The tracing of ideas is a guessing game. We can't tell who first had an idea; we can only tell who first had it influentially, who formulated it in some form, poem or equation or picture, that others could stumble upon with the shock of recognition. The radical ideas that have been changing our attitudes towards our habitat have been around forever.
Deirdre McCloskey is a contrarian among economists. She believes that ideas really matter, not just money and material reality. Wealth doesn't grow from economic factors alone. People's values and opinions, especially those of the industrious middle class, are more important.
She's also the author of Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World, the second in a massive four-volume series.
Volume one is called The Bourgeois Virtues.
The wealth makers
I would wager that a good number of the occupying protestors on the streets today would not see much virtue in the bourgeoisie, which, in Marxist terms, describes those who own the "means of production."
Over the years, the term bourgeois has grown into an almost universal put-down.
Though McCloskey is using it as the French originally did, to refer to "free citizens," those who are part of the merchant class, artisans and professionals, the educated, the well-paid wage holders — pretty much everybody who sees themselves as what we would today call the middle class.
What's more, she sees it as her mission to restore some lustre to that particular grouping.
McCloskey thinks economists have not paid enough attention to the remarkable occurrence in the Netherlands, Northern Europe and Britain at around 1800, a period that still largely defines how we live today.
Back then (the date is only approximate) there was a sea change in how people looked at those who innovated and created wealth.
The 'bourgeois deal'
In her books, McCloskey argues that it wasn't property rights, or rule of law, or imperialism, or a dozen other factors that led to all this wealth creation and feathered the nest of the bourgeoisie.
Occupy Toronto protestors gather at Dundas Square on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011.
"What changed was sociology and politics, the dignity and the liberty for the middle class — the bourgeoisie," she says.
"The world signed on to what I call 'The Bourgeois Deal' — you let me innovate, and don't steal from me after it succeeds, and in the long run I'll make you rich. And that's what happened."
With this bourgeois deal, the industrialists and the innovators were bathed in a warm glow of affirmation and prestige. The change was not so much in the material foundations of society as in its sense of itself, its imagination.
Most industrial tools are made for the right-handed, thus forcing the sinister handed to work with his less proficient right hand or adopt work and postural patterns that the machines or tools do not readily accommodate. In Dallas there is a gigantic and deservedly famous hardware store whose owner recently told me that the only left-handed tool that he stocks is a tin snip for sheet metal workers.
Many power tools, in their usual configurations, provide for free use of the right hand to manipulate materials, while restricting movements and utility of the left hand, as can be seen in lathes, band saws, and some milling machines. Thus, to function in the right-handed world, the left-hander must either work with his nondominant and less proficient right hand or must adopt body postures and manipulation patterns that are at variance with the design of the machines. Such activities place the sinistral at a higher risk of suffering an accidental injury.
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