Farmers, Foragers, and Bourgeios Virtues
By Arnold Kling
In her view, about 200 years ago there was in northwest Europe a shift in values regarding merchants and people engaged in commerce. Previously, they were treated as low status. Now, they were given respect. She argues that the industrial revolution followed from that change in status.
I think she poses a challenge to Robin Hanson’s theme of farmers vs. foragers. She is suggesting an important shift of values within the farmer era, but not a return to forager values. Consider:
You can measure the shifting significance of bourgeois words: honesty, profit, responsibility, monopoly, etc., by looking in historical dictionaries and historical texts in all the languages of commerce, from 1600 to 1848. “Responsibility,” for example, is entirely modern (and thus measurable: It’s zero before 1800, commonplace afterward). The equivalent word before 1800, as one can see from the Oxford Thesaurus (based on the Oxford English Dictionary), is “duty.” In a hierarchical society, one has one’s duty to one’s master, period. In a modern and bourgeois society, the duty is turned inward and becomes a character trait essential for a modern enterprise: responsibility.