Why Liberalism Works

How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All

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After seeing Deirdre Nansen McCloskey's book quoted numerous times at Don Boudreaux's blog, Cafe Hayek, I finally wangled a copy through Interlibrary Loan at the University Near Here. It appears that nobody at Williams College was interested in reading it, more fools they.

It's a collection of 50 short chapters/essays/articles, which I decided to read at a rate of two per day. Many first appeared in magazines, lightly adapted and updated for the book. Many are independent, a few link together. (For example, a fifty-page review of Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century is sliced up into seven chapters.)

Deirdre's overall purpose here is to update and defend her thesis about the cause and nature of "The Great Enrichment", started in northwest Europe in the 18th century: it was due to a newfound and unique respect for the tools of the marketplace, bourgeois moral values, and individual liberty. Hence what most people call "free market capitalism" was born, and proceeded to make the parts of the world that adopted it very very prosperous.

I should mention that Deirdre doesn't really care for the term "capitalism". She patiently explains that "capital" always existed, roughly since horse-traders traded horses. She prefers terms like "trade-tested betterment" (for the process) and "innovism" (for the attitude). And of course "liberalism" for the overall philosophy.

Deirdre is funny and insightful, and her unique prose style is something you have to read to appreciate. In my case, she was pushing on an unlocked door; I don't know her approach works on people more skeptical to her ideas.

I should mention one sore spot, Chapter 45, titled "Liberalism is Good For Queers". That's almost certainly true, but Deirdre goes into the jihad she and associates mounted against J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern U psych prof. Wikipedia's article on Bailey has an overall description of the hubbub. Don't want to get into it here, but it seems that Deirdre's actions toward Bailey were reprehensible. And here she goes full Orwell, when she deems the National Academy of Science's publication of Bailey's work to be a (G. W.) Bush Administration homophobic plot. And falls into that great trap of equating "hate speech" with "speech I hate":

That's censorship, the encouragement of hate speech and then hate action by government-funded entities.

Well, no. Sorry, Deirdre, your lapse into illiberalism here mars your otherwise fine book.

Last Modified 2022-10-01 10:02 PM EDT