Business and capitalism have gotten some bad raps lately: some of them well-deserved.
Unquestionably there have been excesses: (over-the-top Wall Street bonuses); rotten apples (Madoff); and, lousy decisions (the repeal of Glass-Stegall). Others will surely follow.
Still, history provides us with a more balanced perspective when looking at human frailties and their interaction with economics.
The trade confederacy of the Aegean built the Parthenon. The house of Medici financed the Italian Renaissance. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution came not first from the writings of Voltaire and the philosophes, but because the middle class had risen to new economic heights. It was the Industrial Revolution that gave us the democracy and individualism we so cherish today.
Each of these, and so much more, were made possible because of economic underpinnings.
As we face tough times ahead, with continued high employment, lower growth rates, and geopolitical instability, let's be sure that our leaders don't throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
Capitalism may very well be the source of some of the most pressing problems today. History shows us, however, that it is also the vehicle for many of humanity's greatest accomplishments.