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Deirdre’s Virtue and Dignity

One of today’s most creative, insightful, and productive scholars (it does her an injustice to label her simply as an “economic historian” or even as an “economist”), Deirdre McCloskey, spoke yesterday at George Mason University.  As always, listening to Deirdre was a thrilling intellectual adventure.  She (quite justifiably) plugged her two latest books. (Here and here.)

Among the many things I learned is that, until the industrial revolution, global per-capita income averaged about $3 per day (presumably in 2010 dollars).  Today it averages about $30 per day: a ten-fold increase in access to goods and services.  In the U.S., daily per-capita income is now about $125 per day (and, adjusting for improvements in quality, says Deirdre, closer to $300 per day).

Deirdre also said that she prefers the term “innovation economy” to “capitalism.”  The reason is that accumulation of capital – either physical or human or both – is not the chief cause of the high standard of living in any ‘capitalist’ economy.  The chief cause, instead, is innovation – creative minds free to innovate.  For example.

A very Julian-Simonesque point!

In order to meet my Principles of Microeconomics class last night I had to leave Deirdre’s talk just after the Q&A began, so I’m sure that I missed many more insights.