In Hayek Lecture, Deirdre McCloskey argues a revolution in ethics spurred the Industrial Revolution

Deirdre McCloskey speaking at the 2018 Hayek Lecture
Deirdre McCloskey

Deirdre McCloskey, distinguished professor of economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, delivered the 14th annual Fredrich A. von Hayek Lecture on October 4. Known for her wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary scholarship—McCloskey has described herself as “literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man”—she delved into the origins of the Industrial Revolution in a lively address titled “Hayekian Liberalism Enriched Us All.” 

McCloskey underlined the importance of persuasion—what she called “sweet words”—in the functioning of a liberal society: “In a free society, changing behavior has to be a matter of sweet words, changing people’s minds.”

She argued that beginning in the eighteenth century a new sense of equality led to innovation, risk-taking, and ultimately to great gains in societal wealth. “People are inspirited when they are treated with equality,” McCloskey said. “…We became rich to this fantastic degree because we were inspirited to try things out, to have a go.”

“There's no big legal revolution that causes the Industrial Revolution in this marvelous great enrichment,” she added. “It's a change in ethics, a change in attitude, a change in how we speak about each other.”

Posted October 30, 2018