Kansas Progress Institute

Ad Astra Per Aspera ~ To the Stars Through Difficulties

Four Definitions of Capitalism

Posted on June 7, 2016

By David Burress

I’ve come to believe that almost no one who uses the term “capitalism” knows what exactly they are talking about. (Adam Smith for one apparently never used the term.) In general “capitalism” seems to refer to:

1. a distinctive institution, that
2. has something to do with successful businesspeople, mostly male, that
3. that arose in or around or after the Renaissance but probably before the Industrial Revolution.


However as I understand it every historic empire had classes of merchants and traders and business people who dealt in activities such as finance or the exchange of commodities or even investment in relatively large-scale productive operations with an underprivileged workforce. Moreover these things have been widespread for at least two millennia even in the absence of empires.


So the only thing I can see that is really distinctive about modern capitalism seems to be:
4. some kind of close and symbiotic and systematic relationship between the state and the richest businesspeople.

If I am right, none of the ideologically-motivated definitions of capitalism on any side of the political spectrum have much historic validity.
Also most of the proposals for reform of capitalism miss the boat. The only factor that really matters is political power. 

Which is why it is absolutely essential to study the Koch brothers of Wichita.

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