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An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

May 1, 2016

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Numbering: Issue 11.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Six)

Individual Publication Date: May 1, 2016 (2016-05-01)

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2016 (2016-09-01)

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Web Domain: www.in-sightjournal.com

Words: 3,290

ISSN 2369-6885

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Abstract

An interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey. She discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic background, influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of early life; backgrounds, and influences and pivotal moments in development converging to determine the personal interest in economics, history, English, and communication; global economy probable future in the next 5, 10, 50, and 100 years; interrelationship of philosophies and positions, and the joke; motivation for perpetual output of productions; ethical responsibilities to the general public, academic world, the economics profession, and fellow Christian Libertarians comes with this extensive media, academic and general public, representation; and greatest emotional struggle in personal or (inclusive) professional life.

Keywords: Christian Libertarian, Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor, economics, English, global economy, history.

An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your personal and familial background reside?

I was raised in Boston, eventually marrying someone from Vermont, and think I understand New England.  But both my parents were from the Midwest, and as a child I would stay summers with my grandmother and cousins in Michigan.  I have always worked in Chicago or Iowa, with occasional work in California.  So I understand the Midwest and New England, what Colin Woodward calls “Yankeedom.”  The rest of the country, excepting a glimmer about California, is more or less mysterious.  I am Anglophone—indeed monolingual, despite attempts throughout my life to erase the shame with Latin, Greek, French, Italian, German, Dutch, etc., etc.  My base culture is British—The World of Pooh and The Jungle Book when little.  My first scientific work was in British economic history (I take credit for bringing quantitative economic history to Britain from the US), and I have taught there, and in Australia and South Africa.  I am an anglophile of an extreme sort.  How extreme?  I love the game of cricket!

2. What about influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of early life including kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, and undergraduate studies (college/university)?

That’s a tall order.

I always stuttered, quite badly until I finally stopped being ashamed of it, late in college, and spoke up, whether or not stuttering.  I learned decades later that a British teacher of mine described me as “a stutter surrounded by a red beard.”  Oddly, the handicap was I think an advantage.   I therefore could never imagine myself to be perfect, and was always sympathetic to other humans in a way that a handicap teaches, if you do not dissolve into self-pity.

Age 11 I would fall asleep praying (our home was secular, but I was a bit holy for a while) that I would wake up (1.) not stuttering and (2.) be a girl.  At last at age 53 I got the second half, and by then the stutterer was a minor obstacle even to someone who earned her living talking.

My father was a professor at Harvard, my mother an opera singer when young (I am their oldest child of three, born when my mother was 20).  So the cultural atmosphere of the house was high, though oddly not pretentious: my dad liked baseball and played billiards and pool expertly; my mother remodeled the house on her own, and mowed the grass.  The opera director Sarah Caldwell took me to my first circus.  Famous academics drifted in and out of our house.

I went to a good, small, private school in Cambridge for boys (sic) in the eighth grade, which was crucial.  The Wakefield schools were not up to snuff.  A few teachers at Browne and Nichols encouraged me to think of myself as gifted in literature and in social thought.  I got into Harvard in my junior year of high school.

Harvard College was good for me—though not for all my classmates, I must say.  I intended to major in history, but found reading so many books onerous, and with my adolescent socialism found economics, and helping the poor.  I was a guitar-playing Joan Baez socialist, and to this day know vastly more labor songs than most of my left-wing friends.  Studying economics gradually killed my socialism, but not my goal of helping the poor.

3. How did these familial geographic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, and influences and pivotal moments in development converge to determine the personal interest in economics, history, English, and communication?

It was slow, and by no means settled when I got my first job, at the University of Chicago in 1968 (tenured in 1975).  I remember deciding at the tenure age of 33 that, having learned to be an economist, it was not enough.  I subscribed to The [London] Times Literary Supplement, which was for me a textbook into the humanities.  When I left Chicago in 1980 for the University of Iowa I started taking Latin courses and started the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry, in which I worked with political philosophers, professors of English and of communication, teachers of rhetoric, and so forth.

4. You remain Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.[5] You teach a wide variety of courses in various fields centered on economics.[6] Furthermore, you have been a Guggenheim Fellow (1983), Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Lecturer (1993), and President of the Economic History Association (1996 to 1997). With this broad suite of expertise, and professional recognition, your analyses and opinion hold weight. In terms of the global economy, what seems like its most probable future – that is, the next 5, 10, 50, and 100 years?

Briefly, highly optimistic.  There is no reason at all why Zimbabwe, say, freed of Mugabe, can’t in a two or three generations have a real income equal to that of the USA.  It’s happened repeatedly.  In 1948 Hong Kong’s real income was down at the $2 a day characteristic of China generally.  Now it is $140 a day, above that the the USA.  Taiwan, the same story.  Botswana, next door to Zim, is the African success story.

5. At Harvard, you had description as “an anarchist, socialist, une­d­ucated Trot­skyite. I was Key­nesian economist, a social engineer.”[7] In the recent past, you self-described as a “Christian Libertarian,” “a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man,” and a “postmodern free-market quantitative Episcopalian feminist Aristotelian.”[8] What interrelates these philosophies and positions?[9]

Nothing interrelates them.  That is the serious joke in my self-descriptions.  Anyone who tries to keep philosophical consistency through her life is going be dominated necessarily by her immature plan for philosophy—whatever it was at age 14.  It’s like the many intelligent people who decide in their wisdom at age 14 to be courageous, independent-thinking atheists (following slavishly in this most of the intelligent children in their cohort), and then never pause at age 30 or 60 to reexamine the 14-year old’s life plan.  It’s childish—though unhappily it characterizes many otherwise intelligent people.  I knew slightly the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm.  In his brilliant autobiography he gave reasons for remaining a Communist (after Stalin, after Hungary) until the British Party disbanded itself, in the early 1990s.  The reasons were surprisingly stupid in so intelligent a man.  He decided at age 14 to be a Communist, and so he remained until his death at age 95.  “A foolish consistency,” wrote Emerson, “is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  Use your mind to discern the truth, which will probably change from age 14 to age 95, unless you’ve shut down your mind in favor a Party Line.

6. You have extensive representation in the media.[10] You wrote many, many articles and books.[11],[12] Unfortunately, we don’t have time to conduct a comprehensive interview. Even so, as a general commentary on the continuous output of professional work and calls for interviews, what motivates this perpetual output of productions?

Discerning the truth.  I keep pursuing it.   Instead of grinding away at the same idea I had at age 14 or 24 or 34, as so many people do, I try to think.  Yes, I know, it’s irritating: Why doesn’t she settle?  Well, too bad.  Science is hard, and you need to keep thinking.  The thinking should regularly result in new ideas.  If not, maybe it’s not thinking.

7. What ethical responsibilities to the general public, academic world, the economics profession, and fellow Christian Libertarians comes with this extensive media, academic and general public, representation?

To tell the truth as I see it, having earnestly pursued it, by thinking and rethinking.  I would be deeply ashamed if the “media representation” you speak of arose from some Party Line I was adhering to.  I could have had a comfortable  career at the University of Chicago, for example, if I had not decided around 1978 that the naïve behaviorism and positivism of Chicago, and the melding of it with MIT-Stanford formalism of “proof,” was a silly form of not-thinking.  I left out of vexation.  The great poet and Latin textual critic, A. E. Housman, gave an address to the Classical Association meeting in 1921 at Cambridge called “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism” in which he advised his colleagues to stop using mindless rules (“The more sincere text is the better”; an equivalent rule in economics would be “one must never ask people what they are doing” or “macro must always have micro foundations”) and to actually think about the Latin text at hand, and what the poet might have written.

8. What seems like the greatest emotional struggle in personal or (inclusive) professional life?

Well, obviously my gender change.  I was happily married to the love of my life for 30 years, and had two children I love and loved.  The three have not spoken to me for 20 years.  They will not let me see my three grandchildren.  If I had been required to give up my career to become a woman, I would have.  Fortunately, though, I didn’t, and aside from the three, I have continued to lead a charmed life.

Thank you for your time, Professor McCloskey.

Bibliography

  1. Finney, J. (2016, March 10). Q&A: Deirdre McCloskey. Retrieved from http://www.hillsdalecollegian.com/2016/03/qa-deirdre-mccloskey/.
  2. McCloskey, D. (2016). Deirdre McCloskey. Retrieved from http://deirdremccloskey.org/.
  3. University of Illinois at Chicago. (2016). Deirdre McCloskey. Retrieved from http://econ.uic.edu/economics/faculty/deirdre-mccloskey.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] UIC Distinguished Professor of Economics and of History Emerita, University of Illinois at Chicago; Professor of English Emerita, University of Illinois at Chicago; Professor of Communication Emerita, University of Illinois at Chicago.

University of Illinois at Chicago University of Illinois at Chicago

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 1, 2016 at www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2016 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] Ph.D., Harvard University.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Distinguished Professor Deirdre McCloskey.

[5] University of Illinois at Chicago. (2016). Deirdre McCloskey. Retrieved from http://econ.uic.edu/economics/faculty/deirdre-mccloskey.

[6] McCloskey, D. (2016). Courses, Spring 2013. Retrieved from http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/courses.php.

[7] Finney, J. (2016, March 10). Q&A: Deirdre McCloskey. Retrieved from http://www.hillsdalecollegian.com/2016/03/qa-deirdre-mccloskey/.

[8] Formal Biography (2016) states:

Deirdre N. McCloskey has been since 2000 UIC Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trained at Harvard as an economist, she has written fifteen books and edited seven more, and has published some three hundred and sixty articles on economic theory, economic history, philosophy, rhetoric, feminism, ethics, and law. She taught for twelve years in Economics at the University of Chicago, and describes herself now as a “postmodern free-market quantitative Episcopalian feminist Aristotelian.” Her latest books are How to be Human* *Though an Economist (University of Michigan Press 2001),Measurement and Meaning in Economics (S. Ziliak, ed.; Edward Elgar 2001), The Secret Sins of Economics (Prickly Paradigm Pamphlets, U. of Chicago Press, 2002), The Cult of Statistical Significance: How the Standard Error Costs Us Jobs, Justice, and Lives[with Stephen Ziliak; University of Michigan Press, 2008], The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Capitalism (U. of Chicago Press, 2006), and Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (U. of Chicago Press, 2010). Before The Bourgeois Virtues her best-known books were The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press 1st ed. 1985; 2nd ed. 1998) and Crossing: A Memoir (Chicago 1999), which was a New York Times Notable Book.

Her scientific work has been on economic history, especially British. She is currently finishing a book, the third in a series of three initiated with The Bourgeois Virtues, on Dutch and British economic and social history, Bourgeois Equality: How Betterment Became Ethical, 1600-1848, and Then Suspect. She has written on British economic “failure” in the 19th century, trade and growth in the 19th century, open field agriculture in the middle ages, the Gold Standard, and the Industrial Revolution.

Her philosophical books include The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press 1st ed. 1985; 2nd ed. 1998), If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise (University of Chicago Press 1990), and Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics(Cambridge 1994). They concern the maladies of social scientific positivism, the epistemological limits of a future social science, and the promise of a rhetorically sophisticated philosophy of science. Recently she has turned to ethics and to a philosophical-historical apology for modern economies.

Informal Biographical Remarks

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2000 to 2015 in economics, history, English, and communication. A well-known economist and historian and rhetorician, she has written 17 books and around 400 scholarly pieces on topics ranging from technical economics and statistical theory to transgender advocacy and the ethics of the bourgeois virtues. She is known as a “conservative” economist, Chicago-School style (she taught in the Economics Department there from 1968 to 1980, and in History), but protests that “I’m a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not ‘conservative’! I’m a Christian libertarian.” With Stephen Ziliak in 2008 she wrote The Cult of Statistical Significance, which shows that null hypothesis tests of “significance” are, in the absence of a substantive loss function, meaningless (in 2011 the book figured in a unanimous Supreme Court decision). Her latest book, out in January 2016 from the University of Chicago Press—Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World—argues for an “ideational” explanation for the Great Enrichment 1800 to the present. The accidents of Reformation and Revolt in northwestern Europe 1517–1789 led to a new liberty and dignity for commoners—ideas called “liberalism”—which led in turn to an explosion of trade-tested betterment, “having a go.” The earlier book in the trilogy, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (2010) had shown that materialist explanations such as saving or exploitation, don’t have sufficient economic oomph or historical relevance. The first book in the Bourgeois Era trilogy, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2006), had established that, contrary to the clamor of the clerisy left and right since 1848, the bourgeoisie is pretty good, and that trade-tested betterment is not the worst of ethical schools.

McCloskey, D. (2016, April 15). Formal Biography. Retrieved from http://deirdremccloskey.org/main/bio.php#300.

[9] Q&A: Deirdre McCloskey (2016) in the opening question and response stated:

You explicitly push back against people who describe you as “con­ser­vative,” and opt instead to define yourself as a “literary, quan­ti­tative, post­modern, free market, pro­gressive Epis­co­palian, Mid­western woman from Boston who was once a man.”

That’s absolutely right. I’m a Christian, but a free-market Epis­co­palian. I was a guy, now I’m a woman. I’m from Boston, but I’ve always lived as an adult in the Midwest. Being post­modern doesn’t mean you have to be left wing. Being post­modern is to say that I don’t believe in the naïve theory of knowledge that facts are just lying out there, we go collect them, and that’s it. We ask human questions. The Danish physicist Niels Bohr said that back in the 1920s. Physics is not just about the world, physics is what we as humans can say about the world. That is the essential message of the Sophists of ancient Greece, and of Mon­taigne and Shake­speare in the late six­teenth century, and of the ‘crazy,’ post­modern people in English departments. I’m quan­ti­tative: So many social and sci­entific questions depend on how big things are, numbers, quan­tities. Yet, I believe truth can be found in poetry, theology, phi­losophy, and history. It is truth that cannot be translated without loss into propo­si­tional statements, like E=mc2. But what is human life about? One kind of answer is there was once a babe born in Bethlehem of the house of David. This other kind of knowing is not propo­si­tional, but it’s very important to humans. It’s not softer than math. To talk about knowledge as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ is sexist — it means girls can’t do math. A stupid dis­tinction. The Greek aorist mood is harder to understand than most calculus. Humanities is not easier than physical and bio­logical sciences.

Finney, J. (2016, March 10). Q&A: Deirdre McCloskey. Retrieved from http://www.hillsdalecollegian.com/2016/03/qa-deirdre-mccloskey/.

[10] McCloskey, D. (2016, April 17). Interviews. Retrieved from http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/interviews/index.php.

[11] McCloskey, D. (2016, April 17). Articles Published or in Press by Deirdre McCloskey. Retrieved from http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/articles/index.php.

[12] McCloskey, D. (2016, April 17). BOOKS WRITTEN and PUBLISHED. Retrieved from  http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/books/index.php.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskeyIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal [Online].May 2016; 11(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2016, May 1). An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskeyRetrieved from www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskeyIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 11.A, May. 2016. <www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2016. “An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 11.A. www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 11.A (May 2016). www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2016, ‘An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey’, In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 11.A. Available from: <www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2016, ‘An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskeyIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 11.A., www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 11.A (2016):May. 2016. Web. <www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago Deirdre Nansen McCloskey [Internet]. (2016, May); 11(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-distinguished-professor-of-economics-history-english-and-communication-at-the-university-of-illinois-at-chicago-deirdre-nansen-mccloskey.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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