey stick” worked at State Pen?

Oh, wait, Penn State did another investigation about that, and “everything was fine.”

Gee, wouldn’t it be ironic if the same incompetent state employees implicated in JoePa’s funhouse also covered up your academic fraud?

Personally, I would be shocked.

Mesa Econoguy November 12, 2011 at 1:35 am
Mesa Econoguy November 12, 2011 at 1:42 am

Yeah, uh, this never happened


The end of the two-month inquiry marks a major point in the worldwide climate debate. Penn State’s inquiry began after hundreds of illegally [sic] obtained e-mails were leaked last November from a private server in the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, containing comments critics say suggest Mann and his colleagues may have distorted climate change evidence.

The inquiry’s findings will

determine if the university will further investigate Mann’s work. Penn State President

Graham Spanier [now disgraced ex-Penn State president] addressed the inquiry and the panel’s work during the Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 22.

“I know they’ve taken the time and spent hundreds of hours studying documents and interviewing people and looking at issues from all sides,” Spanier said.

Sure they did, Graham. I’m also sure you have excellent criminal counsel, possibly from the same firm as Jon Corzine, ex- NJ Democrat governor, and failure, and embezzler.

vidyohs November 12, 2011 at 10:53 am

@stupid troll,

I sincerely hope you have your shit together in the most certain way, because you’ve crossed the line from being a major asshole to slander, and that just might be very painful to you before it all shakes out.

It couldn’t happen to a more miserable asshole, and I for one will enjoy watching it happen.

Greg Webb November 12, 2011 at 11:44 am

Vidyohs, judges like to call what Irritable Bowel said as Defamation of Character and, since its in writing, its libel.

vidyohs November 12, 2011 at 11:49 am

You are correct of course. :-)

Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Since you are both legal experts I’ll refer you to the case of Rubber v Glue.

Greg Webb November 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

STUPID, NONSENSICAL ALERT! By Irritable Bowel!, of course!

Jon Murphy November 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I usually just ignore IB. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him give an original thought here. He usually just quotes other people (many times irrelevant quotes).

Although, I gotta admit, watching his enormous leaps of logic are hilarious. It’s like watching someone try to jump the Grand Canyon with nothing more than a running start.

Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

After you get out of school and get some real world experience you may be able to keep up with those leaps of logic.


Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Jon, I’m sorry, but I have multiple personality disorder. And, my idiotic and evil subhuman personality occasionally takes over and says things that I would not have said. Please call him “Irritable Bowel.”


Invisible Backhand

Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm

You slipped up and put the Regards, in there Ken.

Besides, we all in your head know multiple personalities are just B-movie hoo-haw. You’re really an evil boil:


Invisible Backhand November 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Now, Irritable Bowel, you know that our psychologist predicted that you, our evil, idiotic personality would say that. He also said that your side of our personality would be paranoid. Who is this Ken that you seem to be so afraid of?

Best regards,

Invisible Backhand

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 12, 2011 at 6:50 pm

@Invidious Backside

“After you get out of school and get some real world experience you may be able to keep up with those leaps of logic.”

Living in your parents basement, trolling websites and pleasuring yourself is nor “real world experience”.

Your posts betray the fact you are immature, ignorant or insulated or some combination of the three.

Darren November 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever heard him give an original thought here.

The vast majority of ‘original thought’ is just a rehash of what someone else said anyway. Quoting the original source is at least more honest.

Invisible Backhand November 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Yes, and (rehashing here) Jon reminds me of the student in ‘Good Will Hunting’ who…uh, rehashes…whatever textbook he’s currently reading.

Carmen Miranda November 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm

You might try reading a textbook or two, you silly thing.

SmoledMan November 12, 2011 at 10:55 am

In a collectivist utopia we never would have had the hitech revolution. The central planners would have seen no need to go beyond punch cards, after all “it just worked”. Imagine a world with no PC, no iPhones, no HDTVs.

vidyohs November 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

Si si senor, it is called the Precautionary Principle. Not only would progress have stopped, it would certainly have began to regress due to retroactive examination of things the “regressives” do not like.

El Diablo November 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I will have to put Deirdre McCloskey’s book on my to-read list.

Jared November 13, 2011 at 9:38 am

Fantastic quote- thank you for sharing. Statists do not believe in original sin or the fallen state of man, but their faith in the utopian collective is unshakable

Previous post:

Next post: