Dear Reader: This is a crude draft as of May 12, 2016. The three asterisks *** or the bold or NNNN (for a name) or DDDD (for a date) indicate only some of the many, many things still to be done.
I welcome comments, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The comments would be most valuable attached to actual piece of my prose in the Word file, but any form you find convenient will delight me. I really do implore you to tell me about flat (or round) errors, wrong arrangement, massive areas overlooked (in this version: [1.] religion; and [2.] more comparisons with cultures outside northwestern Europe, especially China). Christer Lundh of the University of Gothenburg points out to me that in the bad old days of typescript manuscripts a reading or a seminar was an examination, since the manuscript was so difficult to revise. One was inclined to defend every single line—to prevent having to retype! In these latter days of word processing, he notes, an author can be much less defensive about comments and improvements, easily inserted, because she can literally take advantage of them. She gets the credit for the commentator’s brilliance. Nice.
The Bourgeois Revaluation:
How Innovation Became Virtuous,
Deirdre N. McCloskey
© Deirdre N. McCloskey 2010
[The plan as you can see is to have the argument stated in the chapters titles, so that I am forced to keep the argument always in mind, disciplined by the expectations aroused in the readers’ minds]
1: All Towns had Bourgeois Capitalists.
2: That is, Polanyi had It Wrong,
3: And He was Wrong about the Ancient World, Too.
4: Yet He was Right about Embeddedness.
5: ‘’Bourgeois’’ and ‘’Capitalist’’ are Fighting Words, But Shouldn’t Be.
6: The Bourgeoisie has been Disdained,
7: Though There were Precursors of a Self-Respecting Bourgeoisie.
8: Yet on the Whole the Bourgeoisies have been Precarious.
9: The Dutch Preached Bourgeois Virtue
10: And the Dutch Bourgeoisie was Virtuous
11: Yet Still Old England Disdained the Market and the Bourgeoisie.
12: Aristocratic England, for Example, Scorned Measurement.
13: And So the English Bourgeoisie Could not ‘’Rise.’’
14: But in the Late Seventeenth Century the English Changed.
15: The Words Show the Change.
16: Novels and Plays Measure It, Too .
17: Bourgeois England Loved Measurement.
18: The New Values Triumphed down to 1848
19: The Change in Talk Made the Modern World
20: Its Causes were not All Material
21: It Led to a Hockey Stick of Growth
22: The Rhetoric Was Necessary, and Maybe Sufficient
23: Ethical Ideas and Their Rhetoric Mattered
24: It was a Rhetorical Change, Not a Deep Cultural One
Very partial List of Works Cited
In our age of modern capitalism—or as it should be called, our Age of Innovation—you can live ethically. Most innovators do. Benjamin Franklin did. Warren Buffett does. And in our innovation-mad society since 1800 you yourself, if in spirit sufficiently bourgeois, probably are an innovator, whether you realize it or not, and live ethically when innovating. You move your yarn-and-knitting store to Polk Street, and its success shows that the innovation was a good idea. You build up Stueland Electric in St. Joseph, Michigan, and won’t bribe politicians to get your contracts. You offer statistical advice through Investor Analytics, and believe in your own forecasts of risk. Contrary to the sneers from left and right, a bourgeois life of seeking a new career in selling Aflac insurance or a new location for a grocery store or a new application for cell phones can exhibit in commercial form the seven principal virtues: prudence, of course, but hope, courage, justice, and temperance, too. And the best versions of a bourgeois life exhibit love and faith as well, the small-town Wisconsin banker who earnestly loves his customers and keeps faith with his identity of the Good Banker.
Bourgeois lives can be corrupted by the practical-minded prudence-only talk of economists and calculators. And the bourgeoisie can be demoralized by the soft-minded, justice-only talk of progressives or the hard-minded, hope-only talk of revolutionaries or by the bloody-minded, courage-only talk of reactionaries and authoritarians. But contrary to such mutterings of the clerisy, late in the Age of Innovation most people lead balanced ethical lives. Or try. Congratulations.
In summary that’s what was argued in The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2006).
Where, then, did such virtuous and innovative lives of inventing and manufacturing and selling come from? For 50,000 years, during the old and new stone ages and the bronze age and the iron age, we had $3-a-day lives of axe-making and herding and plowing, with scant scope for virtue. Now after two centuries of bourgeois innovation we have $30- to $140-a-day lives of grocery marketing and computer engineering, college professing at Santa Clara University and high-end cookery at Kendall College. How did we get off the long, long, long handle of history’s hockey stick and onto the modern, up-thrusting blade?
The usual, materialist answers don’t work very well. They lack quantitative oomph, whether they are Marxist or anti-Marxist, whether they speak of the exploitation of English cotton textile workers in 1848 or the high savings rates of Japanese in 1948. What seems to work is a story of bourgeois innovation. After around 1700 the bourgeoisie in Holland and then in England acquired liberty and dignity on a large scale for the first time in history, and radically changed the history.
That in summary is what was argued in Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (2010)—especially the part about the usual, materialist explanations lacking oomph. Most of the book was devoted to clearing a space for an ethical and rhetorical explanation of the modern world. It showed that surprisingly little can be explained in the usual ways: not trade or legal change or investment or exploitation.
Where then to look for the springs of innovation? The place to look, I say here, is in the innovative activities of the urban middle class, the upper middling sort, the bourgeoisie, and especially in the society’s attitude towards such activities. The bourgeoisie started big in northwestern Europe and became bigger. A fifth or a quarter of the dwellers in the little cities on the shores of the North Sea by 1700 ruled their economies. In the global city from Chicago to Shanghai they still do.1 Nowadays most Americans, for example, call themselves “middle class,” and even in class-ridden France and Britain the figure approaches 40 percent.
Merely possessing a big self-defined bourgeoisie, though, doesn’t do the modern trick. After all, the bourgeoisies of Carthage and Venice and Osaka and Lübeck were large within their borders, yet didn’t make the modern world. Repeatedly the bourgeois princes captured the local government precisely in order to retain easy profits without innovation. The danger of a protectionist power elite is always present—after all, that is what a traditional aristocracy is. You pay up to your lord and master or he cuts your throat. Aside from a few experiments in tribunes of the people, and occasionally egalitarian pre-urban bands, we had always before 1700 been ruled by our permanent betters.
And mere urban riches aren’t enough, either. China had massive cities long before the West, but did not become a business-admiring civilization. That’s the ticket. And certainly an urban “middle class” created in post-independence Africa by taxing poor farmers to enrich bureaucrats and soldiers did not make for innovation. Nor has the proliferation of tax-eating regulators in the cities of Sweden or Illinois, bourgeois by education. Acquiring a class of middling wealthy people by taxing other people is merely a repeat of the lord-and-master routine. It’s not the sheer scale of the bourgeoisie that matters but the new toleration for its innovations.
What tipped the world to innovation, that is, were the slowly changing ideas 1600-1848 about the urban middle class and about their material and institutional innovations. A class long scorned by barons and bishops, and regulated into stagnation by its very own guilds and city councils, was revalued from 1600 to the present, first in Holland and then in Britain and then the wider world. When the Amsterdamers after 1600 or so, and the Londoners and the Bostonians after 1700, commenced innovating, some people commenced admiring them. Benjamin Franklin was born poor in 1706 into a world in which only gentlemen ruled, and as the historian Gordon Wood has recently noted he spent his life anxiously attaining and defending gentlemanly rank. He retired very rich at 42 to a long old age devoted to public service and self-promotion, just as Cicero had recommended in 44 BCE: “commerce, if on a small scale, is to be regarded as vulgar; but if large and rich. . . it is not so very discreditable. . . if the merchant, . . . contented with his profits, . . . betakes himself from the port itself to an estate in the country.”2 Yet after Franklin’s death, as Wood notes, he came to be admired as the model for the middling sort, the shopkeepers and tradesmen who forced a more democratic politics onto the new United States (Wood DDDD, pp. NNN). Most of the middling sort wouldn’t qualify objectively for the upper part of the bourgeoisie that actually ruled in Philadelphia or Cincinnati. But anyway they admired it, and ran their lives with dreams of it, and sometimes got into it, down to the present, first in northwestern Europe and now in many countries once terribly poor.
A “Bourgeois Revaluation,” in other words, changed how people looked at the economy. It was an ethical change, correlated with and to some degree mutually caused by the other R-word rebootings 1400 to 1848 in Europe, of Renaissance and Reformation and Revolution. The Bourgeois Revaluation of a new dignity and liberty was a change in how people applied to economic behavior the seven old words of virtue—prudence, justice, courage, temperance, faith, hope, and love. With more or less good grace the people of the North Sea began to accept the outcome of innovation. Then people did so in Europe generally and its offshoots, and finally in our own day in China and India. Most came to regard creative destruction as just, and were courageous about responding to it, and hopeful in promoting it. Most people, excepting the angry clerisy of artists and intellectuals (and even them only after 1848), stopped hating the bourgeoisie as much as their ancestors for so long had. Many started loving it.
In consequence during a century or two the northwest Europeans became shockingly richer in goods and in spirit. Other societies then became business-admiring, with similar shocking results, as in Japan or New Zealand or Equitorial Guinea. As the historian Joyce Appleby recently put it, in the seventeenth century, first in Holland and then in Dutch-imitating England, the bourgeois entrepreneurs were enabled to “acquire the force and respect that enabled them to transform, rather than conform to, the dictates of their society.”3 “Force and respect” is another way of saying “liberty and dignity.” Or as the economist Deepak Lal put it, “Capitalism [I would call it by the less misleading word ‘innovation’] as an economic system came about when the merchant and the entrepreneur finally were given social acceptance [dignity] and protection from the predation of the state [liberty].”4
What tipped us into the modern world was not new empires or new psychologies of businesspeople but a new admiration for the “bourgeois virtues”—that is, the seven traditional virtues when exercised in a commercial society, without the evil of slipping back into domination by a permanent power elite of aristocrat or merchant prince. The commercial version of courage and hope called “enterprise” came to be honored, without much monopoly. The commercial version of justice and temperance called “fair dealing” came to characterize even long-distance trade, without much cheating. The commercial version of faith and justice called “trust” made possible unthinkable innovations, without much envy. Look around you: cheap steel, plate glass, machine-made textiles, credit-card purchases, a college education. And your own best self, a Good Bourgeoise.
When the book is finished put here its argument in a paragraph: “what is argued in this third volume of six devoted to defending the way we live now, the Bourgeois Era, is that. . . .”
I have thanked in The Bourgeois Virtues and in Bourgeois Dignity some of the people who have helped. Parts of Chapter 2, 3, and 4 on Polanyi originated in a paper that Santhi Hejeebu and I wrote in 2000 (Hejeebu and McCloskey 2000; and the little reply, 2003). The April, 2004 meetings of the Illinois/Indiana Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America, 24th annual gala at the Drake Hotel heard some of my early ruminations in Chapter 18 on Our Jane as une bourgeoise. A leading student of medieval science, and an old friend, Edith Sylla, tried to educate me on the early history of quantification (Chapters 12 and 17), but I proved a poor student, as she will see.
All Place with Towns had Bourgeois Capitalists
The bourgeoisie specializes in markets and exchange—instead of specializing as other classes do in laboring and plowing, or fighting and praying. Such a bourgeois group, even if merely part-time, appears to have existed pretty much always among us Homo sapiens, and certainly since the invention in Africa of full language. The archaeologists do not yet agree on when exactly the coming of full language and its associated flowering of trade took place. The majority favor 50,000 BCE, give or take a dozen millennia, with worldwide evidence from North Africa to Australia of rock painting and spear throwers. Check A minority see in the East Cape of South Africa at the Blombos Cave as early as 120,000 BCE and in the Levant as early as 100,000 BCE signs of the “five Bs” of the “upper” Old Stone Age: blades, beads, burials, bone toolmaking, and beauty. The minority admits, though, that such early achievements were subject to backsliding into Middle Stone Age technologies when populations crashed. The permanent and worldwide spread of the five Bs seems to have awaited the 50,000 BCE mark, and the explosion of Homo sapiens out of Africa.5
The raw materials for blades and beads, and the new ideas for burial and bone tools and beauty marks, depended on trade goods. The archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef wrote in 2002 that:
Compared with the slow pace of cultural changes during the Middle Paleolithic. . . . not the least of the human achievements of the Upper Paleolithic were the long-distance exchanges of raw materials and precious items. . . . Long-distance exchange networks in lithics [e.g. flint and obsidian], raw materials, and marine shells during the Upper Paleolithic reach the order of several hundred kilometers They consistently differ from the much shorter ranges of raw material procurement during the Middle Paleolithic.6
Bar-Yosef is of the majority, 50,000-BCE school. But he notes cautiously that “perhaps one of the exceptions is again [earlier he had noted its exceptionally early use of bone for tools, but also its subsequent replacement by a less advanced culture, perhaps from famine] the Howiesons Poort in South Africa (Deacon and Wurz 1996) because raw material was transported to the site from a long distance.”
At any rate the trade seems to have been facilitated by language. Bar-Yosef: “All scholars agree that language plays a major role and that it probably evolved in time. Communication facilitated everything from transfer of technologies to long-distance exchange.”7 One could speculate that perhaps language in a recognizably modern form was first spoken around the caves in South Africa—the hint comes for example from the uniquely large number of meaningful sounds surviving even now in the languages of the Khoisan (or “Bushmen,” with for example their five clicks, who once lived all over South Africa), and from the very early genetic distinctness of such people, dating it seems from about 50,000 BCE.8 But in any case, as the anthropologist Monica Smith argues:
Language encodes past and future, memory and planning, conditional statements and situational accommodation. The use of language to express the conditions of possession through space and time constitutes another way in which the coevolution of language and objects can be surmised. Spoken language, fully operational by 40,000 years ago, was a means by which the subtleties of possession, such as usufruct and temporary access, could be communicated.9
And by the New Stone Age of artistically polished tools and the first evidence around 10,000 BCE of that female invention, agriculture (the other female inventions of pottery and weaving came as early as 30,000 BCE) the case for trade goods is overwhelming. The economic historian George Grantham notes that flint “extracted from the best quarries in Poland, Picardy and lower Loire traded up to 600 kilometers from their point of origin.10 “The earliest central European Neolithic sites,” he continues, “contain necklaces made from shells of a Mediterranean gastropod, long-distance movement of small ornamental objects must date almost to the beginning of permanent agricultural settlement.”11 He describes “the extensive galleries at Can Tintore (Barcelona), where which miners around the turn of the fifth millennium extracted a green gemstone that was locally worked into beads which were subsequently deposited in tombs along the full range of Atlantic Europe’s megalithic rim.”12 That would mean as far north as the Shetlands, north of Scotland, 2500 miles as the crow flies from Barcelona. And such trading was true worldwide: it’s not some peculiar European superiority.
* * * *
Long-distance trade in luxuries is the most glamorous exchange, Marco Polo, Kublai Khan, and all that. Amber from the shores of the Baltic Sea turns up in Egyptian grave goods. Lapis lazuli is a blue gemstone, for a long time in the Old World the only source of blue paint, which is why purple—blue plus red—was so imperially expensive. It came only from Afghanistan, yet it litters archaeological sites far away, in the Mideast and South Asia. Such sparkling objects have suggested to people that what must matter the most is trade over long distances in every luxury from Silk Road silk to flat-screen TV’s. We still believe it—witness the recent obsession over the U.S. trade balance with far China, or the older obsession with the trade in spices as an engine of growth.
But local “penny capitalism,” as the anthropologist Sol Tax once called it, occurs in every society, and matters more to people’s lives.13 I offer my big piece of cloth for ten of your fine bone needles. In early Europe the knappers of flint were specialized manufacturers.14 It’s penny-ante stuff, but not trivial, because there is so much of it. At the three dollars or so a day that our remote ancestors earned the non-trivial pennies accounted for most of their livelihood. Monica Smith, who in 1999 took up the same theme, observes that stage theories assume that
exchange activity in premodern societies is based on the demands of a small group and that the mechanisms of trade, once established by the elite, inexplicably [by which she means inexplicably according to the archaeologists] expand to accommodate the demands of a broader sector of the population. Prior to this expansion [continuing with her report on what archaeologists mistakenly think], utilitarian goods (especially comestibles [i.e. foods]) are assumed to be the result of self-sufficiency and, therefore, not perceived to be a driving mechanism for increased exchange. This dichotomy is seen to persist until the eve of the Industrial Revolution: [the great Marx-influenced sociologist and historian Immanuel] Wallerstein, speaking of the European feudal trade that preceded the modern world-system, claims that it was a trade in luxuries, which "depended on the political indulgence and economic possibilities of the truly wealthy."15
She notes further that the “substantivist” criticism of the very existence of trade in very olden times assumes that modern methods of transport and information are necessary for trade—which is mistaken: “The assumption that strong political systems are necessary for viable exchange environments means that often, the potential complexities of an ancient economy may be neglected a priori.”16
Both points apply to the present as much as to the very distant past. After all, most American competition and cooperation—trade involves both—is with other Americans, even with the American down the street. Local markets and exchange, always, dominate the trade in exotic goods, quantitatively speaking. But it’s still trade. You spend more dollars on plumbing repair and police work and school teaching and dry cleaning and rental accommodation provided by people in your own neighborhood than on hammers and answering machines made by the Chinese. People living on $3 or so a day, as most did before 1800, spent their pennies more on bread than on lapis lazuli. When penny capitalism was translated as it was in the eighteenth century into an ideology of free markets it had the power therefore to transform the world.
We can detect the exotic trade most easily, and so it figures prominently in the archaeological digs. But local trade dominated always. Most of us nowadays are local export-import traders, many even in hunter-gatherer societies, and certainly always in conditions of settled agriculture. From the earliest times the obsidian for knife blades from Southeast Asia, Central America, and central Turkey ends up hundreds of miles away from its source (in the Middle East from Cappadocia beginning around 14,000 BCE17). [More archaeological evidence, pre-town?]
* * * *
The running of markets and exchange in towns, and therefore what I am calling the bourgeois life, is of course not so ancient, because towns date from settled agriculture. The domestication of plants and animals, and even of Canis familiaris in China, did not occur until DDDD or so, in the ancient Near East and later elsewhere. Yet of course from the earliest strata at Jericho in 9000 BCE the towns have traded. What is now Oman at the eastern tip of Arabia was by 2500 BCE a middleman between the Indus Valley civilization hundreds of miles east in what is now Pakistan and the Sumerian civilization hundreds of miles northwest up the Persian Gulf in what is now Iraq.18 Monica Smith notes of India in the Early Historic Period (the first few centuries BCE and CE), “archaeological and historical documentation indicates a thriving trade in a variety of goods,” despite feeble states, supported by such non-state activities as merchant guilds forming “guild armies” to protect trade and pilgrims.19 Her town of Kaudinyapura in central India, for example, with about 700 souls, consumed sandstone (for grinding pestles), mica (to make pottery shine), and rice, none of which were available locally: merchants brought them from at least 50 miles away. As Adam Smith said, “when the division of labor has been once thoroughly established. . . . every man thus lives by exchanging, or becomes in some measure a merchant, and the society itself grows to be what is properly a commercial society.”20
Towns mean trade of course because—to speak of sheer human geography—no town above a couple of thousand in population can live entirely on cultivating the land without trading services for food. Even within a farm village I trade some of my wheat for your eggs or vegetables, or your wheelwrighting services. With very large numbers crammed into a town not everyone could live by trudging out to the local grain field each morning. The fields get too far away. In well-watered Europe in the Middle Ages the area of two football fields in grain could support a person for a year, and perhaps could likewise in irrigated Mesopotamia. The average round trip per day would then be one mile for a town of 1000, two miles for a town of 2000, and so on in proportion. It gets onerous fast (though in fact to this day many a weary peasant worldwide engages in such commutes).
The economic logic of course runs the same way, and more powerfully than the sheer geography. As Smith said in 1776, “the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.” The bigger the place, the higher the proportion of people who find it prudent to specialize in pottery or weaving or keeping accounts. Even in a small hunter-gatherer band there was after the invention of cooking a specialization: the women specialize in hearth-linked activities, the men in venturing forth, or smoking. The crippled man among the Ilongot who specializes in being a little factory for scrapers and arrow points, or the spiritually gifted woman in being a shaman, got their food from exporting their manufactures or services. Such a nascent middle class grows larger as the town does. You may be 30 percent faster at throwing pots relative to your speed at hoeing than other people, but the comparative advantage does you little good in an isolated village of 100 souls, because after all there are too few people to buy your great output of pots. In a big town of 10,000, however, it will be worth your while to hang out a shingle and specialize. And in a metropolis of 100,000 you will hire apprentice potters, make each year 70,000 big pots with your own handsome design, and become well and truly bourgeois.
And so if the archaeologist’s spade uncovers a big town, it is a sure thing that many non-peasants lived in it. No surprise, of course: our image of towns from ancient and not-so-ancient writings such as the Hebrew Bible or The Thousand and One Nights, or historical accounts of life in Athens, or, truth be told, movies by Cecil B. DeMille, are not populated by field-bound peasants, but by proletarians if they work with their backs and hands and bourgeois if they work with their pens and brains.
Towns such as Ur, Kish, and Nippur dotting Mesopotamia south of modern Baghdad began around 5000 BCE as agricultural villages with peasants clustered to protect their stored grain and to honor their gods. Brendan O’Flaherty points out that for an area that is square with a defense that is linear (a wall, or a defensive force in line to man it) then protection exhibits economies of scale. The larger the area defended the cheaper per acre is the defense.21