Dictionary.com defines capitalism this way:
An economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.
Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:
An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.
I don’t normally reference Wikipedia as a source, but I thought the entry for capitalism does a great job of outlining it:
Capitalism is an economic system that is based on private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods or services for profit. Competitive markets, wage labor, capital accumulation, voluntary exchange, and personal finance are also considered capitalistic. Competitive markets, capital accumulation, voluntary exchange, and personal finance are, however, not capitalism, and often a part in non-capitalist systems such as market socialism and worker cooperatives. There are multiple variants of capitalism, including laissez-faire and state capitalism.
I am not going to try to produce a comprehensive definition myself. I agree with the main gist of these definitions and I see no reason to reinvent the wheel. The main point I would highlight is that at its base, ‘capitalism’ is a system that facilitates capital and resources to be owned, transferred and employed.
What I will not entertain in defining capitalism, is what its opponents often attempt; that is to sneak in moral judgements and attribute them as essential aspects of the system. The above definitions isolate characteristics that are unique to capitalism. As I will argue in the later posts, morals and ethics are integrally intertwined with the system, but they cannot be attributed to it. They are readily found in most other economic models as well. For example: greed is not a moral behaviour unique to capitalism. The system may in some way more readily tempt its participants to greed with the hopes of great profits and wealth, but greed comes from the participant and not the system. It is no way conditioned as part of its definition.
In the next three posts, I am going to address the issues of creation, stewardship, and work, primarily from a biblical perspective, with the hope of showing how they are fundamental to the capitalist endeavour. I will follow those up with responses to some accusations against capitalism often levelled by its opponents. I then hope to bring these together by looking at some of Jesus’ parables and other examples in the Bible to try to understand God’s view of this economic system.