183 Definitions of Capitalism

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #8 in May 2009]

In March of 2009, an anonymous survey was sent out to the subscribers to AREA Chicago’s email list and social networking websites asking a number of questions about work and life. The results of that survey are published in this issue of AREA Chicago #8 on pages 26-27. At the end of the survey the respondents were also asked In as few words as possible, how do you define capitalism? These unedited definitions resulted from asking that question.


1. Privately run means of financial support.     •2. An inherently evil economic model with potential for good    •3. System in which consumption of resources is exchanged for energy or other resources. resources are viewed or marketed as fixed and scarce, thereby creating hierarchy in which competition (often violent) for limited resources is necessary. material wealth (hoarding of resources) becomes disproportionately relevant to social values such as justice, health, and happiness.    •4. Potentially an evil thing, but used properly it can be a good system     •5. Cultural system where value is expressed in monetary terms, and profitability.    •6. Market driven economic principle predicated on personal profit     •7. American finance    •8. No comment 😉     •9. The economic system that won.     •10. A system by which people earn money by directing others’ labor    •11. You need money to make money.     •12. A system based on ownership protected by laws.    •13. Production of goods or services for the purpose of profit. The sustenance of the worker is less than secondary.    •14. System to let a few take from the vast majority (depends on the state to maintain this)     •15. An economic system based on free-market competition, hierarchy, and exploitation that results in ever-increasing wealth gaps between the people at the top and the people at the bottom.    •16. Free-market economy in which elected officials are bought and paid for by the wealthy.     •17. A system which hardly anyone controls, in which we are all forced to sell our capacities to an agenda over which we are fundamentally impotent.    •18. The machine.     •19. The commodification of everything.     •20. The motivational structure of modernity.    •21. A class system based on exploitation.     •22. Human nature     •23. Business    •24. The solution to abject poverty.     •25. Sleezy     •26. To make money however you like as long as you have the courage and the strength to get through the difficulties.    •27. Money makes the world go around     •28. A profit-centered economic system that does not on its own provide a viable social support system    •29. The reduction of all activities and commodities to capital which can be owned and used by private entities.    •30. A system of resource allocation based upon strong notions of individual property rights and a faith in individual initiative/free market principles in just distribution; the state’s primary function is to uphold the legitimacy of these property rights (ie, restrict the use of a resource to all but its owners).    •31. Placing the achievement of material profit above all.     •32. I prefer the idea of democratic capitalism i.e. equal opportunity for all, a regulated playing field, merit selection and rewarding excellence above favor.    •33. Structure where wealth is king but the makers of products or resources are most out of range of controlling or benefiting from them.    •34. Large Scale Trade     •35. An economic system that doesn’t really work so well    •36. Exploitation.     •37. Everything as a commodity, work until you die, work for everything that you claim as your own and there are definite property rights enshrined in law and society.    •38. A society in which capitalists compete to extract more profit from the exploitation of purchased labor, making people live divided between a sphere of free market exchange and a sphere of autocratic workplace exploitation.    •39. A massive, seemingly inescapable system to bring more chips to the snack aisle than any one person should have.    •40. All society is capitalism     •41. Exploitation – prioritizing profit and individualism over community – attaching monetary value (hierarchical) to everything –    •42. Capitalism is a system driven by ‘capital’ – money. The almighty dollar is the bottom line.    •43. A system of wealth accumulation by private ownership, in which owners use their power (political, social, and financial) to extract and claim wealth from the labor of those with less power.    •44. Organized extraction of surplus labor from working class and petite bourgeoisie     •45. Pervasive    •46. A dysfunctional economic system in which a small elite gain wealth from a disenfranchised majority.    •47. Evil     •48. Determining value based on monetary     •49. An economic system and a culture that perpetuates wealth and consumption above all and at the expense of all else    •50. A system of exploitation.     •51. A privately held resource based on the assumption that someone can own something that is no ones; a gift that a wise person can give back, a tool often mistaken as a value    •52. A system that supports the few via the exploitation of most.     •53. Greed masked as necessity.    •54. Prioritizing ownership over service     •55. An unhealthy economic system that commodifies everything it can, extracts wealth from oppressed communities, and causes different types of pain to everyone involved in it.    •56. Trouble.     •57. Capitalism is a system in which individuals and corporations make trades that are mutually beneficial, thus creating wealth.    •58. Financial system controlled by individuals to make as much money as possible.     •59. An economic system in which everything is reduced to an exchangeable value, the goal of which is to maximize and grow the total value of the system.    •60. A concentrated taking advantage of one class by another.     •61. Capitalism is a system of accumulating money for its own sake. It poorly defines how money could be used for the transformation of culture toward an improvement of the collective human condition. As an economic model it often values quantity over quality. The prioritization of quantity values creates a corporate culture where small groups of citizens hold massive amounts of capital and large groups of citizens are relatively poor. Capitalist corporations have power to influence political realities on national and global levels. Without a qualifiable value system, money has little power to create a humane global standard of living.    •62. Wealth creates wealth.     •63. A system in which one class exploits the labor of another class, and which tends toward the commodification of every imaginable thing, tangible or not.    •64. Is the (historical) accumulation of wealth and power … that is designed to lie on the hands of a selected few but packaged in a way that perpetuates the myth that anyone through hard work can achieve wealth and power    •65. Eat, buy, consume, die.     •66. (as idea) A market comprised of SEVERAL retailers and service providers competing for the patronage of MANY discerning consumers.    •67. Converting an into idea to capital.     •68. It’s all about the money and profits – nothing else    •69. The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.     •70. System that allows goods and services to be purchased freely by all people if they have the $$ or capital to do so.    •71. Growth, expansion, profit, resources, exploitation, dislocation, waged, synthetic.     •72. The dominant global economic system under which people and resources of the majority are exploited for the profit of the relative few.    •73. Privately owned service, production of goods, an economic system, to exploit     •74. Freedom or entrapment through hierarchy    •75. The type of government we live under.     •76. Capitalism is the process through which the production of goods and services are traded for capital, i.e. money.    •77. A corrupted system of controlling the production and distribution of wealth.     •78. Making money at all costs with little regard for ethics    •79. Free-market, money based economy that emphasizes social Darwinism.     •80. The death of the soul    •81. The social order based on private property, separation of workers from the means of production and the existence of the state to enforce property and other claims    •82. An economic and social system that we are forced to live under that undermines our ability to explore ourselves and our connections to others because we must spend all of our time working to financially support ourselves. For those in art-related endeavors there is a disconnect between individuals with family or trust-fund money who have the luxury of critiquing capitalism while remaining outside of it and those of us who critique it but are self-supporting and must be a central part of it. There is also an imbalance between those who are able to attend elite schools and have the time to think, and those of us who went to community or state schools and worked part or fulltime through those experiences, leaving little time for critical thinking. Even within the radical art communities there are the haves and have-nots, especially within regards to educational background and the prestige that comes from elite institutions.    •83. Money does not equal capitalism.     •84. The world revolved around money, those who have it have the power    •85. An economic system based on creating wealth.     •86. The process of giving every aspect of life a monetary value and having this as the basis for assessing human worth and identity.    •87. Competition     •88. Freedom to pursue the things that make you happy. selfishness and greed keeping poor people poor.    •89. An economic system in which production is tied to profitability for capital, and which shapes the entire social/ideological context.    •90. The most predatory system on the planet     •91. a socio-economic system where social relations are based on commodities for exchange, in particular private ownership of the means of production and on the exploitation of wage labour. it exhibits such miraculous phenomena as the development of underdevelopment, free purchase of the un-free sale of labor power, expropriation of surplus value, precarious work, hijacked desires, forced flexibility, alienation, internment camp living conditions, absurd indefinite toil, paranoiac and fascist reactions, etc.    •92. A system that relies on the market to distribute goods, with the owning class exploiting the labor of the working class    •93. Systematic estranged labor and commodity fetishism.     •94. Something that feeds and feeds but never gets full, and it’s contagious.    •95. Depending on the work of many so that few can prosper     •96. A controlling myth and ideology that has come to govern the world.     •97. A system based on competition and rewards. it’s an incentive’s based system where no one is guaranteed anything and the playing field is not level. it rewards some and leave others behind.    •98. Survival of the most fit and hardworking – acceleration of profits to benefit the few and the short term    •99. A system that concentrates money and resources in the hands of a few     •100. The use of market systems and specialization to break up and distribute the wealth accumulated through mercantilism to a larger (though still heavily restricted) class of persons able to contribute to the dominant society and with sufficient power to participate through production and purchase.    •101. Free market society in which a few rise to the top, often off the sweat and hard work of others    •102. Capitalism is destroying the world.     •103. Exchange of power through buying and selling    •104. A corrupt, selfish system that I enjoy all too often.     •105. Greed.     •106. Making money for money’s sake. Cyclical, interdependent consumerism.     •107. Zero sum game, someone has to lose    •108. Using money to make more money     •109. Each man to accumulate his own wealth, wealth is not shared collectively but acquired by individuals    •110. Individuals or corporations invest capital resources ($, time, property) in order to make profits for themselves.    •111. Competition with class structures for economic growth     •112. An economic system that favors individual accumulation of wealth    •113. A free market system, not necessarily tied to democracy but often linked to democracy in American vernacular, in which the profit of the majority’s labor is appropriated by a minority for personal gain.    •114. Sux     •115. A (religion) system of valuing capital more than humans, animals, the earth and all other.    •116. Helps some people, but is mostly evil     •117. A system which defines the value of everything through its value on an open market    •118. Capitalism is the backbone of corporate America.     •119. Supply and demand, a profit-driven free-market industry.    •120. Extraction of profit from mother earth at the maximum possible rate     •121. Capitalism is a private economic system.    •122. A system of governing where money is deemed to the only priority.. ignoring ethics, justice, compassion, and sustainability.    •123. Individualistic pursuit of wealth.     •124. An economic system which commodifies resources and gives them a monetary value.    •125. The economic system where everything is operated / run for a profit.     •126. An economic system that relies on competition, entrepreneurship, ingenuity, to bring goods and services to society. Generation of money and competition are the driving values behind it.    •127. Capitalism is an economic and political system that prioritizes the individual and places value on acquiring money. It is a system that thrives on the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, and functions on maintaining this status quo.    •128. An economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and exploitation of wage labor.    •129. People in power hoarding the money while the working class stays on the bottom.     •130. A belief that profits and private ownership of capital is more important than people.    •131. Creating desire/needs where there was not.     •132. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. It’s also how I define democracy as we know it.    •133. Alienation from labor, self, society.     •134. The promotion of the productive capacity of the individual over the collective.    •135. The exploitation of some people’s labor to extract profit for other people     •136. The belief that the pursuit of wealth is the guiding force that drives the economy.    •137. A system that aims to keep things as they are, for the benefit of the powerful and wealthy.     •138. An economic system which creates social inequality.     •139. A system that depends on highly classified systems of power–typically hinged on production and management and the insane struggle that ensues to feel human in whatever role you assume and/or is thrust upon you    •140. A social and economic system that fosters, encourages and demands that people horde resources and forces individuals to focus on their own interests as opposed to collective interests.    •141. As a means for conscientious people to prosper and contribute to the world, and for unscrupulous people to prosper at the expense of others.    •142. Production for production sake     •143. A market in which it is difficult for the majority to get what they need.    •144. A systemic structure that works to create traps     •145. Capitalism is an inhumane, power-based system of exchange that rewards greed and requires the exploitation of and disregard for those not fluent with its only slimly veiled workings.    •146. The current societal structure where the value one can produce determines their worth; society exists to produce a surplus of value rather than to address human needs.    •147. The system of monetary profit as development/progress vs. human development as progress     •148. The worst system possible, except for all the other ones.     •149. Individuals can be free to make money and lots of it.    •150. The beast that feeds racism.     •151. Something that is sucking the soul out of society.    •152. I’d have to think about it… Seems it’s about making money, controlling capital — individual gain vs. common good… ?    •153. A system that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.     •154. The formalized and state backed system of prioritizing and rewarding private wealth accumulation developed in the context of empire, white supremacy, and patriarchy.    •155. An economic system based on private ownership     •156. Selling things to other people who think they need to buy your things.    •157. 1) A theory or doctrine that promotes the accumulation of wealth in a program of exclusive self-interest that is regulated through supply and demand, founded on the concept of private, transferable property. 2) A narrow economic practice that stands in for, and fails to fulfill political practice.    •158. Creation of power structures through monetary systems allowing for control of mass populations.    •159. An owning class (global) exploiting poor and working people of color (majority) across borders.    •160. A free market where people compete to sell goods and services, and ideally there is a fair balance between the consumer and the seller in terms of allocation of resources.    •161. Monetary profit is highest value     •162. Industry/occupations based on money as value, with goal to increase money/value    •163. The privatization of public means.     •164. An economic and cultural system based on power, control, and individualism under the guise of a right to economic freedom and a free competitive market.    •165. Wealth generation through environmental and/or human exploitation     •166. Capitalism is the buying and selling of goods with the aim of making a profit.    •167. Sadly, I would define it as greed.     •168. A system whereby competition is the highest value, success or failure are assumed to be based on merit, and morality must be legally defined in order to have a place.    •169. Money is the center of everything     •170. Is about wealth. Owning it, keeping it, creating more of it… and not spreading it around. In this system corporate rights trump human rights.    •171. Private profit produced by other people’s labor     •172. Providing a slave class for the creatives to make their work.    •173. As being a system that promotes individual needs but paying little to no attention to the group needs.    •174. The creation of wealth for a few at the expense of the many.     •175. The idea that everything can be converted to money    •176. A few at the top with all the money.     •177. I’m not sure.     •178. Patriarchal     •179. So Over.     •180. Capitalism is an economic system or logic that encourages competition between people and the commodification of potentially anything in life to create a profit.    •181. Pigs feeding pigs     •182. Capitalism is a system of power relations predicated on the organization of mass labor/consumer activity to accumulate wealth and privilege in those who are already wealthy and privileged.    •183. Private ownership of capital

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