Deirdre N. McCloskey (born in 1942 as Donald N. McCloskey) is an American economist, rhetorician, professor, and writer.


Deirdre McCloskey (born 1942) is an economist, rhetorician, scholar, and public intellectual. Her job title at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication. She is also adjunct professor of Philosophy and Classics at UIC, and was for five years the Tinbergen Distinguished Professor of Economics, Philosophy, History, English, and Arts and Culture, at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Since October 2007 she has received two honorary doctorates.

McCloskey earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics at Harvard University. (Her study of British iron and steel won in 1973 the distinguished David A. Wells Prize for best dissertation: p. 350 in S. T. Ziliak, ed., Measurement and Meaning in Economics: The Essential Deirdre McCloskey (2001))

In 1968—while still a graduate student—McCloskey was hired by Milton Friedman and Robert Fogel to join the faculty of economics at the University of Chicago, where she stayed for 12 years with tenure producing and teaching price theory and economic history before turning in 1979 to the study of rhetoric, feminism, and the history and philosophy of economics and other human sciences. At the University of Iowa, McCloskey, the John Murray Professor of Economics and of History (1980-1999), published The Rhetoric of Economics (1985) and co-founded with John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and others a field of study, "the rhetoric of the human sciences," and an institution and graduate program, the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry. McCloskey has authored or edited more than 20 books and over 300 articles challenging standard assumptions in the field.

Her major contributions since the 1960s are in the economic history of Britain, the quantification of historical inquiry, the rhetoric of economics, the rhetoric of the human sciences, economic methodology, virtue ethics, feminist economics, heterodox economics, the role of mathematics in economic analysis, and the use (and misuse) of significance testing in economics. She has argued that economists often celebrate "statistically significant" results while ignoring the economic significance of results.

She discussed some of these issues in the inaugural James M. Buchanan Lecture at George Mason University on April 7, 2006. She said there, capitalism "is an ethically drenched human activity" which requires attention to all of the classical seven virtues, while economists usually focus exclusively on prudence. Her latest book The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce [1] is the first of a projected five-volume magnum opus.

The progress of economic science has been seriously damaged. You can’t believe anything that comes out of [it]. Not a word. It is all nonsense, which future generations of economists are going to have to do all over again. Most of what appears in the best journals of economics is unscientific rubbish. I find this unspeakably sad. All my friends, my dear, dear friends in economics, have been wasting their time....They are vigorous, difficult, demanding activities, like hard chess problems. But they are worthless as science.

The physicist Richard Feynman called such activities Cargo Cult Science....By “cargo cult” he meant that they looked like science, had all that hard math and statistics, plenty of long words; but actual science, actual inquiry into the world, was not going on. I am afraid that my science of economics has come to the same point.

– (Deirdre McCloskey, The Secret Sins of Economics (2002), 41, 55f)[2]

Personal life

McCloskey was the first child of the late Robert McCloskey, a professor of government at Harvard University, and the former Helen Stueland, a poet.

She transitioned from male to female in 1995, at the age of 53, a fact recorded in a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Crossing: A Memoir (1999, University of Chicago Press). McCloskey was married and fathered two children.[citation needed]

McCloskey advocates on behalf of the rights of persons and organizations in the LGBT community. She was also a key person in the controversial campaign against J. Michael Bailey and his controversial book The Man Who Would Be Queen.[3]


  • The Cult of Statistical Significance: How the Standard Error Costs Us Jobs, Justice, and Lives (January 2008) University of Michigan Press (with Stephen T. Ziliak)
  • The Bourgeois Virtues : Ethics for an Age of Commerce (June 2006)
  • The Economic Conversation (2008) (with Arjo Klamer and Stephen Ziliak)
  • The Secret Sins of Economics (August 2002)
  • Crossing: A Memoir (September 1999) is McCloskey's account of her growing recognition (while a boy and man) of her female identity, and her transition — both surgical and social — into a woman (including her reluctant divorce from her wife). Following sex-reassignment surgery, the book describes her new life continuing her career as a female academic economist.
  • Measurement and Meaning in Economics: The Essential Deirdre McCloskey (1999) (edited by Stephen Ziliak)
  • The Vices of Economists, the Virtues of the Bourgeoisie (1996)
  • Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics (1994)
  • Second Thoughts: Myths and Morals of U.S. Economic History (1993)
  • A Bibliography of Historical Economics to 1980 (1990)
  • If You're So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise (1990)
  • The Consequences of Economic Rhetoric (1988)
  • The Writing of Economics (1987) reprinted as Economical Writing (2000)
  • Econometric History (1987)
  • The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences: Language and Argument in Scholarship and Public Affairs (1987)
  • The Rhetoric of Economics (1985 & 1998)
  • The Applied Theory of Price (1982 & 1985)
  • Enterprise and Trade in Victorian Britain: Essays in Historical Economics (1981)
  • Economic Maturity and Entrepreneurial Decline: British Iron & Steel, 1870-1913 (1973)
  • Essays on a Mature Economy: Britain after 1840 (1971)


  • Modern Epistemology Against Analytic Philosophy: A Reply to Maki Journal of Economic Literature Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 1319–1323
  • The Rhetoric of Law and Economics Michigan Law Review Vol. 86, No. 4 (Feb., 1988), pp. 752–767
  • The Loss Function Has Been Mislaid: The Rhetoric of Significance Tests, American Economic Review, Vol. 75, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Ninety-Seventh Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1985), pp. 201–205
  • The Rhetoric of Economics, Journal of Economic Literature Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun., 1983), pp. 481–517
  • McCloskey D, Ziliak S T. (1996 March). The Standard Error of Regressions. Journal of Economic Literature Vol. 34:97-114.
  • McCloskey D N, Ziliak S T. (2004). Size Matters: The Standard Error of Regressions in the American Economic Review. Econ Journal Watch. 1(2) 331-338.

See also

  • McCloskey critique


External links