On Saturday, I spent the day in a seminar room with a group of students from Samford and Birmingham-Southern College (plus Paul Cleveland, an economist from Birmingham-Southern and author of Unmasking the Sacred Lies, of which I bought about twenty copies for members of my family a few years ago). We were discussing Deirdre McCloskey's The Bourgeois Virtues, a book which begins what I think is one of the most important intellectual projects anyone is working on right now: a concise defense of what McCloskey calls "The Bourgeois Era" (disclosure: I'm co-authoring a yet-to-be-named book with Professor McCloskey that summarizes the entire project).
The first sixty pages or so of The Bourgeois Virtues comprise one of my favorite passages of writing in all of economics. In it, McCloskey summarizes the ways in which our friends on the left have misinterpreted the last two and a half or three centuries. Many very bad things have been done by many very bad people. But to paraphrase her, bad things done in a capitalist system do not imply that capitalism is a bad system as such. Marx and Engels were right when they wondered at who would have known about the productive powers resting in the lap of the social labor. They erred--badly--by thinking human nature could be remade and society could be organized along socialist lines.
My students are fortunate that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Berlin Wall are things that happened in history books--indeed, things that happened before they were born. Questionable policies notwithstanding, the specter of communism no longer haunts Europe or the United States. I pray we keep it that way.