Quotulatiousness

November 9, 2017

Lois McMaster Bujold interview

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’s apparently a reprint, but since I missed it the first time, it’s a new one to me:

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer: You published a Star Trek fanzine in the 1960s, while the series was still on the air. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek, so I can’t resist asking you about it. What was it like to be a fan writer in the 1960s?

Lois McMaster Bujold: It was a lonelier enterprise back then than it is now. I go into it a little in this recent interview.

Other than that, I expect it was like being a newbie writer at any time, all those pictures and feelings churning around in one’s head and latching on to whatever models one could find to try to figure out how to get them down on a page. Besides the professional fiction I was reading, my models included Devra Langsam’s very early ST fanzine Spockanalia, and Columbus, Ohio fan John Ayotte’s general zine Kallikanzaros. It was John who guided Lillian and me through the mechanics of producing a zine, everything from how to type stencils (ah, the smell of Corflu in the morning! and afternoon, and late into the night), where to go to get electrostencils produced, how to run off and collate the pages — John lent us the use of his mimeograph machine in his parents’ basement. (And I just now had to look up the name of that technology on the internet — I had forgotten and all I could think of was “ditto”, a predecessor which had a different smell entirely.)

Fan writing, at the time, was assumed to be writing more about SF and fandom, what people would use blogs to do today, than writing fanfiction. So an all-fiction zine seemed a novelty to some of our fellow fans in Columbus.

[…]

ECM: Miles Vorkosigan is an amazingly resilient kid (and then an amazingly resilient adult), but it sometimes seems like moving to Escobar or Beta Colony, or staying with the Dendarii, would make his life much easier. His attachment to his home planet is a little mysterious. What are Miles’s favorite things about Barrayar?

LMB: I actually put off this question for last, as it was strangely hard to answer. (I may be overthinking it.) Partly it’s that it requires me to reboot a character I haven’t written in some years, and hold his whole 43-years-book-time character development in my head at once. Why does anyone love their childhood home, or their family, if they do? (Not a universal given among F&SF readers, I observe; it’s a very anti-domestic genre. Don Sakers’s Analog review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen touched on this.)

Miles’s favorite place on Barrayar is easy to tag: the lakeside retreat at Vorkosigan Surleau, and the wild Dendarii mountain range backing up behind it. Actually including its obstreperous people. As ever, Miles is a conflicted hybrid, half city boy and half country, half Betan and half Barrayaran, half future and half past, stretched between in a moving present. Family, friends, landscapes; all made him and all hold him. And from his very beginning, with all those painful medical treatments as a barely comprehending child, he’s been taught that he can’t run away when things get hard. But which also taught him that painful things can get better. It’s a lesson he’s taken to heart, and not only because it validates his own questioned and criticized existence.

(Miles being Miles, he may also take this a step too far, and confuse pain with hope, which would make him not at all the first human to stray down such a path.)

November 8, 2017

Nancy Friday, RIP

Filed under: Books, Health, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the 1970s, one of the most controversial books was Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, drawn from interviews with a large number of women about their sexual fantasies:

My Secret Garden exploded on to bestseller lists around the globe in 1973. The work was shocking, deeply sexy in parts and proved that women had erotic imaginations just as men did, and that they, too, masturbated just as men did. It heralded the innocent dawning of what later became known as the sex-positive feminist movement. My Secret Garden came at the beginning of a wave of overtly sexual content written by women. Also in 1973, Betty Dodson penned what was to become the world’s bestseller on masturbation, Sex for One. My Secret Garden didn’t have the gravitas and respectability of say, Shulamith Firestone, but as author Susie Bright, the original “Sexpert” in the 1980s and 90s, says, “it sold millions and millions of copies and was a big wake-up for America’s puritanical, sheltered girls and young women”.

Of course, Friday was attacked by many. Like Dodson, her work was dismissed for being not scientific enough or for being too personal, or too much like soft porn. But an even bigger issue was that she wasn’t, Bright recalls with glee, “the tiniest bit politically correct”.

There is something quite secret about My Secret Garden. All Friday’s interviewees, who talk about fantasies ranging from being sex workers to being urinated on, talk anonymously. One interviewee explains how, when she has sex with her husband, her fantasy is imagining “the bed practically torn apart and us ending up on the floor wet and sticky and happy”. The reality though is that, “All he’s really doing is lying on top of me and thrusting away.

In 1996, Friday told Salon: “I would no more go to a consciousness-raising group and talk about my intimate life with my husband than fly to the moon.” In that same year, while discussing sexual harassment in the office on Bill Maher’s Comedy Central talk show Politically Incorrect, she claimed that men suffered from harassment as much as women.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle, who commented:

This was a very important book, although some will scoff at the idea. I was always struck by the fact that the only two male fantasy “objects” who were named (possibly for overly cautious “legal” reasons; one is clearly Leonard Cohen but not called that) were Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes…

The wide-spread (and I believe disingenuous) surprise that greeted the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey was no surprise at all to me. Friday was denounced as “no feminist” for revealing women’s rape fantasies, and she was decidedly non-p.c. in other respects. Whenever anyone dismisses this or that “evidence” as “simply anecdotal,” I think of this book in which anecdote is all, and more revealing and true than any “experiment” or “survey.”

QotD: The second coming of SF’s depressing and neurotic “New Wave”

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Back in the mid to late 70’s the “New Wave” was in full force. Downbeat endings, “black and gray morality” (which can be good if handled well, at least as a change-up from more clear cut items) or worse “black and black.” Those were the tone of Science Fiction.

Then, fairly close to each other, two movies came out which took an entirely different approach: Lucas’ Star Wars and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The rogue was given back his heart of gold. The callow youth could be the hero of the piece, not ground down by the world weary cynics. Heroes who are actually heroes fighting bad guys who weren’t so “sympathetic” that you couldn’t tell hero from villain.

It was a refreshing change. And the result was that, for a time, it became OK to have good guys who were good guys. Bad guys who were actually bad and not just “oppressed” or “victims of their backgrounds”. You didn’t have to wonder who to root for.

Today we’re kind of in a similar position. One of the best selling series, for young people is The Hunger Games. Black and Very-Dark-Gray morality, little really to choose from in the sides, and (no spoilers) that’s shown pretty clearly in the ending. And in printed SF? So much “humanity is a plague” stuff. Bleah.

David L. Burkhead, “Star Wars and the Human Wave”, The Writer in Black, 2015-10-21.

November 7, 2017

Le Corbusier

Filed under: Books, France, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Theodore Dalrymple could never be called a fan of Le Corbusier’s architecture:

The French fascist architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, was another of this charmless ilk, though cleaner than Brecht (a Marxist, the latter’s decision not to wash was his tribute, albeit not a very flattering one, to the proletariat). Jeanneret’s inhumanity, his rage against humans, is evident in his architecture and in his writings. He felt the level of affection and concern for them that most people feel for cockroaches.

Like Hitler, Jeanneret wanted to be an artist, and, as with Hitler, the world would have been a better place if he had achieved his ambition. Had he been merely an artist, one could have avoided his productions if one so wished; but the buildings that he and his myriad acolytes have built unavoidably scour the retina of the viewer and cause a decline in the pleasure of his existence.

One of Jeanneret’s buildings can devastate a landscape or destroy an ancient townscape once and for all, with a finality that is quite without appeal; as for his city planning, it was of a childish inhumanity and rank amateurism that would have been mildly amusing had it remained purely theoretical and had no one taken it seriously.

A book has just been published — Le Corbusier: The Dishonest Architect, by Malcolm Millais — that reads like the indictment of a serial killer who can offer no defense (except, possibly, a psychiatric one). The author shares with me an aesthetic detestation of Jeanneret, and also of his casual but deeply vicious totalitarianism; but, unlike me, the author both has a scholarly knowledge of his subject’s life and writings, of which the perusal of only a few has more than sufficed for me, and is a highly qualified structural engineer. Mr. Millais is able to prove not only that Jeanneret was a liar, cheat, thief, and plagiarist in the most literal sense of the words, a criminal as well as being personally unpleasant on many occasions, but that he was technically grossly ignorant and incompetent, indeed laughably so. His roofs leaked, his materials deteriorated. He never grasped the elementary principles of engineering. All his ideas were gimcrack at best, and often far worse than merely bad. To commission a building from Jeanneret was to tie a ball and chain around one’s own ankle, committing oneself to endless, Sisyphean bills for alteration and maintenance, as well as to a dishonest estimate of what the building would cost to build in the first place. A house by Jeanneret was not so much a machine for living in (to quote the most famous of his many fatuous dicta) as a machine for generating costs and for moving out of. In the name of functionality, Jeanneret built what did not work; in the name of mass production, everything he used had to be individually fashioned. Having no human qualities himself, and lacking all imagination, he did not even understand that shade in a hot climate was desirable, indeed essential.

November 2, 2017

George Orwell had a lot of rejection slips for Animal Farm

Filed under: Books, Business, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

But of those, this one from T.S. Eliot is perhaps the most representative:

(Click to see full-size)

H/T to Raj Balasubramanyam for the image.

November 1, 2017

Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus – Extra Sci Fi – #1

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 31 Oct 2017

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein launched the entire genre of science fiction. What made it unique? What did Shelley create, and how did her view of the possibilities of science shape the way we imagine our world even today?

October 24, 2017

The many false faces of Aleister Crowley

Filed under: Books, Britain, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, Sean Gabb reviews a new collection of essays about Aleister Crowley:

Turning to practitioners of the occult, I see no evidence of special success. They do not live longer than the rest of us. However they begin, they do not stay better looking. Any success they have with money, or in bed, is better explained by the gullibility of their followers than by their own magical powers.

So it was with Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) — the “Great Beast 666,” or “the wickedest man alive.” He quickly ran through the fortune his parents had left him. He spent his last years in poverty. Long before he died, he had begun to resemble the mug shot of a child murderer. Whether his claims were simply a fraud on others, or a fraud on himself as well, I see no essential difference between him and the beggar woman who cursed me in the street. He had advantages over her of birth and education. But he was still a parasite on the credulity of others.

Nor can I see him as a thinker or writer of any real value. The book that I am reviewing does its best to claim otherwise. Its varied essays are all interesting and well-written. Anything by Keith Preston, who wrote the fourth essay, is worth reading. Mr Southgate has done a fine job on the editing and formatting. But I found myself looking up from every essay to think what a terrible waste of ability had gone into producing the book. Was Crowley a sort of national socialist, or a sort of libertarian? Was he a sex-obsessed libertine, or did he preach absolute self-control? I suspect all these questions have the same answer. The overall theme of the book is that he was a penetrating critic of “modernity,” and each of its writers — all, in my view, men of greater ability than Crowley — has done his best to reduce a corpus of self-serving nonsense to a coherent system of thought.

The truth, I think, is that, beyond a desire to impose on everyone about him, Crowley had no fixed ideas, but he was too bad a writer for this to be apparent. Take these examples of his prose:

    We are not for the poor and sad: the lords of the earth are our kinsfolk. Beauty and strength, leaping laughter, and delicious languor, force and fire are of us…” [quoted, p.68]

    The sexual act… is the agent which dissipates the fog of self for one ecstatic moment. It is the instinctive feeling that the physical spasm is symbolic of that miracle of the Mass, by which the material wafer… is transmuted into the substance of the body. [quoted, p.151]

In the second of these, he seems to show an influence of D.H. Lawrence — or of the sources that made Lawrence into another bad writer. In the first, he has certainly been reading too much Swinburne. I confess that I have not read anything by Crowley beyond the quotations in this book. Having seen these, though, I am not curious to look further. He was a nasty piece of work in his private life, and a victim of early twentieth century fashion in everything else.

October 20, 2017

QotD: Culture wars of the 20th century

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[Libertarians have] always been strong on analysis and criticism. We have our philosophers and economists and historians, and these are among the best. We aren’t wholly without our novelists and musicians and artists. There’s you. There’s Heinlein. There’s Rand. There are many others.

But we haven’t so far put cultural production at the top of our list of things to do. It’s been treated as barely even secondary to uncovering and explaining the workings of a natural order. So far as this has been the case, however, it’s been a big mistake. There’s little benefit in preaching to an audience that doesn’t understand why your message is important.

The socialist takeover of the English mind during the early 20th century was only in part the achievement of the Webbs and J.A. Hobson and E.H. Carr and Harold Laski and Douglas Jay, and all the others of their kind. They were important, and if they hadn’t written as they did, there would have been no takeover. But for every one who read these, there were tens or hundreds who read and were captured by Shaw and Wells and Galsworthy and Richard Llewellyn, among others. These were men who transmitted the socialist cases to a much wider audience.

Just as importantly, where they did not directly transmit, they helped bring about a change in the climate of opinion so that propositions that were rejected out of hand by most thoughtful men in the 1890s could become the received wisdom of the 1940s. They achieved a similar effect in the United States, and were supplemented there by writers like Howard Fast, and, of course, by the Hollywood film industry.

More recently in England, the effect of television soap operas like Eastenders has been immense and profound. Their writers have taken the dense and often incomprehensible writings of the neo-Marxists and presented them as a set of hidden assumptions that have transformed the English mind since 1980. No one can fully explain the Labour victory of 1997, or the ease with which law and administration were transformed even before them, without reference to popular culture.

Though I’ll say outright that she’s never been one of my favourites, there’s no doubt that Ayn Rand was a great novelist and a great libertarian. And there’s no doubt at all that her novels did more than anything else to revive libertarianism in America — and perhaps even in England. But what I’m talking about at the moment isn’t long didactic novels where characters speak for three pages about the evils of central banking. What I do believe we need is good, popular entertainment of our own creation that is based on our own assumptions.

I think the most significant objective propagandist of my lifetime for the libertarian and conservative cause in England was the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian. I’ve read all his historical novels, some more than once, and I don’t think he ever sets out an explicit case against the modern order of things. What he does instead is to create a world – that may once have existed largely as he describes I – that works on different assumptions from our own. If this world is often unattractive on account of its poverty and brutality, its settled emphasis on tradition and on personal freedom and responsibility has probably done more to spread the truth in England than the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Ideas combined.

Sean Gabb, quoted in “Wayne John Sturgeon talks to Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance”, Sean Gabb, 2013-08-26.

October 13, 2017

LITERATURE – George Orwell

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The School of Life
Published on 25 Nov 2016

George Orwell is the most famous English language writer of the 20th century, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. What was he trying to tell us and what is his genius?

October 11, 2017

Reading Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Filed under: Books, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, Richard Blake introduces one of the greatest English historians and explains why his work is still well worth reading:

Edward Gibbon (1737-94) was born into an old and moderately wealthy family that had its origins in Kent. Sickly as a child, he was educated at home, and sent while still a boy to Oxford. There, an illegal conversion to Roman Catholicism ruined his prospects of a career in the professions or the City. His father sent him off to Lausanne to be reconverted to the Protestant Faith. He came back an atheist and with the beginnings of what would become a stock of immense erudition. He served part of the Seven Years War in the Hampshire Militia. He sat in the House of Commons through much of the American War. He made no speeches, and invariably supported the Government. He moved for a while in polite society – though his increasing obesity, and the rupture that caused his scrotum to swell to the size of a football, made him an object of mild ridicule. Eventually, he withdrew again to Switzerland, where obesity and his hydrocele were joined by heavy drinking. Scared by the French Revolution, he came back to England in 1794, where he died of blood-poisoning after an operation to drain his scrotum.

When not eating and drinking, and putting on fine clothes, and talking about himself, he found time to become the greatest historian of his age, the greatest historian who ever wrote in English, one of the greatest of all English writers, and perhaps the only modern historian to rank with Herodotus and Thucydides and Tacitus. The first volume of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire astonished everyone who knew him. The whole was received as an undisputed classic. The work has never been out of print during the past quarter-millennium. It remains, despite the increase in the number of our sources and our better understanding of them, the best – indeed, the essential – introduction to the history of the Roman Empire between about the death of Marcus Aurelius and the death of Justinian.

I’ve read a few abridged versions of Gibbon’s great work, and I intend to start on the unexpurgated version once I’ve finished the New Cambridge Modern History (I have all in hand except Volume XII, the Companion Volume). This is why Blake considers Gibbon to be such an important and still-relevant writer:

1. Greatness as a Writer and a Liberal

I cannot understand the belief, generally shared these past two centuries, that the golden age of English literature lay in the century before the Civil War. I accept the Prayer Book and the English Bible as works of genius that will be appreciated so long as our language survives. I admire the Essays of Francis Bacon and one or two lyrics. But I do not at all regard Shakespeare as a great writer. His plays are ill-organised, his style barbarous and tiresome. I fail to understand how pieces like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, with their long, ranting monologues, can be thought equal to the greatest products of the Athenian theatre. I grant that Julius Caesar is a fine play – but only because Shakespeare stayed close to his ancient sources for the plot, and wrote in an uncharacteristically plain style. Perhaps I am undeveloped in some critical faculty; and I know that people whose judgements I trust have thought better of him. But I cannot see Shakespeare as a great writer or his age as the greatest in our literature. […]

2. His Scholarship

As said, this was not my first meeting with Gibbon. I was twelve when I found him in the abridgement by D.M. Low. As an undergraduate, I made use of him in the J.B. Bury edition up till the reign of Heraclius and the Arab conquests. In my middle twenties, I went through him again in a desultory manner, skipping chapters that did not interest me. But it was only as I approached thirty that I read him in the full and proper order, from the military resources of the Antonines to the revival of Rome under the Renaissance Popes. It is only by reading him in the whole, and by paying equal attention to text and footnotes, that he can be appreciated as a supreme historian. […]

3. His Fairness as an Historian

Even where he can be criticised for letting his prejudices cloud his judgement, Gibbon remains ultimately fair. He dislikes Christianity, and is convinced that it contributed to the decline of the Empire. His fifteenth and sixteenth chapters are one long sneer at the rise and progress of the Christian Faith. They excited a long and bitter controversy. There was talk for a while of a prosecution for blasphemy. But this was only talk. A man of Gibbon’s place in the social order was not to be taken into court like some hack writer with no connections.

QotD: Speed readers

Filed under: Books, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

… shut up, speed readers. That’s right. I said eight hours. Deal with it. Nobody cares that you read 6,000 WPM like some sort of freaky robot person. Most people read for fun at 200 WPM and most books are 100k words. I swear, I’ve never in my life mentioned that it takes hours to read a novel without some self-righteous speed reader chiming in the comments about how brilliant they are and how they read a novel every fifteen minutes. Goody for you. Those of us who’ve known the touch of a woman don’t care you read fast.

Larry Correia, “one Star Reviews Over Book Prices are Dumb”, Monster Hunter Nation, 2016-02-16.

October 9, 2017

Reviewing Democracy in Chains as speculative fiction, rather than as history

James Devereaux critiques the recent book by Nancy MacLean which was intended to tarnish the reputation of James McGill Buchanan by tracing the intellectual roots and influences that shaped Buchanan’s life and work.

Nancy MacLean, in her new book Democracy in Chains, has allegedly revealed the master plan of right-wing political operatives, funded by the Kochs and inspired by James McGill Buchanan. MacLean pulls no punches as she describes a right-wing conspiracy meant to bring about “a fifth column movement the likes of which no nation has ever seen.” (page 127) Alas, the major problem with her account, as her fellow Duke Professor Mike Munger summarized, is it is “a work of speculative historical fiction.” MacLean’s contribution is a failure of academic discourse more likely to increase unfounded paranoia and division than to reveal any hidden agenda. MacLean’s bias bleeds into nearly every aspect of this book and taints her interpretation of the facts and sources beyond any reasonable interpretation could support. At one point she ponders the genius of Buchanan but determines it to be an “evil genius” for his work, much of which discusses the difficulties of democracy (page 42).

Why, one may feel justified in asking, dwell on speculative fiction? Unfortunately, when speculative fiction enters the popular culture, is applauded, and treated as fact, a measure of scrutiny is required. MacLean has received a fair share of positive press. NPR wrote that Democracy in Chains is “a book written for the skeptic; MacLean’s dedicated to connecting the dots.” That is if the dots were points on a corkboard tied together with red yarn. Oprah’s book club put it in their “20 books to read this summer” list. The Atlantic’s review praised the book as “part of a new wave of historiography that has been examining the southern roots of modern conservatism.” Slate also wrote a review.

A Deluge of Error

MacLean’s revelation regarding this “stealth plan” for a “fifth column movement” focuses on the relatively obscure, but well-respected, founder of public choice economics Nobel laureate James McGill Buchanan. MacLean weaves a fascinating tale but one that paints Buchanan and sympathizing libertarians as radicals determined to undermine democracy for the purpose of satisfying elitist urges, squashing the underdog, burdening the minority, and exploiting the poor. Unfortunately for MacLean, and those heaping praise, it is clear this tale rests on ransom-note-style citations, cutting and pasting together portions of phrases to change the meaning and support her narrative. In certain places it appears she has woefully misunderstood the source material or did not care – the notes do not match the claims. By cobbling together this mish-mash of selective quotes and speculation MacLean errs twice: first in describing Buchanan’s views and second in describing the motives of Buchanan and anyone sympathetic to his view.

A litany of scholars have examined the book and revealed a deluge of error. Russ Roberts wrote that MacLean owed Tyler Cowen an apology, courteously gave her room to respond, which she used to double down on her claims despite the obvious selective use of unfairly parsed phrases which attributed a view to Cowen he did not hold. Steve Horwitz, Michael Munger, Jonathan Adler, and David Bernstein have found issues with her citations and claims (Adler aggregated them at the Washington Post). Most thoroughly, Phil Magness has dissected numerous errors, misquotes, and general failures of citation found within the book, it appears to be an ongoing project. The errors which have compiled are such that they undermine credibility in the reading. As others have listed her poor citations, mangling of quotes, and selective editing, this will not be the focus of this review.

Since the publication of Maclean’s book, Don Boudreaux at Café Hayek has been hammering her work on an almost daily basis.

September 24, 2017

We Read Hillary’s Book So You Don’t Have To

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ReasonTV
Published on 22 Sep 2017

Hillary Clinton’s new book What Happened attempts to explain Trump’s upset victory in 2016 through a series of reasons which are not Hillary Clinton.

September 23, 2017

Roger Scruton – On ‘Harry Potter’

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Conservatism Archive
Published on Sep 4, 2017

September 17, 2017

QotD: The great enrichment

Filed under: Books, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most fundamental problem in Piketty’s book, then, is that he misses the main act. In focusing solely on the distribution of income, he overlooks the most surprising secular event in history: the Great Enrichment of the average individual on the planet by a factor of 10 and in rich countries by a factor of 30 or more. Many humans are now stunningly better off than their ancestors were.

This includes a gigantic improvement of the poorest — your ancestors and mine. By dramatic increases in the size of the pie, the poor have been lifted to 90 or 95 percent of equal sustenance and dignity, as against the 10 or 5 percent attainable by redistribution without enlarging the pie.

What caused the Great Enrichment? It cannot be explained by the accumulation of capital, as the very name “capitalism” implies. Our riches were not made by piling brick upon brick, bachelor’s degree upon bachelor’s degree, bank balance upon bank balance, but by piling idea upon idea. The bricks, BAs, and bank balances were of course necessary. Oxygen is necessary for a fire. But it would be unenlightening to explain the Chicago Fire of 1871 by the presence of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere.

The original and sustaining causes of the modern world were indeed ethical, not material. They were the widening adoption of two new ideas: the liberal economic idea of liberty for ordinary people and the democratic social idea of dignity for them. This, in turn, released human creativity from its ancient trammels. Radically creative destruction piled up ideas, such as the railways creatively destroying walking and the stage coaches, or electricity creatively destroying kerosene lighting and the hand washing of clothes, or universities creatively destroying literary ignorance and low productivity in agriculture. The Great Enrichment requires not accumulation of capital or the exploitation of workers but what I call the Bourgeois Deal. In the historical lottery the idea of an equalizing liberty and dignity was the winning ticket, and the bourgeoisie held it.

That even over the long run there remain some poor people does not mean the system is not working for the poor, so long as their condition is continuing to improve, as it is, and so long as the percentage of the desperately poor is heading toward zero, as it is. That people still sometimes die in hospitals does not mean that medicine is to be replaced by witch doctors, so long as death rates are falling and so long as the death rate would not fall under the care of the witch doctors. It is a brave book Thomas Piketty has written. But it is mistaken.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

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