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Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are mostly privately owned, and capital is invested in the production, distribution and other trade of goods and services, for profit in a competitive free market. These include factors of production such as land and other natural resources, labor and capital goods. Various theories have tried to explain what capitalism is, to justify, or critique the private ownership of capital, and to explain the operation of markets and guide the application or elimination of government regulation of property and markets.

Capitalist economic practices became institutionalized in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries, although some features of capitalist organization existed in the ancient world. Capitalism has emerged as the Western world's dominant economic system since the decline of feudalism, which eroded traditional political and religious restraints on capitalist exchange. Since the Industrial Revolution, capitalism gradually spread from Europe, particularly from Britain, across global political and cultural frontiers. In the 19th and 20th centuries, capitalism provided the main, but not exclusive, means of industrialization throughout much of the world.

The concept of capitalism has limited analytic value, given the great variety of historical cases over which it is applied, varying in time, geography, politics and culture.

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Pauliyas Hongkong.jpg

Hong Kong is a major center and important symbol of Modern capitalism. It has been declared the most capitalist city in the world.

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Adam Smith (baptized June 5 (OS) or June 16 (NS) 1723; died July 17, 1790) was a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneering political economist. One of the key figures of the intellectual movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment, he is known primarily as the author of two treatises: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter was one of the earliest attempts to systematically study the historical development of industry and commerce in Europe, as well as a sustained attack on the doctrines of mercantilism; it also contained Smith's explanation of how rational self-interest and competition can lead to common well-being.[Neutrality disputed — See talk page] Smith's work helped to create the modern academic discipline of economics and provided one of the best-known intellectual rationales for free trade and capitalism.

Adam Smith

Did you know...

  • ...That, during the industrial revolution, the standard of living for the average worker was enormously higher than during preceding ages?
  • ...That Andrew Carnegie was born poor and worked as a janitor in steel mills before rising to become a monopolizer of steel and one of the heros of modern Capitalists?

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  • Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.
  • A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it [...] gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want.
  • It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow citizens.
  • It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.
  • No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.
  • The word "capitalist" by itself is actually a pejorative, and was always intended to be misleading. As best I can tell (and I have looked into it), the word was coined by Karl Marx and/or Frederick Engels. The purpose of the word was to tie free market activity to the accumulation of capital – stores of money. The intent was to stir-up envy. (And it worked.) What people call capitalism should really be called "free human action" – and it is the only thing that produces advanced life on earth.

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