Capitalism is an economic system in which land, capital goods, and other resources, are owned, operated and traded by private individuals or corporations for the purpose of profit. In a capitalist system, private control of these productive enterprises is protected by the rule of law. A capitalist legal system protects the exchange and distribution of capital between legal or private persons, which is driven by competition and profit-maximization, and where investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods, commodities and services are determined by private decision in a market economy rather than through central economic planning by the state. Human labor power is for sale in the market as one of the many commodities. Pure capitalism, conceived as a self-regulating and ...view middle of the document...
[page # needed] According to Marxist analysis, a core requirement of a capitalist society is that a large portion of the population must not possess sources of self-sustainment that would allow them to be independent, and must instead be compelled, in order to survive, to sell their labor for a living wage. Capitalism is usually considered to involve the right of individuals and businesses to trade, incorporate, and employ workers, in goods, services (including finance), labor and land. In modern "capitalist states", legislative action is confined to defining and enforcing the basic rules of the market though the state may provide some public goods and infrastructure.
Capitalist economic practices became institutionalized in England between the 16th and 19th centuries, although some features of capitalist organization existed in the ancient world, and early forms of merchant capitalism flourished during the Middle Ages. Capitalism has been dominant in the Western world since the end of feudalism. From Britain it gradually spread throughout Europe, across 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.
Because all large economies today have a mixture of private and public ownership and control, some feel that the term "mixed economies" more precisely describes most contemporary economies. In mixed economies, the state intervenes in market activity and provides many services. Other capitalist systems include laissez-faire, in which the state plays a minimal role, and anarcho-capitalism in which the the state is superseded by the market and private enterprise. During the last century capitalism has often been contrasted with centrally planned economies.