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Libertarian women’s history month: Deirdre McCloskey

28 Mar
Deirdre N. McCloskey (September 11, 1942 – ) was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the eldest child of Robert McCloskey, a professor of government at Harvard University, and the former Helen Stueland, a poet.  McCloskey is a Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is also adjunct professor of Philosophy and Classics there, and for five years was a visiting Professor of philosophy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Since October 2007 she has received six honorary doctorates. In 2013, she received the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award from the Competitive Enterprise Institute for her work examining factors in history that led to advancement in human achievement and prosperity. Her main research interests are (1) the origins of the modern world, (2) the misuse of statistical significance in economics and other sciences, and (3) the study of capitalism, among many others.

McCloskey earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Economics at Harvard University. Her dissertation on British iron and steel won in 1973 the David A. Wells Prize.
In 1968, McCloskey became an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago, where she stayed for 12 years, gaining tenure as an associate professor in economics in 1975, and an associate professorship in history in 1979.  This was during the final years of Milton Friedman’s residence at the University.   Undergraduates in McCloskey’s microeconomics classes at Chicago remember how she was scrupulously fair with students, like socialist students who wanted to question basic aspects of markets and price theory.
 Her work at Chicago is marked by her contribution to the cliometric revolution in economic history, and teaching generations of leading economists Chicago Price Theory, a course which culminated in her book The Applied Theory of Price, now a standard advanced textbook in microeconomics. In 1979, at the suggestion of Wayne Booth in English at Chicago, she turned to the study of rhetoric in economics. Later at the University of Iowa, McCloskey, the John Murray Professor of Economics and of History (1980–99), published The Rhetoric of Economics (1985) and co-founded with John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and others “the rhetoric of inquiry,” and an institution and graduate program, the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry. McCloskey has authored 16 books and some 360 articles in her many fields.
Her major contributions have been to the economic history of Britain (19th-century trade, modern history, and medieval agriculture) the quantification of historical inquiry (cliometrics), the rhetoric of economics, the rhetoric of the human sciences, economic methodology, virtue ethics, feminist economicsheterodox economics, the role of mathematics in economic analysis, and the use (and misuse) of significance testing in economics, and recently in her trilogy “The Bourgeois Era”, the origins of the Industrial Revolution.
She argued in the inaugural James M. Buchanan Lecture at George Mason University on April 7, 2006 that capitalism “is an ethically drenched human activity” which requires attention to all of the classical seven virtues, while economists usually focus exclusively on prudence. Her book The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce was the first of the trilogy, published in 2006. The second, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World was published in 2010, and the third, The Treasured Bourgeoisie: How Markets and Innovation Became Ethical, 1600-1848, and then Suspect was published in 2014.

Married for thirty years and the parent of two children, she transitioned from male to female in 1995, at the age of 53, writing about her experience in a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Crossing: A Memoir (1999, University of Chicago Press). It is an account of her growing recognition (while a boy and man) of her female identity, and her transition—both surgical and social—into a woman (including her reluctant divorce from her wife). The book describes her new life, following sex-reassignment surgery, continuing her career as a female academic economist.

McCloskey advocates on behalf of the rights of persons and organizations in the LGBT community. She was also a key person in the Blanchard, Bailey, and Lawrence theory controversy and in the debate over J. Michael Bailey‘s book The Man Who Would Be Queen, both regarding the reasons why transsexuals desire a male to female transformation.  In 2015 she was a featured speaker at the International Students for Liberty conference in Washington, D.C.
McCloskey has described herself as a “literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not ‘conservative’! I’m a Christian libertarian.”