After Holland, Professor McCloskey returned to Iowa for another three years, in part to prove that she could be accepted as a woman in an institution that had gotten to know her as a man. But in 1999, Professor McCloskey was ready for a change when Stanley Fish recruited her to the University of Illinois in Chicago.
By most accounts, the gender change has not damaged Professor McCloskey’s professional reputation. “Deirdre hasn’t suffered at all,” says Stephen T. Ziliak, her collaborator in the critiques on significance testing. “Economists, in particular, are very libertarian. Even if not in their scholarship, they are in their personae.” Professor McCloskey herself notes wryly that when she told Gary Fethke, the dean of the University of Iowa business school, about her impending sex change, Dean Fethke responded: “Thank God…I thought for a moment you were going to confess to converting to socialism.”
In many ways, Professor McCloskey’s transformation from man to woman mirrors the dramatic transformations in her thinking that gelled as Donald became Deirdre: from Marxist into capitalist libertarian, from atheist into practicing Episcopalian, and from cliometrician, using mathematical models to understand economic history, into critic of significance testing in economics. Although Deirdre McCloskey’s work is a logical outgrowth of Donald McCloskey’s, it is also in some ways a rejection of it.
Professor McCloskey’s intellectual odyssey is not yet over. It took her six years to recognize that if economics is rhetorical, then it cannot be wholly rational. She acknowledges that she took a long time to move away intellectually and emotionally from her views as a “positivist, straight-line scientist” and assumes that her intellectual journey will cover still more ground. She has only just begun to define an economics that balances mathematics-based theory with a more qualitative approach.
As Professor McCloskey continues to work on the future volumes of The Bourgeois Virtues, she remains optimistic about capitalism and her profession. “This long episode of [the] machine, of faith in mechanical views of what humans are like, may come to an end eventually,” she says. “I dream of an economics that will not throw away the insights that have been provided by people like Samuelson…but will redo them for human beings.” In achieving that dream, she can lead academic economists to a new perspective that will allow them to develop a more complete view — and greater appreciation — of human endeavor in a business setting.
Source: Deirdre N. McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (University of Chicago Press, 2006)