Here’s the noble David Balan’s reaction to my review of Gonick’s histories:

This probably goes without saying, but it’s perfectly possible to
believe Bryan’s basic point (modern economic growth has led us to have
it better than anyone ever had it before, and that markets and trade
had a great deal to do with that) without at the same time agreeing
that no opponent of capitalism ever had a point. Lots of places in the
world enjoy the full fruits of modern economic growth (and don’t kill
anyone or ship them off to gulags) and yet have some significant
socialistic elements.

My reply:

1. If you just said “Lots of developed countries have some significant socialistic elements,” your last sentence would be an understatement.  Every developed country has some significant socialistic elements.  But being developed isn’t the same as “enjoying the full fruits of modern economic growth.”  David, don’t you think it’s at least possible that, say, the EU would have had 1% higher growth over the last thirty years if it had more free-market policies?  If so, the full fruits of economic growth have not been theirs.

2. There’s a big difference between 19th-century socialist critics of industrialization and the broader category of “opponents of capitalism.”  The former really were damning the greatest thing that ever happened in human history, Marx’s left-handed compliments to capitalism notwithstanding.  The moderate critics of capitalism are a different story.  I still think they’re wrong.  But as long as their admitted goal is to marginally improve upon a great system, I take them seriously, as I do you, David.

3. Question for David: Suppose you gave your favorite historical opponents of capitalism a choice between (a) the welfare state, or (b) modern rates of economic growth.  (I’m not saying that the trade-off is really this stark; it’s just a hypothetical).  How many of them would have chosen (a)?  Don’t you think this reflects extremely negatively on their priorities?