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Cowboy capitalism is a term used, primarily by its critics, to describe the free market elements of the American (and, less often, the “Anglo-Saxon”) economy. It has been contrasted both with socialism and with modern European “comfy” capitalism. An ongoing debate persists in business ethics circles concerning whether such a free market is morally good or morally bankrupt.

Cowboy capitalism has been likened to shareholder capitalism, where firms experience constant pressure from investors to maximize profits and focus on financial results. A theoretical foundation of this view is the efficient markets hypothesis, which holds that free markets are the ultimate, efficient arbiters of the economic goods in a society. This economic system is often characterized by numerous entrepreneurial startups and bankruptcies, as well as by frequent ...

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