The Virtues of Capitalism
If you’re interested in exploring the moral foundations of market institutions, I recommend The Bourgeois Virtues by Deirdre McCloskey (University of Chicago Press, 2006). One thing that makes the book unique is that it’s a defense of markets based on the virtue-ethical tradition (the author calls herself "an Aristotelian libertarian"). She discusses the influence of institutions on moral character, and vice versa. The book is full of little-known (at least to me) historical, cultural, and literary facts. Another unique feature is that it is a non-individualist defense of the market. This of course could be either a strength or a weakness of her account, depending on your point of view. She characterizes her position as “two and a half cheers for capitalism,” thus going a half-cheer further than the neo-con Irving Kristol, but not as far as I would go. I’ll be on an author-meets-critics panel on the book at the Chicago APA on Saturday, April 21. You can read my prepared comments for the panel here:
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Lester Hunt - 3/25/2007
At first I thought the "perceptive review" you were referring to here was my own panel-paper. Oh well, I can't win them all!
The one feature of the book Wootton describes that I would agree is a fault of the book is its length. Yes, it is too long. But its structure and style make it easy to avoid getting bogged down in sections that are not news to you.
As to whether Freud-avoidance is a vice or a virtue, don't get me started on that! I fulminate about it a little here:
Lester Hunt - 3/25/2007
It sounds, from your description of your own project, like you would find this book worth a read.
As to how she could be all these things at once, the problem of course is with how to combine libertarianism with not being an individualist. She calls herself a libertarian (I assume) because she is defending certain institutional arrangements (free markets, etc.). By calling her a non-individualist I mean to characterize the moral basis of her argument. She takes certain values that I think of as not being per se individualist -- such as sharing, social solidarity, sympathy -- very seriously, and does not in any way privilege the counterbalancing individualist values -- such as individual autonomy or the right of individuals to pursue their own interests. One valuable thing about this book is that it goes some ways toward integrating the not-so-individualist values into a defense of market institutions.
As to the Adam Smith comment, I don't think he is doing the same thing in ToMS that she is doing here. He theorizes brilliantly about some of these non-individualist values, but never integrates them into his defense of market institutions.
Mark Brady - 3/25/2007
I recommend you read David Wootton's review here.
Wootton concludes: "Of one thing, though, McCloskey has convinced me. Brevity is a bourgeois virtue, and one that I have resolved to practise. It places a proper value on other people's time, and implies a proper humility. 'I myself cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this [last] virtue', says McCloskey, wittily displaying humility (or perhaps false modesty) in the act of denying it. Funny, brevity is not in the index. Nor is Freud, that great theorist of self-deception."
Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 3/24/2007
I'm not sure how she can call herself an Aristotelian libertarian and a non-individualist at the same time.
I'm working on an Aristotelian libertarian defense of free markets as well, albeit so far only one chapter in my dissertation. I'm addressing the virtues expressed in various market activities, the educative function of free markets in encouraging certain virtues and discouraging certain vices, and also some of the ethical and cultural foundations of free markets.
Finally, not that this should carry much weight, but I saw a review of her book on Amazon.com in which the person argued that in his Theory of Moral Sentiments Adam Smith did a better job of the task than she did. I haven't read her book yet so I couldn't say.