A Book Recommendation from Douglas

Especially for me and Tex, Douglas recommends Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World.

I have to admit that the thesis statement makes it sound a lot like The Secret for Capitalists. If I were a betting man (and I am), I would wager that the author has formed this thesis by getting the correlation/causation of changing attitudes exactly backwards.

However, it would be unfair to render such a judgment with any finality without actually reading it. I forward it merely as an initial impression based only on her abstract and the associated press material. We should consider the arguments.


Texan99 said...

Why economics can't explain the modern world: for the author, I guess it's not the laws of economics but people's willingness to quit sabotaging them that explains the modern world. I wonder how she answers the question, or if she even tries to answer the question: what changed so that a few people quit hating the idea of prosperity and anyone who created it? And why do big sections of the world persist?

Sounds like interesting reading.

douglas said...

Just to be clear- I doubt I see things the same way as the author, but I'm interested in the idea that economics is a system within a greater system- human social interaction- and you cannot ignore that larger system. Surely there is a relationship between productivity and the dissemination of power (within limits). I don't remember what link lead me to that book, but it just seemed a curious and different take that might be interesting.

Texan99 said...

Having read the intro now, I think I understand better what she means about the limits of "economics" as an explanatory system. She uses the term interchangeably with "materialism," so she's arguing that purely material motives can't explain everything. It's necessary, for instance, to take into account what kind of behavior is viewed as socially valuable or admirable.

douglas said...

Well, sort of - it's the order of things- some would base the idea of what is socially valuable or admirable on what they see as the material realities. I see that as problematic.

Texan99 said...

The thing is, for a very long time, people simply didn't view as socially valuable whatever made a material improvement. That's a modern preoccupation, the idea of improving the lot of the poor with anything but the occasional alms. The first reaction to an innovation that improved widespread material well-being often was suspicion and hostility. There's the question of dislocation to the trades being displaced, for instance, as in the case of outlawing cotton so that it wouldn't compete with wool and linen. (The author claims that 16,000 people were executed for "calico crimes"!) From other reading, I've been struck by the hostility even to the notion of improving the lives of the poor: often the attitude is that they're being tempted to acquire ambition beyond their station, which will only immiserate them in the long run, or stir up revolution.

Even today there is tremendous hostility toward people who get rich doing something that improves the general standard of living. Maybe it's not quite like a Regency novel, where the only admirable wealth is inherited and agricultural, but there's still a kind of pervasive contempt for mere merchants and technocrats and money-lenders, as if they weren't doing anything fundamentally useful, but only tricking people somehow. And who do they think they are, getting so rich?