Habits of the mind

In President Obama’s infamous remarks on successful people’s lack of responsibility for their success, he said:

Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.

and then:

Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.

Economic historian Deirdre McCloskey argues that the people who created the system that allowed us all to thrive are exactly the people who stopped thinking about success they way that Obama does:

“In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,” she writes, “a great shift occurred in what Alexis de Tocqueville called ‘habits of the mind’ — or more exactly, habits of the lip. People stopped sneering at market innovativeness and other bourgeois virtues.” As attitudes changed, so did behavior, leading to more than two centuries of constant innovation and rising living standards. . .

What was different, she maintains, is how people thought about new ideas. Creative destruction became not only accepted but also encouraged, as did individual enterprise. “What made us rich,” she writes, “was a new rhetoric that was favorable to unbounded innovation, imagination, alertness, persuasion, originality, with individual rewards often paid in a coin of honor or thankfulness. . .”

Obama thinks that 21st-century living standards are compatible with 18th-century attitudes toward entrepreneurism.

(Previous post.) (Via Instapundit.)

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