… is from page 539 of the final (2016) volume – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s soaring trilogy on the essence of bourgeois values, on their transmission, and on their essential role in modern life:
Lives spent trying to figure out what customers want and how to get the item to them in a nonruinous way and how to improve service and quality at lower cost, one could argue, lead the bourgeoisie to ethical attitudes superior in some ways to those of a haughty aristocracy or an envious peasantry or a proud clerisy. Or at least [Adam] Smith argued.
This Smithian-Montesquieuian-McCloskeyan argument is certainly correct. How saddening and maddening it is, then, that so much applause, even from citizens of bourgeois societies, is reserved not for those who risk their own funds in efforts to try, peacefully, to better satisfy other people’s voluntarily expressed desires but, rather, for those who arrogantly order other people about using threats of violence.
For example, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., is to this day called a “robber baron” and is thought by many to have been an anti-social scoundrel as a businessman. In contrast, Teddy Roosevelt has his face carved famously into a mountain and is widely celebrated as a great and “Progressive” seer. How mistaken and backward! During any one ordinary day of his business career J.D. Rockefeller produced more net good for humanity than Teddy Roosevelt did over his entire lifetime. Indeed, the case is even stronger for Rockefeller: he was without question a huge net contributor to humankind; in contrast, T.R. was quite likely, on net, a wrecker.