Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on July 23, 2014

in Curious Task, Economics, Hubris and humility, Man of System, Scientism

… is from page 127 of Deirdre McCloskey’s lovely 1996 book, The Vices of Economists – The Virtues of the Bourgeoisie:

Virginia Woolf wrote famously, “About December 1910 human nature changed.”  Well, one doubts it.  What did change, and has been changing all through the closing decades of the 19th century, is that the intelligentsia became increasingly alienated from the bourgeois world from which it sprung, and wished to become something Higher.  It wished to make novels difficult and technical – think of Woolf or Joyce – to keep them out of the hands of the uneducated and to elevate the intelligentsia to a new clerisy, a new aristocracy of the spirit.  Similarly in painting, music, and philosophy.  It wished to make everything difficult and technical, and it succeeded.  [Economists Lawrence] Klein, [Paul] Samuelson, and [Jan] Tinbergen were middle-period modernists.

The vices of modernism come from the master vice of Pride, the vice so characteristic of an actual or wannabe aristocracy.  It is prideful overreaching to think that social engineering can work, that a smart lad at a blackboard can outwit the wisdom of the world or the ages, that a piece of machinery like statistical significance can tell you how big or small a number is.

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