Remarks of William J. Bowe
At a January 3, 2023 Lunch in Honor of Deirdre N. McCloskey
On Her Departure for the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.
For those of you that haven’t heard, Deidre McCloskey is leaving Chicago. Deirdre tells me she’s taking a high-level position at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Knowing Deirdre propensity for exaggeration, this means her new office is probably on the top floor of a two-story building.
Deirdre, I’m not playing the victim card when I tell you I’ve made a sacrifice to be here today. This is Festival of Sleep Day and National Sweatpants Month. Normally, I’d be lying down on my couch now nursing a hangover and watching the Sweatpants parade in Philadelphia. Right now, I’m missing the speech of parade grand marshal John Fetterman.
Deirdre, there are only two possible reasons all of us are here. One reason is your constant travel away from us speaking at conferences all over the planet has whetted our appetite for the day you finally leave and never come back. I think the more likely reason is that we’ll simply miss you terribly as a Cliff Dweller and wish to give you a proper farewell. By sharing your broad range of knowledge and humane precepts at the Members’ Table, you’ve educated and enriched all of us. While we’re trying to put on a happy face on things, we’re truly sad you’re moving on.
I say this even though I’ve had my problems with you, Deirdre. For one thing, you’ve repeatedly accused me of talking trash at the Members’ Table and dragging the conversations into the gutter. You particularly hurt my feelings after I once made a louche, remark and in the presence of others you called down on my head the words of Michele Obama, “When others go high, Bill Bowe goes low.” Ouch!
Well Deirdre, let me now speak truth to power! Not everyone wants to listen to you talk supply and demand 24/7! Also, you’re the only one here that believes shortest distance between two points is a Laffer Curve.
You wouldn’t guess it from casual conversation, but Deirdre isn’t just a quant. She actually has a spiritual side as an Episcopalian. I was raised Catholic, so as far as I understand her beliefs, she’s Catholic light. That said, I don’t fully understand her belief in the supernatural. When asked if she ever read the Bible, she told me she makes a point every year of rereading Fredrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.
It didn’t surprise me that Cato hired Deirdre out of retirement. Deirdre knows a lot about a lot, has always had a fix on the price of beans, and has had an amazing academic and teaching career. Plus, Deirdre has no fewer than 24 books to her credit. After teaching at the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa, Deirdre finished her teaching career at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication. That’s to say nothing of her dabbling in the Philosophy Department with being in awe of that institution’s other Great Thinker, Bill Ayres.
Like the Cato Institute, Deirdre is a libertarian. As a classical liberal, she favors neither the Left nor the Right. Instead, like most Harvard graduates, she picks her nose with both fingers.
Success in Deirdre’s vocation certainly owes something to coming from a good family. In Deirdre’s writing career, she followed in the footsteps of her father, Robert G. McCloskey. Mr. McCloskey was a Harvard professor of government who wrote a book titled The American Supreme Court. Its 6th Edition is still in print today in the History of American Civilization series published by the University of Chicago Press. It’s a masterpiece that Amazon describes this way, “McCloskey’s wonderfully readable book is an essential guide to the past, present, and future prospects of this institution.” Wow! “Wonderfully readable!”
I believe Deirdre’s many books are every bit as good as her father’s, save in one major respect. For me, Deidre’s books are completely unreadable. I hasten to add that this is not because they’re badly written. It’s because I believe lifelong learning is a crock. Frankly, I’m not ashamed to say that the last book I actually enjoyed reading cover-to-cover was Goodnight Moon.
In my life, I’ve been privileged to spend time with both of Deirdre’s parents, though my engagement with her father was short and not by choice. Over sixty years ago, as a college freshman, I was assigned to read his book on the Supreme Court. I didn’t actually read it, didn’t go to class and, with final exams close by, I panicked when I couldn’t find a Cliff Notes version of her father’s book. Fortunately, I finally found a Classic Comics version that apparently captured the deep thinking of Deirdre’s dad.
In contrast to my relationship with Mr. McCloskey, and I’ve never discussed this publicly before, but for a brief period of time I was deeply involved with Deidre’s mother. This happened the time Deidre brought her mother to the Member’s Table for lunch. Her mother Helen was a poet and I can tell you she was smart, engaging, and up on everything. If I wasn’t a big gun control supporter, I’d say she was a pistol. Sadly, the lunch ended on something of a sour note. Being the libertarian Deirdre is, you won’t be surprised to learn that, for Deirdre’s poor mother it was Dutch Treat at the Members’ Table.
That didn’t surprise me. One of Deirdre’s many books attributes the origins of capitalism to traders in The Netherlands. Deirdre’s just crazy about the Dutch. Not me. While capitalism has benefited many people around the world, I never forget that it was the Dutch who mastering the nasty trick of asking somebody to lunch and then making them pay for the meal. I’ve never understood why this despicable human Dutch trait is called a Treat. Since when did a bad trait become a treat? While Deirdre loves the Dutch and hates communists, I’m the complete opposite. If there are two things I hate in this world, it’s the Dutch, and people are intolerant of the political beliefs of others.
You may recall that some time ago, Deirdre gave a talk here in the Sullivan Room about her books. She said that in the 20th Century, the Baltimore Sun’s great journalist H.L. Mencken was wrong to criticize the middle class and call it the “Booboisie.” She said her own books on Bourgeois Virtues, Equality and Dignity were insightful and important works that set the record straight on middle class values. In fact, she was so extravagant in complimenting her own books that when she finished her talk, the Club gave Deirdre its Adam Smith Invisible Hand Award. That’s the award that’s only given to economists who are able to simultaneously applaud themselves, while still keeping a hand free to pat themselves on the back.
As influential as Deirdre’s books celebrating middle class values have been, some elements of middle-class culture Deirdre touted remain in decline. In spite of Deirdre’s praise, these days we rarely see plastic covers on living room sofas. And Deidre herself will admit that fewer and fewer suburban ranch homes today boast pink flamingos in the front yard.
It’s not easy being an economist. Remember that the First Law of Economists is that for every economist, there is an equal and opposite economist. And the Second Law of Economists is that both are wrong. It’s also true that if you cross an economist with the Godfather, you get an offer you can’t understand.
However, Deirdre, as economists go you stand alone at the pinnacle of your “dismal science.” You are the only economist I know of that has been able to predict nine out of the last five recessions. Deirdre, all the best as you travel on.