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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Capitalism

ROB BEAMISH

Queen's University, Canada

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs034

The term “capital,” as a noun referring to the funds individuals or corporations use as the basis for financial operations, was first employed in 1709 within “An Act for Enlarging the Capital Stock of the Bank of England.” “Capitalism,” representing a system where capital is advanced to increase wealth, did not come into use until William Thackeray's 1854 novel The Newcomes.

Capitalism may refer to an economic, political, and/or social system (e.g., feudalism, capitalism, communism), a broad historical period, or specific forms within that period (e.g., mercantile, industrial, finance, monopoly, or late capitalism). It is often politically encumbered through association with Marx's and other socialist or communist critiques of capitalism (although Marx never used “capitalism” in The Communist Manifesto or Capital, and first employed it in his late 1870s correspondence). Werner Sombart (1991) tried to depoliticize the term, maintaining that it was an analytical concept applicable to a specific socioeconomic system.

As such, capitalism is a system that provides for needs and wants, animated by a particular ethos; coordinated and organized by established practices, regulations, and laws; and privileging particular types of knowledge (e.g., scientific, technical, and instrumentally rational). Capitalism's ethos involves a historically unique approach to acquisition, positive attitudes toward unfettered ...

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