FLJS panel weigh Great Enrichment against social inequality in Deirdre McClosky's defence of Bourgeois values

19 June 2018

A panel chaired by Emeritus Professor Denis Galligan assessed the relative merits of the huge increases in global wealth in recent centuries against increasing social inequality in a Book Colloquium at Wolfson College last week to discuss economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey's latest offering. Prof Galligan was joined by Profs Christopher Decker and Eric Heinze to discuss Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, which celebrates the oft-derided virtues of the bourgeoisie, arguing that it is their entrepreneurial spirit that drove the huge increase in wealth, or Great Enrichment of the past two centuries. 

The panel found some difficulties with the thesis that we must accept inequality as an inevitable consequence of the capitalist pursuit of personal enrichment, and asked: What was it about the societies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that made the pursuit of wealth at the expense of equality such a desirable prospect? Professor Decker also expressed reservations about the author's belief that relative poverty is less important than absolute poverty, especially in a globalized age in which the world's population is interconnected through social media and people are more able than ever to compare their own wealth with that of others. 

Professor Heinze admired the book's scope and its attempt to mark a return to grand theorizing, but questioned its uncritical admiration of the accumulation of wealth, asking: "Where does justice come in?" He argued that by fostering an environment in which trade is free to flourish unimpeded by regulatory restraint, grave injustices can result, as in the case of Grenfell Tower fire in London, which was cited during the audience Q&A as an example of the adverse consequences of deep-rooted inequality.

A podcast of the discussion is available at the link below and from our Podcast pages, which contain audio recordings of hundreds of Oxford lectures, workshops, and panel discussions by FLJS, available to all to download for free.