She… Changed: A Complex Economist

The rhetoric text I'm using this semester, The Rhetoric of Economics, was written by Deirdre McCloskey []. The text is probably my favorite rhetoric text, and it isn't a bad philosophy text, either. I can't praise McCloskey's works enough — I enjoy the writing style and the depth she provides.

And yet, because students have located this Google thing, they quickly discover that McCloskey is more complex than they could imagine. McCloskey evolved, from a Western Marxist perspective to a libertarian featured at Cato Institute events. Some students get stuck on that transition. How in the world does a good, proper, academic shift from Marx to Friedman? Those students ask some great questions about politics, philosophy, and economics.

Then there are the students who find, and cannot get beyond, McCloskey's book Crossing: A Memoir. You can read an excerpt of the book on McCloskey's personal website [].

I've worked with two transgender colleagues, both in the field of computer science. I never thought of their computing or mathematics skills as related to their genders. They are the women they are, certainly, but math is math and I don't really need to know much about the author of a great journal article or book. But economics, rhetoric, and philosophy are unlike computer science.

A transgender person confronts gender issues daily, and gender is intertwined with philosophy and politics. Economists study gender inequality, in various forms. McCloskey is, therefore, in a unique position to study and speak on issues of equality, fairness, justice and so on.

This short excerpt captures McCloskey the libertarian and the social activist:
We Americans like telling people what to do, as in Prohibition or the war on drugs. It's not even Blue Cross' money: Over the years I've paid 10, 20 times more in medical insurance than has been paid back to me in expenses. From an actuarial point of view, there's no moral hazard. It's not as if millions of men will step forward to take advantage if gender reassignment and jaw pointing are paid for. The policy is sheer, stupid crossphobia. Sweet land of liberty and of stubborn, self-justifying hatreds.
My students cannot seem to understand choice and liberty might correspond to a reduced government safety net. This was McCloskey, wanting to use her money, to complete a process. She uses her own journey as an example of negative liberties, and as support for her journey from Marxism to Classical Liberalism. She is a religious person, and certainly no anarchist, but she discovered that freedom from government (and corporate) policies was desirable.

Philosophy is shaped by our experiences. The existentialism of Sartre and Camus grew out of World War II. The objectivism of Rand grew out of her experiences under Communism. Critiques of capitalism are often based on living within crony capitalist nations. The loudest critics of Chinese communism are expatriates of that nation. In other words, as we see the world close up, we come to see the flaws of the systems around us. The risk is that we might embrace another philosophy or political viewpoint without appreciating its deep flaws.

McCloskey might or might not be right in her economic and philosophical views. I tend to agree with her more than I disagree. But, I have to remind myself that like everyone, she is a product of lived experiences.

My students need to appreciate that, too.
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