Thursday, February 21, 2019

On Deirdre McCloskey’s Postmodern Economics

Deirdre N. McCloskey
For Deirdre N. McCloskey postmodernism is not a dirty word—she calls herself a postmodern, minimal-government conservative. In her The Bourgeoisie Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, she notes that she is in favor of postmodernism in economics. Here’s her perspective on postmodernism (Page 198):
“Postmodernism” does not mean what you may have gathered from the outrage of conservative cultural journalists. It means merely dropping the artificialities of high modernism, and in particular dropping the fact-value split in its cruder forms and the established church of social engineering. 
McCloskey agrees with the postmodern thinker Richard Rorty on several issues and is appreciative of his 1985 thesis on “postmodern bourgeois liberalism”. On page 499, she says:
But if I had to be principled I would reach back before the French Enlightenment, or back into the Scottish Enlightenment, and offer a fourth justification for the free society, namely, that it leads to and depends on flourishing human lives of virtue. My so-called principle shares some features with the “postmodernist bourgeois liberalism” of Richard Rorty, or the “agonistic liberalism” of Isaiah Berlin…
In her essay, “The Genealogy of Postmodernism: An Economist’s Guide,” McCloskey makes a case for postmodernism in economics. She holds that postmodern economics is capable of resisting several of the errors that are there in the economics of modernism. Here’s an excerpt from her article:
As directly as it can be put, ‘postmodernism’ names a tendency since 1970 or so to doubt the tenets of ‘modernism’. In economics it would be against the high modernism, for example, of Paul Samuelson’s program. Though postmodernism more generally has been appropriated by writers innocent of economics or maths or statistics, there is nothing inevitable in this. I am saying that in adopting a pomo attitude an economist need not fear contamination from literary critics, psychoanalysts, and the politically correct. Postmodernism can be given an economic and classical liberal – I did not say ‘conservative’ or ‘reactionary’ – reading.
She ends her essay by asserting that modernism is bad economics, and to fix the problems in modernist economics, the economists should get on with the postmodern project.

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