Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery

Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery

Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery

Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery


Democracy is overrated. Capitalism, on the other hand, doesn't get enough credit. In this provocative and engaging book, John Mueller argues that these mismatches between image and reality create significant political and economic problems--inspiring instability, inefficiency, and widespread cynicism. We would be far better off, he writes, if we recognized that neither system is ideal or disastrous and accepted instead the humdrum truth that both are "pretty good." And, to Mueller, that means good enough. He declares that what is true of Garrison Keillor's fictional store "Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery" is also true of democracy and capitalism: if you can't get what you want there, "you can probably get along without it."

Mueller begins by noting that capitalism is commonly thought to celebrate greed and to require discourtesy, deceit, and callousness. However, with examples that range from car dealerships and corporate boardrooms to the shop of an eighteenth-century silk merchant, Mueller shows that capitalism in fact tends to reward behavior that is honest, fair, civil, and compassionate. He argues that this gap between image and re


Democracy and free-market capitalism seem to suffer from image problems—opposite ones, as it happens. Capitalism is much better than its image, while democracy has turned out to be much worse than its image.

Although capitalism is generally given credit, even by its many detractors, for generating wealth and for stimulating economic growth, it is commonly maligned for the deceit, unfairness, dishonesty , and discourtesy that are widely taken to be the inevitable consequences of its apparent celebration of greed. But capitalism actually tends, all other things being equal, systematically, though not uniformly, to reward business behavior that is honest, fair, civil, and compassionate, and it inspires a form of risk-taking behavior that can often be credibly characterized as heroic. Under capitalism, as it happens, virtue is considerably more than its own reward.

Meanwhile, democracy is often compared to an ideal image which envisions citizens actively participating on an equal basis and entering into a form of enlightened, or at any rate informed, deliberation about the affairs of governance. By contrast, actual democracy, notable chiefly for discord, inequality, apathy, hasty compromise, political and policy ignorance, and manipulative scrambling by “special interests, ” is found to be disappointingly wanting.

These disconnections can have significant, and often detrimental , consequences. the mismatch of capitalism with its image can damagingly impede economic growth and development, particularly if people in business misguidedly embrace the negative stereotype. the democracy mismatch can enhance cynicism about the process—even to the point of inspiring a yearning to scrap the . . .

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