The Torch of Progress

The Torch of Progress – Ep. 5 with Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Ashley Yates
Join us for Episode 5 of The Torch of Progress with Deirdre Nansen McCloskey. We’ll be talking about differing theories of what caused the dramatic rise in global living standards—the role of cultural values, institutions, scientific knowledge, material resources, and compounding investment.

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Podcast – The Torch of Progress, Ep. 5 with Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, available on Apple Podcasts

Transcript – The Torch of Progress, Ep. 6 with Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

In This Episode We Discuss:

  • (0:10) Intro to Progress Studies for Young Scholars
  • (0:33) Upcoming guest speakers – Joel Mokyr, Noor Siddiqui, Anton Howes
  • (1:25) Intro – Jason Crawford – Roots of Progress and Deirdre Nansen McCloskey – Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago and author of a series of books known as the Bourgeois Era
  • ( 2:45) Our students have already learned about the Great Enrichment. Can you summarize for them your theory of bourgeois ideals?
  • (9:02) So you said making people free… In your book, The Bourgeois Dignity, it wasn’t property rights, not even patents, it wasn’t institutions being able to create corporations. So what type of freedom was it?
  • (15:35) Are bourgeois liberty & dignity sufficient for enrichment? Or merely necessary? What else might be needed?
  • (17:01) What about the role of science? Can your theory and Mokyr’s be seen as compatible or even complementary?
  • (24:32) What is the relationship of bourgeois ideals to the Enlightenment?
  • (30:10) What are the main downsides of bourgeois ideals? What should we be careful to complement them with?
  • (33:59) What does your theory imply for policy or culture today? What should we do to drive progress?
  • (39:20) What was your personal intellectual/philosophic journey? What are the biggest things you’ve changed your mind about, and why?
  • (43:10) What advice commonly given to teenagers is actually wrong (and what would you replace it with)?


  • (45:45) About East Asia: wasn’t that development a result of government interference in the economy, even if they just encouraged exports?
  • (47:43) Do you think the widespread focus of educating towards the standardized tests (SAT, ACT) is harming progress because it inhibits diversity of thought?
  • (49:00) What do you think about Sweden as an economy, which both encompass respect for invention and entrepreneurship and a strong social safety net? Do you consider that the “sweet spot” for an economy or is it only possible in a highly homogenous society?
  • (51:55) Do you think the New Deal was net good or net bad for the American economy?
  • (53:03) How important is immigration to innovation? What do you think about the problem of brain drain?
  • (56:45) What do you make of Leopold Kohr’s theory of size in today’s context?
  • (57:50) You mentioned how what came first was mechanical development and then scientific conclusions from it. Now it seems that most mechanical development is made on the basis of scientific support. Is this how it should be? Still? Should we be thinking in mechanical terms, looking back at the mechanical success and derive from that, or is science a whole different definition these days?
  • (59:50) What are the best things to read about Dutch enlightenment?

About Deirdre Nansen McCloskey:

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 twenty books and edited seven more, and has published some four hundred 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), Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (U. of Chicago Press, 2010), Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (U. of Chicago Press, 2016), and Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All (Yale U. Press, 2019). 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 (U. of Chicago Press, 1999), which was a New York Times Notable Book.

Her scientific work has been on economic history, especially British. Her recent book Bourgeois Equality is a study of Dutch and British economic and social history. 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. In her later work, she has turned to ethics and to a philosophical-historical apology for modern economies.

Previously on The Torch of Progress:

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