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Capitalism is an economic system where the means of production (factories, for example) are owned by corporations or individuals, not by a government or communities, and where people have to barter or work for money, so they can buy things they need or want, such as food. Capitalism mostly has a "free market" economy, which means people buy and sell things by their own judgment. In most countries in the world today the economy also has a degree of regulation, done by the government or by trade unions, so some argue that they should be called "mixed economies" instead of completely free markets. Some people disagree on whether capitalism is a good idea, or how much of capitalism is a good idea.

The word comes from "capital", meaning something of value. This can be money ("financial capital") or any other goods that can be traded. "Capital" originally comes from the Latin word caput, meaning "head", because it was used to mean how many "head" of cattle a wealthy person owned, in days long ago when cattle were used as money. (In fact, the words "capital" and "cattle" both come from caput.)

Buying, selling, working, and hiring[edit | edit source]

In capitalism, people may sell or lend their property, and other people may buy or borrow them. If one person wants to buy, and another person wants to sell to them, they do not need to get permission from higher power. People can have a market (buying and selling with each other) without anyone else telling them to. What can be described as capitalism and the free market economy was introduced in by the philosopher Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations, although the word capitalist and capitalism was not introduced till the late 19th century.

The word capital can be used to produce more things or money. For example, lands, factories, shops, tools and machines are capital. If someone has money that can be invested, that is a capital too. People who own capital are sometimes called capitalists (people who support capitalism are called capitalists, too). They can hire anyone who wants to work in their factories, shops or lands for them for the pay they offer.

In capitalist systems, many people are workers (or proletarians). They are employed in order to get money for living. People can choose to work for anyone who will hire them in a free market.

This is different from many older economic systems. In feudalism, most people were serfs and had to work for the people who owned the land they lived on. In mercantilism, the government makes it hard to buy things from other countries. In many countries with mixed economies (part capitalism and part socialism) there are laws about what you can buy or sell, or what prices you can charge, or whom you can hire or fire.

Investing[edit | edit source]

An investment is when people invest (give) their money in things. People can put their money together to buy or build things, even if they are too big for one person to make alone. The people who invest get to be the owners of what they buy or build together. The stock market lets people buy and sell investments.

Investing is important to capitalism. The word "capitalist" can mean two things: it can mean someone who likes capitalism; but it can also mean someone who invests. For example,a venture capitalist invests in new businesses.

People who start businesses, or invest in businesses, can make a lot of money. A business sells things that people want. The investors make extra money, which is called profit. Investors can take their profit and invest it in more businesses, or in making the business bigger. The investors can get more and more profit if the businesses are successful.

People who disagree[edit | edit source]

Socialists, anarchists, communists and what are referred to as "quasi-socialists" are people who do not support capitalism. They say it hurts workers, because businesses make more money by selling things than they pay to the workers who make the things and, therefore, businessmen become rich while workers remain poor and/or exploited. They also argue society would be more efficient if the individual was considerate of not only his/her interests, but the overall well being of society rather than competing against one another. Another argument is that each person has a right to minimal needs and within capitalism, sometimes people are not considerate of others or the environment in their quest for capital. The main difference between communists and spiritual communists is spiritual solidarity, as opposed to a materialist centered solidarity that most communists seek.[1]

Karl Marx was a famous communist philosopher from Germany. He wrote a famous book called The Capital (or Das Kapital in the German). He said that capitalism would go away after workers decided to take over the government in a revolution. There were violent communist revolutions, some of which caused civil wars, in many countries, and many people were killed because of this. But capitalism did not go away, and most of these Communist systems have collapsed and do not exist today, or else they have become more capitalist. Some people think that communism in those countries did not work because Marx's ideas, though nice in thought, did not really work. Others think that communist countries collapsed because of the attacks (military, political and economic) from capitalist countries.

Anarchists (that are not anarcho-capitalists) do not support capitalism either. They do not think workers should take the government, but that there should be no government at all. They think that communism failed because the communists set up dictatorships that said that they would rule in the name of workers, instead of letting workers organize themselves freely.

People who agree[edit | edit source]

There are different words for people who support capitalism. In many parts of the world, these people are called either conservatives or liberals (especially market liberals). But in the United States, the word "liberal" can mean someone whose beliefs lean toward social democracy; more or less what in other countries might be called social liberal. Libertarian is a word that in America and some other countries means someone who opposes the state, much like an anarchist, but is strongly in favor of capitalism.

People who support capitalism also have disagreements. Most people agree that capitalism works better if the government keeps people from stealing other people's things. If people could steal anything, then nobody would want to buy anything.

In most countries, the government does more than that. It tries to make sure that people buy and sell fairly and that employment is fair. Because the government takes a lot of money in taxes, it also buys a lot of things and gives a lot of money away. It spends money on guns and ships for the military, on science research in universities, and on schools and libraries. It also gives money to people who do not have jobs, and to businesses that the political leaders think are important. Sometimes government gives money to people just because those people support the politicians who are in office. When the government is in charge of part of the economy, this is called a "mixed economy."

A few people think that people can protect themselves without any government. Instead of having laws against stealing, people could protect their own things, or agree to pay other people such as arbitrators, insurers, and private defenders to protect them. This belief is called "anarcho-capitalism." These people think that the government is a thief, because it takes taxes away from people against their will and keeps them from making agreements between themselves.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. July 19, 2009 (2009-07-19). "Perfect Communism | Hare Krishna Community". Retrieved 2010-08-14.

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