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Good Capitalism, Evil Capitalism

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Above, a family of farmers selling their wares. Below, a spoiled inheritor.

"How do you want to make your fortune? By being a conman like Rockerduck? A shifty operator like Goldie? Or an industrious, resourceful, self-made man like your dear uncle?"
Scrooge McDuck, DuckTales (2017), "The Outlaw Scrooge McDuck"

Capitalism, by definition, is an economic system where a country's trade is controlled by business people who are motivated by seeking profits from launching and running businesses that make or sell products or services. Bad News: capitalism can lead to huge wealth inequities, it can be unsustainable for the environment, due to overuse of resources and pollution and it has boom and bust (recession and depression) cycles. Good News: People can choose how to buy or invest in businesses and work hard to earn a living for themselves in this system, while producing products or services that benefit society.

The trope depicts a clashing of two businesses that are each taking advantage of capitalism, but have very different values and goals. The "good business owner" will be depicted as honest, hard-working, and caring about their business, any partners that they have, and their customers. The "bad business owner" will be depicted as greedy, shady, as someone who sees partners and employees as tools or pawns, and who cheats or misleads their customers by selling shoddy goods or services.

More often than not, this trope depicts the "good business owner" as a "mom and pop" small business owner or entrepreneur and the "bad business owner" as the head of a big business chain, MegaCorp or as someone who merely inherited their business, and "riding the coattails" of their relatives. The trope can also depict people within the same type of business with different ideologies. For example, it might contrast two small business owners with the good and bad traits.

Compare to Capitalism Is Bad, which is one half of the trope, but with a more idealistic take. This trope will usually contain examples of Self-Made Man and/or Honest Corporate Executive on the good half, and Corrupt Corporate Executive on the evil half. Nice to the Waiter applies to both.

As things tend to be more about shades of grey in the real world and not everything is known to public eye, combined with the hotly divided opinions on capitalism, No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Comic Book 
  • Iron Man consistently portrays this conflict between the titular hero himself and many of his major villains, who themselves are major industrialists. While Stark breaks the mold by being, as is typical in superhero stories, a wealthy heir to the original Stark Industries, and an on-and-off weapons manufacturer (among every other technological field that S.I. dabbles in) it's repeatedly emphasized that he not only sells the more weaponizable of his products exclusively to those he trusts to use them correctly, such as S.H.I.E.L.D., but that he earns the trust of all his employees and wins his contracts on the merits of his products and proved his ability to start from nothing but his good name and his technological and economical know-how after each time he lost his fortunes. In comparison, his rogues gallery is full of Corrupt Corporate Executives such as Justin Hammer and Obadiah Stane, who'd rather use criminal connections to steal and sabotage their rivals and willingly sell weapons, and exclusively weapons to anyone who can afford them. The series even features the rare evil startup in the Anarchist/Anarcho-Capitalist Ezekiel Stane, son of afforementioned Obadiah, whose reckless open-source weapon proliferation would make him a monster even without murderous grudge against Iron Man for killing his supervillain father extending to the point of killing innocent employees.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls story "Everything Must Go," Mojo Jojo is having a yard sale of all his weapons and artillery. The girls call him to the carpet on it, to which Mojo nonchalantly retorts "That's capitalism. Capitalism is a good thing." When the girls tell Mojo he can't sell dangerous stuff to ordinary people, Mojo boxes them in:
    Mojo: I most certainly can! This is a yard sale. Is it against the law to have a yard sale?
    • In the Powerpuff show proper, there's an episode where Blossom tries to honestly sell lemonade, while Princess Morebucks manages to build a corporation by sleazily taking over Blossom's business with underhanded tactics learned from her multi-billionaire father.

    Fan Works 
  • The Pizza Tower fanfic The Cheese I Need (Not Because Of Greed) portrays this dynamic between the two pizza places the chili pepper main character visits. Pizzaface's Emporium, owned by the game's Big Bad, is a corporate nightmare with vividly-described awful pizza and extremely overeager mascots/employees who disregard customers' medical needs and try to pressure them into eating their pizza. After throwing up the “pizza” and leaving, the main character ends up in Peppino's Pizzeria, owned by the game's protagonist who is kind, hardworking, and hand-crafts delicious pizza according to the needs of his customer.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lorax (2012) shows the gradual degradation of Good to Evil Capitalism in The Once-Ler. At first, he listens to the Lorax's advice about sustainability by carefully and slowly harvesting only small amounts of Truffula tufts for his Thneeds. Unfortunately, when he brings his short-sighted and greedy family members into his business, they urge him to start using more damaging methods like clear-cutting and chopping down entire trees to maximize profits. The Lorax tries to warn the Once-Ler that he's on a dangerous path ("A tree falls the way it leans"), but the rotten influence of his relatives proves too strong; he even gets a Villain Song, "How Bad Can I Be?", in which he justifies his actions as "doing what comes naturally."
  • Robots portrays the entire spectrum of capitalism. Rodney represents the idealistic side who invents and innovates first and foremost with the goal of bettering the common man. Ratchet is on the opposite, purely cynical side, propagandizing to the masses that they need to constantly shell out as much money as possible for flashy upgrades rather than simply repairing and maintaining themselves and their tools. Then in the middle, you have characters like Bigweld, a former optimist who eventually let the crushing weight of corporate bureaucracy wear him down until he decided to just abandon his company and hide (at least until Rodney helps him regain his confidence).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Founder, as a narrative, is a telling (though with some Artistic License) of how Ray Kroc became the owner of the McDonald's franchise. The McDonald brothers worked hard to turn a few of their prior businesses into the little Hamburger joint enjoyed by the locals. Krok offers to expand them to go national, but eventually makes himself the face of the company and does practices the brothers despise until everyone associates the Simple, yet Awesome business with him, at which point the brothers are basically forced to sell their company.
  • Knives Out depicts a family of self-made men and women. Except only the patriarch, Harlan Thrombey, worked hard to get where he was by writing his books. While he places his children in positions, they are mostly just faces of his company still bragging about being self-made. He ends up leaving his entire will to his nurse and personal friend Marta, who has been both kind and hard-working.
  • It's a Wonderful Life: George Bailey and his relatives are the good with their family's Building & Loan business helping the townsfolk obtain affordable homes with loans and housing projects by using investors' money. Mr. Potter is the bad as he uses his wealth to buy up most of the town's businesses and then engages in price gouging so he can get as much of the townspeople's money as possible.
  • You've Got Mail was a romantic comedy in which he's an executive for a large corporate bookstore, and she's the owner of an independent community bookstore. The conflict impedes the romance, at least for a while.
  • Richie Rich: Richard Sr. and Van Dough have very different approaches to business: the former is a staunch defender of cradle-to-grave job security and corporate donations, while the latter pursues cutthroat capitalism, with downsizing and union-busting.
  • Christopher Robin: Giles Winslow Jr. represents the evil capitalist, firing his employees to cut costs and insisting that Christopher cancel his holiday with his family. Meanwhile, Christopher eventually manages to become the good capitalist by realizing that giving employees time off will allow them to go on vacation and buy more luggage, successfully intersecting morality and profitability. It turns out that Giles Winslow Sr. is also a good capitalist who accepts Christopher's proposal and calls out his son for his callous nature.

  • The White Tiger:
    • The Stork represents the unquestioned evil of capitalism. He's violent, oppressive to the villagers he more or less owns, and coerces Balram into signing a false confession (to killing a young boy, something which Ashouk's wife Pinky did) or his family will be killed.
    • Ashouk and Pinky vacillate between the two. Ashouk particularly becomes a jerkass as he's more drawn into his family's bribery schemes, and switches between being kind to Balram and being abusive.
    • Balram claims to be using both Ashouk and the Stork as cautionary tales to not behave like them and to be a good capitalist. He treats his workers with respect, not as servants, and takes full responsibility for their behavior, including trying to make amends when one of them is killed in an accident. Whether or not this represents a happy ending or just a continuation of the same cycle is left up to the individual.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dietland: Verena Baptiste inherited her money from the New Baptist Plan, her parents' predatory weight-loss empire that preyed on misery and insecurity (evil capitalism). She then tries to become a force of good capitalism by creating Calliope House, which allows her to undo some of the damage done by the Plan by trying to empower other women.
  • Played with in Succession. The Pierces are shown to be far more ethically minded and politically left than the Roys with their right-wing media empire. However, it becomes clear that their Nice to the Waiter appearances are superficial at best and totally false at worst, and they're still willing to sell out their left-wing empire just for money. The Roys are also wrong, though, that the Pierces are totally motivated by money. Despite their interest, when it comes out that they tried to hush up an endemic sexual abuse scandal in their cruises division, Nan seems genuinely appalled and calls off the deal. The Roys, on the other hand, are consumed by covering it up rather than admitting fault and/or coming to a financial settlement.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Dilbert takes a careful middle line and is careful to avoid overt political comment. But the long-running strip about employees at a dysfunctional corporation showcases the negative side of capitalism: a business so intent on making short-term profit in whatever way it can (often in unethical ways) while putting off long-term investment or even long-term planning. The interests of staff are neglected and downplayed: for instance, one cartoon charts the degeneration of healthcare provision for employees, as it is costing too much. note 
We thought employees were our most valuable resource. Well, it turns out we were wrong. You come in at ninth, after the carbon paper.
I'm almost afraid to ask what came in at seventh.

    Video Games 
  • The Animal Crossing franchise depicts two similar businesses run by Tom Nook and Redd, a raccoon and fox (tanooki and kitsune in the Japanese version) who view each other with contempt. Tom and his successors, Timmy and Tommy, always sell exactly what they advertise, and while Tom does charge a mortgage for housing, he's surprisingly lax about it, never giving due dates or charging interests. Meanwhile, Redd is implied to smuggle his wares and frequently tries to scam players with forged paintings. The fandom took a different idea by swapping the two for a while, though this started to die down after Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Animal Crossing: New Horizons made their canonical characterizations more overt.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution revolves around two mega-corps. Sarif Industries, the protagonist's employer, is generally honest in its dealings and truly believes in improving mankind through augmentation technology (although they do have some military contracts, and they jammed Adam full of a lot more augs than necessary). Sarif's primary competitor, Tai Yong Medical, is absolutely ruthless and willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to boost the bottom line.
  • Hi-Fi RUSH: Vandelay Technologies, when it was under Roxanne Vandelay, was once a genuine force for good, using their robotics technology to play an important role in helping out during an environmental crisis, and the people working under her genuinely loved the company and felt like they were making a difference. When Kale Vandelay took over however, he ended up turning the company into a corrupt mockery of its former self, with Project Armstrong and SPECTRA designed for the purpose of brainwashing the masses (and even Roxanne herself) and filtering the population based solely on how useful they'd be in maximizing the company's profits.
  • Partitio from Octopath Traveler II is an honest merchant who sincerely believes that capitalism can save everyone in the world from poverty if workers are fairly rewarded for their labor. Many of the villains he faces during his route are robber-baron capitalists who seek only to enrich themselves through making unfair deals and short-changing their employees.
  • Haru Okumura of Persona 5 reveals that her grandfather started Okumura Foods as a small café that focused on serving delicious and healthy food. Due to not having enough money to afford the toys he wanted as a child, her father turns the company into an enormous burger franchise that became infamous for cheap food and overworking its employees. At the end of Haru's confidant, she concludes the goal of starting her own café just as her grandfather did.
  • Stardew Valley: The "Good Capitalism" side of this trope is represented by the Player Character, who has given up a job as a White Collar Worker to pursue the Call to Agriculture, while the "Evil Capitalism" side is represented by Joja, a MegaCorp that pollutes the area around Pelican Town with its activities, seeks to drive the local general store out of business by undercutting their prices, and wants to demolish the town community centre and replace it with a warehouse. Pierre, the owner of the general store, falls somewhere between the two - definitely the lesser of two evils when compared to Joja, but not above shady business practices such as reselling crops the player sells to him to the townsfolk while claiming he grew them himself, and his Workaholic tendencies are implied to have a detrimental effect on other aspects of his life.

    Web Videos 
  • Jreg: Minarchist brags about treating his trade partners like family and is heavily implied to have considerable sympathy for the less fortunate. In contrast, Ancap is extremely cutthroat in his business practices, cheating his associates out of money and blatantly exploiting his workers.

    Western Animation 
  • Big City Greens depicts two main situations, with the bad side of each being Chip Whistler. Chip is the manager of Wholesome Foods while the Greens are farmers selling their own wares at a farmer's market, though he is also shown with an opposing viewpoint with Wholesome Foods' owner, his father. Chip has been shown to take advantage of his father's company, later his, for petty acts of revenge, treating his employees like dirt, and fixing his teeth. The Green family has shown to put time into all of their sales and care for their farm and business. Likewise, Chip's father built Wholesome Foods up from a small farm not unlike the Greens', and is disappointed at his son using funds to hurt fellow farmers.
  • This was a running theme on Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Many of the Eco-Villains represented Evil Capitalism; every other episode had them hatching a new, extremely short-sighted business scheme that focused on maximizing immediate profit over all else and did untold damage to the environment. The Good Capitalists on the show were often small business owners, entrepreneurs, and inventors who were ethical, invested in long-term goals, and did their best to minimize ecological harm (albeit with the understanding that they had to make some money to stay afloat). A few episodes blended the two: some of the apparently Evil Capitalists were simply ignorant of the problems they caused and became Good after the Planeteers showed them how, and even recurring villain Sly Sludge pulled a permanent Heel–Face Turn after learning that he could still gain financial success while remaining honest and eco-conscious. There was an undercurrent of Real Life Writes the Plot in this case, as the show was bankrolled by then-head of CBS Ted Turner, himself a billionaire capitalist.
  • DuckTales (1987) is a rare instance where both are big businesses (though at times it can be more like different shades of gray than black and white). McDuck Enterprises was built after years of exploration and treasure hunting, as well as inspiration from a humble shoe-shining business. The rival company, Glomgold Industries, has been known to attempt to cheat Scrooge into doing most of the work, as well as underhanded tactics. He also focuses on what he doesn't have rather than what he does. As greedy as Scrooge can be, he is very prideful in the idea of a hard day's work. The 2017 reboot adds two more factions to the evil side, Waddle and Louie Inc.
    • Waddle, owned by Mark Beaks, has only made its owner a millionaire by scamming investors into investing in nothing and then framing the lack of a project as it being stolen. He usually steals ideas from Gyro and doesn't even go through testing to make sure everything is done right.
    • Louie is given a greedy personality on account of the triplets' Divergent Character Evolution and wants money like his great-uncle, but without having to go through the work. Season 2 revolves around Scrooge encouraging his planning skills, but Louie still focuses on crafty schemes before learning humility at the end of the season.
  • Gravity Falls: Stan is a con artist who runs the Mystery Shack, a tourist trap filled with nothing but fake, overpriced oddities, and is also a bit of a Bad Boss and only cares about pumping his customers for money. Mabel bets that she can make more money running the shack than Stan can on a game show and takes over briefly. She tries to be a Benevolent Boss and has Dipper bring in real monsters for attractions, but despite running an honest business, she ends up with no control over her employees and quickly learns having genuine monsters around is extremely dangerous. However, Mabel still wins the bet with one dollar after Stan loses his prize money, but she ultimately realizes that there has to be a balance between fair treatment and good business sense.
  • The Legend of Korra, particularly season 1, has the Evil Capitalist in Hiroshi Sato, who uses his money to fund Amon's coup, arguably a subversion, as the Equalists are meant to be Dirty Communists, and thus his alliance with them implies a covert disdain for capitalism. His daughter Asami, does fit the 'good' part of this trope, however, as she is horrified by his decisions and pledges to use the wealth she inherits from him for good. In season 2, we are introduced to another Evil Capitalist, Iknik Varrick, who profiteers from the armed conflict between Water Tribes, but gradually grows out of his unscrupulousness after being forced into making a Fantastic Nuke over the following seasons, becoming, if not a Good Capitalist, then at least an Ambivalent one in the end.
  • Sponge Bob Squarepants: While usually the Krusty Krab is shown as going through cheap tactics, it is played more straight in the episode "Selling Out". While establishing Krabs is as greedy as ever at the beginning, he is ultimately disgusted after selling the Krusty Krab to Howard Blandy, finding he turned it into Krabby O'Mondays, and seeing that they now threaten employees, feed people synthetic patties, and being overly generic.
  • VeggieTales: Zig-Zagged in The Asparagus of La Mancha. The story starts off with the small café called Café La Mancha owned by Don Quixote and Pancho, until a major chain restaurant called The Food Factory is built, which is known to be so popular that no restaurant within 50 miles can stay open (and to add insult to injury, it's being built across the street). The manager also attempts to persuade Pancho to abandon the café to work for him. That being said, Don keeps going to bed after eating super spicy salsa that gives him an Acid Reflux Nightmare, going crazy, and try to unethically attack the restaurant and everyone it. After Don gets a better night sleep and a bit of rehabilitation, the manager doesn't press charges since no permanent harm was done and is even shown eating at their café when they start opening for breakfast.