Thinkers have thought about whether the spread of the market, across geographical borders and increasing areas of our lives is better or worse for us; its effects on personal development; on the family, and collective identities; whether economic growth is desirable, and which policies are best for economic development.
A number of major European and American thinkers from the 17th through the 20th centuries, have written about capitalism along with others.
Two premodern traditions provide the context against which modern thinkers considered commerce: the civil republican tradition (a legacy of ancient Greece and Rome) and the Christian tradition.
In the 17th century, an era of religiously based civil war, Thomas Hobbes and others questioned polities dominated by religious ideals. They argued the pursuit of worldly happiness, and the positive role of self-interest.
Voltaire argued for the connection between commerce and toleration, and his debate with Jean-Jacques Rousseau over whether the rise in material well-being was conducive to happiness and morality.
Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations how competitive markets could ensure self-interest produced greater material well-being for all however the need for government in addressing some of the threats and dangers that would arise. Critic, Alexander Hamilton believed Smith's free trade policies were not only inappropriate for the United States but any nation seeking to emerge from what underdevelopment.
Hegel wrote about the link between commerce and modern individuality, and how the state made both possible.
Alexis de Tocqueville reflected on the dangers and possibilities offered by capitalism that he encountered in America.
Karl Marx produced a profuound cultural criticism of the alienating nature of work under capitalism and why he believed the ongoing misery of the new industrial working class would lead to class conflict and the end of capitalism through revolution.
Marx's contemporary, British critic Matthew Arnold, provided a cultural criticism that raised concerns of of applying market criteria to other areas of life.
German social theorists Ferdinand Tönnies, Georg Simmel, Max Weber, and Werner Sombart debated at the turn of the century about capitalism's relationship to community, individuality, rationalization, and religion.
Joseph Schumpeter's analysis of capitalism as "creative destruction," saw entrepreneurial activity create dynamism but cause resentment and reaction leading to capitalism's demise.
The early 20th-century saw Lenin debate the relationship of capitalism to imperialism and to war.
The interwar era saw new analyses from intellectuals associated with fascism, Carl Schmitt and Hans Freyer, neoliberalism of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, and
conservatism of Joseph Schumpeter.
John Maynard Keynes' new liberalism explored the rise of welfare-state capitalism, including its intellectual origins in social democracy and Christianity
Gøsta Esping-Andersen explains the varieties of postwar capitalism and critics from the left Herbert Marcuse and Hayek from the right provide devastating critiques.
American sociologist Daniel Bell had argued there was a risk the character traits promoted by contemporary culture and by the market itself might undermine the system.
The economic stagnation of the 1970s era saw James M. Buchanan and Mancur Olson analyse the tensions between democracy and capitalist economic growth.
Ernest Gellner considers the link between capitalism and nationalism, the varieties of contemporary capitalism, intrinsic tensions of capitalism and why it has outlasted its competitors.
Together the above authoris provide a broad sense of the history of modern capitalism and key concepts with which to think about the contemporary system and its trajectory.
Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.
Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.
Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come