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Democracy and Capitalism...huh?
November 1, 2011 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a basic starter book on capitalism and democracy that explains their relationship and, if possible, perhaps explores other systems or changes that could be an improvement on the current systems in place in most developed nations. I have read that capitalism is a good way to stimulate a young nations economy but that it is not necessarily an equitable or functional long term solution. I have some small understanding regarding corporations roles in democracy. Beyond these basics I'm rather lost. (hence the plan to explore further) I would prefer to read books as I would rather utilize them, and my library, than pop from webpage to webpage but would be willing to consider any information. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!
posted by risaroni to Law & Government (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Das Kapital, but Karl Marx.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by mr_roboto at 5:27 PM on November 1, 2011


You should read Free to Choose, by Milton Friedman. He's strongly pro-capitalist, and you should learn and understand his viewpoint if you want to improve the system.
posted by shivohum at 5:32 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd recommend Klein's Shock Doctrine, as well, if you're going to read Friedman.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:54 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Das Kapital is obviously the seminal anti-capitalist work, but it's got a lot of metaphysical baggage and written to address a very different (thought still recognizable) political and economic order. It's also very long.

This video, by analytical marxist G.A. Cohen, is an excellent summary of the standard left-wing criticisms of capitalist political economy.
posted by phrontist at 6:05 PM on November 1, 2011


Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is a great read if you are mindful of the context--that he was arguing against eastern totalitarian central-planning of the early 20th Century overwhelming western liberal capitalism and not (as Glenn Beck might have you believe) that any government regulation or modest welfare state leads straight down a slippery slope to communism.

If you get an edition with 5 different prefaces, you only need to read one of them. They're all simply retelling the story of the little engine book that could.
posted by K.P. at 6:06 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


One quarter of the require social sciences course at my college was devoted to "the foundations of modern industrial society." I found the reading we did extremely valuable and helpful to figuring out how the socio/economic/political world works.

I suggest:
Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations
Marx's Communist Manifesto
Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Not exactly light reading, but if it's a subject you're interested in, they're must-reads.
posted by phunniemee at 6:20 PM on November 1, 2011


Naom Chomsky is a prominent libertarian socialist exponent of the view that our economic order undermines our democratic political system. He wrote Manufacturing Consent, which promulgates the "propaganda model" of media manipulation by established business interests.

Regulatory caputure and the iron triangle are terms that encompass a lot of what people find unseemly about the marriage of capitalism and representative democracy.
posted by phrontist at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "Very Short Introductions" series has a few titles that would probably be helpful for you.
posted by naturalog at 6:35 PM on November 1, 2011


Looking for a basic starter book on capitalism and democracy that explains their relationship and, if possible, perhaps explores other systems or changes that could be an improvement on the current systems in place in most developed nations.

The Great Transformation, by Karl Polanyi for the history. Not really a starter book, but much more accessible than Das Kapital or Wealth of Nations.

I have read that capitalism is a good way to stimulate a young nations economy but that it is not necessarily an equitable or functional long term solution.

The best place to start (although certainly not to finish) is The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, by Rostow. Continue on to various criticisms and arguments against Rostow's model.
posted by kithrater at 7:11 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Origin of Capitalism by Ellen Meiksins Wood would be an excellent start, as it is a pretty quick and clear read on how capitalism developed (and emphasizes that it was not inevitable).
posted by susanvance at 8:00 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will go out on a limb and recommend The Myth of the Rational Voter by Brian Caplan. It covers the conflict between what voters believe is right and what economists believe is right. It is a monograph, which means it doesn't have any pretense of covering both sides of the issue, but it's also exceptionally clearly written and very short -- you could read it in a day. I don't think you need any background in economics or social science to learn a lot from it.
posted by miyabo at 9:04 PM on November 1, 2011


As a good starting point, I would recommend:
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama and
A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein.

Together they provide a pretty nice and clear "big picture" analysis of the development of political and economic institutions in different parts of the world.
posted by baueri at 2:27 AM on November 2, 2011


For democracy and capitalism, there's always Bowles and Gintis, Democracy and Capitalism. Left, to be sure, but a good (and quite clear) exploration of the themes.

Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy is another excellent choice that explores most of the groundwork and doesn't demand a ton of prior knowledge.
posted by piro at 4:27 AM on November 2, 2011


Debt: The First 5000 Years, by David Graeber is phenomenal.

It's a little more long-arc-of-history, but it explains very thoroughly the connection between the State and the market. It is an amazing look at humanity in general, but it definitely sheds a lot of light on capitalism. It doesn't explicitly suggest alternatives to capitalism, but it does explore more reasonable approaches to debt, a main tool of capitalism.
posted by marcin_zissou at 6:44 AM on November 2, 2011


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