Capitalism is now the dominant way of organizing economic life. That was not always the case, however; so in order to understand capitalism’s contemporary dominance and current potential, it is necessary to know something of its history and core characteristics. It is also necessary to understand capitalism’s various contemporary forms and the debates surrounding the strengths and weaknesses of each. This entry is organized sequentially to cover that agenda.


The word capitalism has been around in English for rather less time than the thing itself. The term was certainly in use by the end of the 18th century—Arthur Young used it in his Travels in France (1792)—and the notion of something called “capital” was well known to Adam Smith as he prepared The Wealth of Nations ...

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