“Adam Smith believed [writes Folbre] that we would become … more civilized. I haven’t seen much evidence of this.” You haven’t? Not in the rights of women, the extent of higher education, the number of books published, the attendance at museums and orchestra halls worldwide? Such pessimism appears to have more to do with the alienation of academics from the society around them than with the historical or sociological facts.
While we’re on the subject…. Two other books, beside McCloskey’s, that challenge with logic and an abundance of evidence the claims of cultural pessimists on both the left and the right – pessimists who believe the myths floated especially by 19th-century German romantics who proclaimed that an extensive and free commercial society, one spanning out beyond local villages to embrace the globe, must necessarily “alienate” us poor hapless moderns from all that our humanity really craves – are my GMU Econ colleague Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture  and Creative Destruction .
Oh, and don’t miss Sarah Skwire’s lovely essay on Sloan Wilson’s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit .