Could she win the next Nobel prize in Economics?

Deirdre McCloskey: A great thought leader in economics

Paul Kaplan 4 March, 2019 | 6:00PM
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Note: This video is part of Morningstar Canada's Women in Investing Special Report

I’m Paul Kaplan, research director at Morningstar Canada.

Deirdre McCloskey is one of the great economic thinkers of our time. It is hard to imagine an academic economist with a more distinguished record. Currently, she is Distinguished Professor of Economics, and History, Emerita, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she has held multiple and concurrent positions since 2000. During her tenure at Illinois-Chicago, she has been a visiting professor at universities in Europe and other places. Before 2000, she has served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa.

McCloskey is a prolific writer, having sole-authored 18 books and co-authored one. She has published around 400 papers on many topics. She has received numerous honors, including six honorary doctorates since 2007.

McCloskey has many research interests to which she has made significant contributions. These include the economic history of Britain, quantitative economic history, the rhetoric of economics and other fields, economic methodology, feminist economics, the role of mathematics and statistics in economics, and the origins of the Industrial Revolution.

It is from her study of the Industrial Revolution, and the economic history of the west since then, that McCloskey made what is perhaps her greatest contribution to our understanding of the sources of economic growth since 1800. In explaining the explosion of economic growth over the past two centuries, she rejects all of the standard explanations offered by more conventional economists. Instead, she says that it is due to the output of the human mind: creativity, innovation, ideas.

Here is a quote from one of her many scholarly papers:

“What works? Creativity. Innovation. Discovery… And where did discovery come from? It came from the releasing of the West from ancient constraints on the dignity and liberty of the bourgeoisie, producing an intellectual and engineering explosion of ideas. As… Ridley has recently described it, ideas started breeding, and having baby ideas, who bred further.”

Deirdre McCloskey has a compelling personal story. Born Donald McCloskey in 1942, she spent the first three decades of her career as a man. Then in 1995, having been married to a woman for 30 years, and having fathered two children, she came out as a transwoman and transitioned, both surgically and socially at the age of 53. She continued her career as a female academic economist to this day, while advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people.

You can read her personal story in her book, Crossing: A Memoir published in 1999 by University of Chicago Press. So far, only one woman has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Deirdre McCloskey will soon be the second.

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Paul Kaplan

Paul Kaplan  Paul Kaplan is Director of Research for Morningstar Canada.

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