Capitalism is a word used so often that one would think everyone agreed on what it means. But that is not the case.
One might expect to find a definition from two economists, who come to mind as those who first explained the nature of capitalism, Adam Smith and Karl Marx. But Smith never used the term at all. And in all of Marx's books, there are only a handful of references to capitalism.
Generally, capitalism is understood by economist theorists as an economic system, emphasising ownership, private property and a free competitive market with a minimal role for the state. However, these elements have existed in most systems of governance.
How is this different from other economic systems?
Economic historians broadly agree that the transition from feudalism to capitalism began sometime in the middle of the second millennium. Under feudalism (primarily an agrarian society), a peasant would work both the lord's land and their "own" land, the first as necessary payment to the lord for living under their protection, the second as a way of meeting their own needs.
The crucial distinction here is that in this, the prevailing form of economic relationship under feudalism, that which is produced is being produced for direct use either by the peasant or the lord, not exchange on the market, and not for the sake or profit. Inequality and differences in power certainly existed, though not through the same economic mechanisms. Similarly, small scale commodity production and exchange for profit also existed, though it was not the prevailing form in any given nation or territory.
This however does not distinguish capitalism from any other system.
The Islamic economic system for instance permits private ownership of means of production and production of goods for profit however not collective resources like water, oil, gas, coal mines and so on. It has a marketplace where participants are encouraged to seek a living and not aim for maximising wealth. It requires a state to implement mechanisms that ensure the circulation of wealth produced in the marketplace, so it does not end up in the hands of the few.
What differentiates capitalism then as a system and a philosophy is its focus on accumulating capital for economic advantage, where the market is filled with self-interests actors seeking to maximise profits where there is survival only of the fittest. This system allows the rise of an economic group with power - power to influence state policies and how society is run. In the past power was held by rulers - military, political and economic - now economic power had broken away.
Sociologist, Max Weber, also went on to point out capitalism is not only a way of doing business. It is more than that, it is a mode of organising society. There is more to capitalism than accumulating goods, or building factories, or offices. A society does not need to be capitalist to manufacture products. What makes capitalism distinctive, said Max Weber, is a particular frame of mind that makes someone want to produce and trade goods. Capitalism follows from a special set of attitudes - specifically, a willingness to invest time and effort, with a view to reaping a profit in the long run.
So, ever since Max Weber, capitalism has increasingly been understood as a set of mental attitudes that shape society.
Capitalism is arguably a complete deen (lifeway) and social order. Its creed is based on the core belief of secularism, the ruling system democracy, social system based on freedom and equality, the foreign policy national interest and colonialism, God is "mind and science", economic system is free market and consumerism and morals subjective desires.
Impact on the World
On any reasonable analysis, capitalism is a lie. It is seductive and enchanting, but a lie, nonetheless.
It is rooted in the false notion of perpetual growth, the forced and unconscionable redistribution of wealth from the many to the few. From the weakest to the most powerful.
As wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations and/or individuals, this redistribution accelerates until we find ourselves first, in an effective oligarchy and ultimately, in tyranny.
The inextricable link of wealth and poverty was thoroughly explored by Henry George in Progress and Poverty (1879) and more recently Thomas Piketty. Today, there are signs of this on every continent. People starving while others have billions.
Taken to its logical conclusion, Capitalism will produce a society where the vast majority are stripped not only of wealth, but of opportunity and dignity, while the minority become modern day Gods.
A number of critiques exist from perspectives of literature, philosophy, culture, psychology, sociology, economics and politics.
Further Reading and Watching
The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, David Ricardo
Capital, Vol. 1, Karl Marx
The Transition From Feudalism to Capitalism, Paul Sweezy, Maurice Dodd, et al
How the West Came to Rule, Alex Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu
David Harvey on the contradictions of capitalism:
How the modern world makes us mentally ill by the School of Life:
A visual summarising the consequences of capitalism in the US:
In a nutshell: Capitalism is an ideology based on the idea of secularism which separates spiritual from temporal affairs and its main feature is freedom of ownership from which it gets its name capitalism.
An ideology is a rational doctrine from which a system emanates from. The rational doctrine is a comprehensive idea about man life and the universe and what came before what, what comes after life and what is the connection with this life and what came before and after it. There are 2 places from where ideologies can come from; the minds of men or God who gives revelation to man. An ideology which has been created from a man is very limited, as it is unable to comprehend everything in the universe whereas an ideology created by God is correct as he is the creator of man, life and the universe.
Capitalism has a rational doctrine which answers the questions as to what preceded life, what comes after life and what is the relationship between this life and what came before it and what comes after. Capitalism answers this in a simple way as to what came before life they say believe what you want to believe what came after life again believe what you want to believe however as to the relationship with this life and what preceded it and what comes after it they answer there is no connection between them. This is capitalism hence a capitalist society is secular. Capitalism believes that religion should be separated from governance because for man to runs the system it is necessary for man to have freedom; freedom of believe, freedom of speech, personal freedom and freedom of ownership.
The economic system of capitalism has been produced from the freedom of ownership therefore leading this to capitalism’s most prominent feature, hence getting the name capitalism.
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