"The making of the modern world is a question of perennial interest. We are, after all, modern. One of the signal developments of modernity is that for the first time, widespread economic prosperity becomes possible. Not all societies attain it, even in the modern world. But only modern societies have done it at all. How did they do it?
Answering this question may do more for human welfare than any other intellectual task before us. What is special about the prosperous modern society? Many answers have arisen. Institutionalist accounts stress law and social practice; Marxists point to proletarian and colonial exploitation; thinkers of a wide variety of persuasions have examined genetic and environmental factors.
In this month’s Cato Unbound, we are pleased to offer an iconoclastic view. All previous answers are wrong, says polymath economist Deirdre McCloskey. Professor McCloskey is at the halfway point of a four-part series of books on the rise of the bourgeoisie. In it, she argues that what really changed in the modern world was the rhetoric of economic activity.
If this sounds wildly improbable, it shouldn’t. The classical art of rhetoric referred not to blustering phrases and glib talk, but to the unforced art of persuasion via argument and evidence. People began to talk differently about economics, and to conceive of economic production and exchange in new ways that had never been seen before. In simple terms, the artisans and shopkeepers of the world became understood as a dignified, honest, and worthwhile group — rather than a crafty cabal of dishonest penny-pinchers.
Ou, como escreve Deirdre McCloskey:"The Big Economic Story of our own times is that the Chinese in 1978 and then the Indians in 1991 adopted liberal ideas in the economy, and came to attribute a dignity and a liberty to the bourgeoisie formerly denied. And then China and India exploded in economic growth. The important moral, therefore, is that in achieving a pretty good life for the mass of humankind, and a chance at a fully human existence, ideas have mattered more than the usual material causes. As the economic historian Joel Mokyr put it recently in the opening sentence of one of his luminous books, “economic change in all periods depends, more than most economists think, on what people believe.” The Big Story of the past two hundred years is the innovation after 1700 or 1800 around the North Sea, and recently in once poor places like Taiwan or Ireland, and most noticeably now in the world’s biggest tyranny and the world’s biggest democracy. It has given many formerly poor and ignorant people the scope to flourish. And contrary to the usual declarations of the economists since Adam Smith or Karl Marx, the Biggest Economic Story was not caused by trade or investment or exploitation. It was caused by ideas. The idea of bourgeois dignity and liberty led to a rise of real income per head in 2010 prices from about $3 a day in 1800 worldwide to over $100 in places that have accepted the Bourgeois Deal and its creative destruction...
I claim that a true liberalism, what Adam Smith called “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty,” contrary to both the socialist and conservative ideologues, has the historical evidence on its side. Despite the elements of regulation and corporatism defacing it (and the welfare programs improving it), it has worked pretty well for the poor and for the people for two centuries. I reckon we should keep it — though tending better to its ethics. "
Os ensaios que seguem ao de Deirdre McCloskey também valem a leitura. Para completar as boas referências ao tema, eu recomendo o fascinante livro de Daniel Friedman, Morals and Markets.