Agricultural Economics Department


Date of this Version



Published by the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Copyright 2010 Regents of the University of Nebraska.


A recent book (The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, D. N. McCloskey), raises the matter of the role of the virtues in business and economic choice, arguing that capitalism can indeed, be virtuous or at least better than the alternative(s). This argument is especially timely in light of the apparent excesses on Wall Street and in some banking/financial institutions. Excessive greed and often the lack of business ethics contributed in substantive ways to the financial crisis and near economic meltdown we have been experiencing. As McCloskey, (2006, pp. 1-2) argues (in setting the stage for the complex argument made in this 616-page book!): “The book … is directed toward you who are suspicious of the phrase ‘bourgeois virtues,’ pretty sure that it is a contradiction in terms. And the book is directed, with less optimism about changing their minds, toward you who think the phrase is worse: a lie. ‘Bourgeois virtues’ is neither. The claim here is that modern capitalism does not need to be offset to be good. Capitalism can on the contrary be virtuous. In a fallen world bourgeois life is not perfect. But it’s better than any available alternative. American capitalism needs to be inspirited, moralized, completed. Two and a half cheers for the Midwestern bourgeoisie (middle-class, small business owners…. yet)… Many a businessman is an ethical shell or worse. Even the virtues of the bourgeoisie, … do not lead straight to heaven.”