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Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Central characteristics of capitalism include capital accumulation, competitive markets, a price system, private property and the recognition of property rights, voluntary exchange and wage labor. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investments are determined by every owner of wealth, property or production ability in capital and financial markets whereas prices and the distribution of goods and services are mainly determined by competition in goods and services markets.
Economists, historians, political economists and sociologists have adopted different perspectives in their analyses of capitalism and have recognized various forms of it in practice. These include laissez-faire or free-market capitalism, state capitalism and welfare capitalism. Different forms of capitalism feature varying degrees of free markets, public ownership, obstacles to free competition and state-sanctioned social policies. The degree of competition in markets and the role of intervention and regulation as well as the scope of state ownership vary across different models of capitalism. The extent to which different markets are free and the rules defining private property are matters of politics and policy. Most of the existing capitalist economies are mixed economies that combine elements of free markets with state intervention and in some cases economic planning.
Market economies have existed under many forms of government and in many different times, places and cultures. Modern capitalist societies—marked by a universalization of money-based social relations, a consistently large and system-wide class of workers who must work for wages (the proletariat) and a capitalist class which owns the means of production—developed in Western Europe in a process that led to the Industrial Revolution. Capitalist systems with varying degrees of direct government intervention have since become dominant in the Western world and continue to spread. Constant economic growth is a characteristic tendency of capitalist economies.
Critics of capitalism argue that it concentrates power in the hands of a minority capitalist class that exists through the exploitation of the majority working class and their labor; prioritizes profit over social good, natural resources and the environment; is an engine of inequality, corruption and economic instabilities; and that many are not able to access its purported benefits and freedoms, such as freely investing. Supporters argue that it provides better products and innovation through competition, promotes pluralism and decentralization of power, disperses wealth to people who are able to invest in useful enterprises based on market demands, allows for a flexible incentive system where efficiency and sustainability are priorities to protect capital, creates strong economic growth, and yields productivity and prosperity that greatly benefit society.
- Zimbalist, Sherman and Brown, Andrew, Howard J. and Stuart (October 1988). Comparing Economic Systems: A Political-Economic Approach. Harcourt College Pub. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-15-512403-5.
Pure capitalism is defined as a system wherein all of the means of production (physical capital) are privately owned and run by the capitalist class for a profit, while most other people are workers who work for a salary or wage (and who do not own the capital or the product).
- Rosser, Mariana V.; Rosser, J Barkley (23 July 2003). Comparative Economics in a Transforming World Economy. MIT Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-262-18234-8.
In capitalist economies, land and produced means of production (the capital stock) are owned by private individuals or groups of private individuals organized as firms.
- Chris Jenks. Core Sociological Dichotomies. "Capitalism, as a mode of production, is an economic system of manufacture and exchange which is geared toward the production and sale of commodities within a market for profit, where the manufacture of commodities consists of the use of the formally free labor of workers in exchange for a wage to create commodities in which the manufacturer extracts surplus value from the labor of the workers in terms of the difference between the wages paid to the worker and the value of the commodity produced by him/her to generate that profit." London; Thousand Oaks, CA; New Delhi. Sage. p. 383.
- Gilpin, Robert (5 June 2018). The Challenge of Global Capitalism : The World Economy in the 21st Century. ISBN 978-0-691-18647-4. OCLC 1076397003.
- Heilbroner, Robert L. "Capitalism" Archived 28 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume, eds. The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. 2nd ed. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) doi:10.1057/9780230226203.0198.
- Louis Hyman and Edward E. Baptist (2014). American Capitalism: A Reader Archived 22 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4767-8431-1.
- Gregory, Paul; Stuart, Robert (2013). The Global Economy and its Economic Systems. South-Western College Pub. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-285-05535-0.
Capitalism is characterized by private ownership of the factors of production. Decision making is decentralized and rests with the owners of the factors of production. Their decision making is coordinated by the market, which provides the necessary information. Material incentives are used to motivate participants.
- Gregory and Stuart, Paul and Robert (28 February 2013). The Global Economy and its Economic Systems. South-Western College Pub. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-285-05535-0.
Real-world capitalist systems are mixed, some having higher shares of public ownership than others. The mix changes when privatization or nationalization occurs. Privatization is when property that had been state-owned is transferred to private owners. Nationalization occurs when privately owned property becomes publicly owned.
- Macmillan Dictionary of Modern Economics, 3rd Ed., 1986, p. 54.
- Bronk, Richard (Summer 2000). "Which model of capitalism?". OECD Observer. Vol. 1999 no. 221–22. OECD. pp. 12–15. Archived from the original on 6 April 2018. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- Stilwell, Frank. "Political Economy: the Contest of Economic Ideas". First Edition. Oxford University Press. Melbourne, Australia. 2002.
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