Tuesday, May 15, 2007

He Became a She, But Scholarship Remained

I will continue the topic of criticism on orthodox economics and economists. I mentioned D.N. McCloskey last time, let me talk briefly about this legendary person.

Over 25 years, Donald McCloskey built a reputation as the conscience of his field, challenging the basic assumptions that economists made and pushing them to consider new ways of looking at economic problems. He received his bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University and spent 12 years teaching at the University of Chicago. He wrote close to 200 articles and 20 books and his major publications earned hundreds of citations on google scholar. His theories of the role that persuasion plays in human decisions and economists' overreliance on mathematical formulas have been widely taught.

Donald McCloskey chided economists for concentrating on mathematical formulas to explain people's behavior, while ignoring subtler factors that may account for why people make the choices they do. He wrote that economists overlooked the power of persuasion, for example, in determining which arguments about economic theory come out on top. His well-known book on the topic, The Rhetoric of Economics, was published in 1985 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

When his career was thriving upward, McCloskey made a decision that caused a stir in the economics community. In 1995-1996 she changed her name from Donald to Deirdre and, in conjunction with her sex-reassignment surgery in 1996, began to live as a woman. Around the same time McCloskey and University of Iowa Professor of Nursing Joanne McCloskey divorced after 30 years of marriage. McCloskey's book "Crossing: A Memoir" documented and discussed this phase of her life.

Ms. McCloskey now says economists have been ignoring something else, too. She says that by explaining all human behaviour in pursuit of self-interest, they are overlooking the fact that sometimes people act out of love.

Such issues have always attracted feminist economists, who say they are pleased to have a well-known member of the field join in the debate. But at the same time, some of them worry about the loss of Donald McCloskey as an ally. He was a founding member of the International Association for Feminist Economics and served on the editorial board of its journal. Some people's reaction is that this is a real shame, because we are going to lose a strong male voice standing up for female economists.

D. N. McCloskey's Major Publications:
The Rhetoric of Economics
The Standard Error of Regressions
Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics
See more on this page.

(Contents based on The Chronicle of Higher Education 11 years ago)

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