Capitalism & Values
I Capitalism
assumptions & features of capitalism
modifications in American capitalism
values promoted by capitalism
critical questions for capitalism

II Values in American Society

Definition of Capitalism:

a constantly changing system in which the means of production are privately owned and the market operates to guide production and distribute income

first expressed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, 1776

Based on several fundamental assumptions:

1. humans are rational and capable of gaining full information

2. existence of full employment
only instance where freedom for all individuals exists

3. all factors of production are commodities
work and life are separate

4. recipients of income would accept rewards as equitable

Key features of capitalism:

Profit motive
the fuel of capitalism based on the assumption that people are motivated by their own self-interests

regulates individual economic activity, keeps supply and demand at bay

Private property
people may buy, sell, lease, franchise, and engage in a variety of contractual arrangements with respect to their assets

capitalism permits the creation of business organizations that exist separate from the people associated with them

A brief history of capitalism:

41BC-500AD: Expansion of Roman Empire
*driven by desire to control goods

1500-1700s: Merchant Capitalism & Mercantilism
*a system of trade for profit, although commodities were still largely
produced by non-capitalist production methods

1750-1870s: Industrial Capitalism & Laissez-Faire
*Polanyi: capitalism began with free trade in Britain in the 1830s

1870s-1930s: Finance Capitalism & Monopoly Capitalism
*control of large areas of industry came into the hands of financiers
*subordination of process of production to the accumulation of profits

1930s-1970s: Capitalism’s Great Leap Forward
*rise of welfare-statism, monetarism, neoliberalism

1970s-Present: Neoliberal Global Capitalism
*rise of post-industrialism, neo-imperialism
*”capitalism with the gloves off”

Modifications in American capitalism:

“Pure” form capitalism never existed.
assumptions inaccurate

Large amassings of corporate power have been built.

Serious social problems have emerged.
economic polarization, crime, environmental degradation

Profit motive swamped the other features.

Government intervention grew to curtail greed.

Corporate $$ influenced government in their favor.—warren-buffett-vs–wealthy-conservatives

r > g
leads to

5,000 Americans were recently asked how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it is more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.

Critical questions for capitalism:

Are humans merely economic creatures?

Does capitalism promote inequality?

Is competition a good thing?

Does capitalism exploit and alienate?

“Natural Capitalism”?

Radical Resource Productivity
slows resource depletion at one end of the value chain,
lowers pollution at the other end

redesign industrial systems along biological lines

Service and Flow Economy
a new perception of value, a shift from the acquisition of goods
as a measure of affluence to an economy where the continuous
receipt of quality, utility, and performance promotes well-being

Investing in Natural Capital
reversing world-wide planetary destruction through reinvestments
in sustaining, restoring, and expanding stocks of natural capital


An individual’s concept of what is good, worthy, important;
can also be generalized and attributed to a group or entire culture
Type of life each of us seeks to live reflects our individual values:

following a profession, devoting ourselves to community service,
raising a family, seeking solitude, pursuing scientific truth, striving
for athletic excellence, amassing political power, being popular

Brief chronology of American values:
Protestant Work Ethic: “survival of the fittest,” hard work,
discipline, self-reliance, saving & planning ahead, clear
definition of success & failure, competition, honesty &
observing the rules of the game

Bureaucratic Ethic: spending, consumption, immediate
gratification, self-fulfillment, efficiency, quantification,
progress, spiritual meaninglessness, as well as the more
traditional values of love, brotherhood, loyalty, honesty,
truth, justice, equity


Choice of

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