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What Is Capitalism?Capitalism is an economic system in which private individuals or businesses own capital goods. The production of goods and services is based on supply and demand in the general market—known as a market economy—rather than through central planning—known as a planned economy or command economy.
The purest form of capitalism is free market or laissez-faire capitalism. Here, private individuals are unrestrained. They may determine where to invest, what to produce or sell, and at which prices to exchange goods and services. The laissez-faire marketplace operates without checks or controls.
Today, most countries practice a mixed capitalist system that includes some degree of government regulation of business and ownership of select industries.
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Understanding CapitalismFunctionally speaking, capitalism is one process by which the problems of economic production and resource distribution might be resolved. Instead of planning economic decisions through centralized political methods, as with socialism or feudalism, economic planning under capitalism occurs via decentralized and voluntary decisions.
Capitalism and Private PropertyPrivate property rights are fundamental to capitalism. Most modern concepts of private property stem from John Locke's theory of homesteading, in which human beings claim ownership through mixing their labor with unclaimed resources. Once owned, the only legitimate means of transferring property are through voluntary exchange, gifts, inheritance, or re-homesteading of abandoned property.
Private property promotes efficiency by giving the owner of resources an incentive to maximize the value of their property. So, the more valuable the resource is, the more trading power it provides the owner. In a capitalist system, the person who owns the property is entitled to any value associated with that property.
For individuals or businesses to deploy their capital goods confidently, a system must exist that protects their legal right to own or transfer private property. A capitalist society will rely on the use of contracts, fair dealing, and tort law to facilitate and enforce these private property rights.
When a property is not privately owned but shared by the public, a problem known as the tragedy of the commons can emerge. With a common pool resource, which all people can use, and none can limit access to, all individuals have an incentive to extract as much use value as they can and no incentive to conserve or reinvest in the resource. Privatizing the resource is one possible solution to this problem, along with various voluntary or involuntary collective action approaches.
Capitalism, Profits, and LossesProfits are closely associated with the concept of private property. By definition, an individual only enters into a voluntary exchange of private property when they believe the exchange benefits them in some psychic or material way. In such trades, each party gains extra subjective value, or profit, from the transaction.
Voluntary trade is the mechanism that drives activity in a capitalist system. The owners of resources compete with one another over consumers, who in turn, compete with other consumers over goods and services. All of this activity is built into the price system, which balances supply and demand to coordinate the distribution of resources.
A capitalist earns the highest profit by using capital goods most efficiently while producing the highest-value good or service. In this system, information about what is highest-valued is transmitted through those prices at which another individual voluntarily purchases the capitalist's good or service. Profits are an indication that less valuable inputs have been transformed into more valuable outputs. By contrast, the capitalist suffers losses when capital resources are not used efficiently and instead create less valuable outputs.
Free Enterprise or Capitalism?Capitalism and free enterprise are often seen as synonymous. In truth, they are closely related yet distinct terms with overlapping features. It is possible to have a capitalist economy without complete free enterprise, and possible to have a free market without capitalism.
Any economy is capitalist as long as private individuals control the factors of production. However, a capitalist system can still be regulated by government laws, and the profits of capitalist endeavors can still be taxed heavily.
"Free enterprise" can roughly be understood to mean economic exchanges free of coercive government influence. Although unlikely, it is possible to conceive of a system where individuals choose to hold all property rights in common. Private property rights still exist in a free enterprise system, although the private property may be voluntarily treated as communal without a government mandate.
Many Native American tribes existed with elements of these arrangements, and within a broader capitalist economic family, clubs, co-ops, and joint-stock business firms like partnerships or corporations are all examples of common property institutions.
If accumulation, ownership, and profiting from capital is the central principle of capitalism, then freedom from state coercion is the central principle of free enterprise.
Feudalism the Root of CapitalismCapitalism grew out of European feudalism. Up until the 12th century, less than 5% of the population of Europe lived in towns. Skilled workers lived in the city but received their keep from feudal lords rather than a real wage, and most workers were serfs for landed nobles. However, by the late Middle Ages rising urbanism, with cities as centers of industry and trade, become more and more economically important.
The advent of true wages offered by the trades encouraged more people to move into towns where they could get money rather than subsistence in exchange for labor. Families’ extra sons and daughters who needed to be put to work, could find new sources of income in the trade towns. Child labor was as much a part of the town's economic development as serfdom was part of the rural life.
Mercantilism Replaces FeudalismMercantilism gradually replaced the feudal economic system in Western Europe and became the primary economic system of commerce during the 16th to 18th centuries. Mercantilism started as trade between towns, but it was not necessarily competitive trade. Initially, each town had vastly different products and services that were slowly homogenized by demand over time.
After the homogenization of goods, trade was carried out in broader and broader circles: town to town, county to county, province to province, and, finally, nation to nation. When too many nations were offering similar goods for trade, the trade took on a competitive edge that was sharpened by strong feelings of nationalism in a continent that was constantly embroiled in wars.
Colonialism flourished alongside mercantilism, but the nations seeding the world with settlements were not trying to increase trade. Most colonies were set up with an economic system that smacked of feudalism, with their raw goods going back to the motherland and, in the case of the British colonies in North America, being forced to repurchase the finished product with a pseudo-currency that prevented them from trading with other nations.
It was Adam Smith who noticed that mercantilism was not a force of development and change, but a regressive system that was creating trade imbalances between nations and keeping them from advancing. His ideas for a free market opened the world to capitalism.
Growth of Industrial CapitalismSmith's ideas were well-timed, as the Industrial Revolution was starting to cause tremors that would soon shake the Western world. The (often literal) gold mine of colonialism had brought new wealth and new demand for the products of domestic industries, which drove the expansion and mechanization of production. As technology leaped ahead and factories no longer had to be built near waterways or windmills to function, industrialists began building in the cities where there were now thousands of people to supply ready labor.
Industrial tycoons were the first people to amass their wealth in their lifetimes, often outstripping both the landed nobles and many of the money lending/banking families. For the first time in history, common people could have hopes of becoming wealthy. The new money crowd built more factories that required more labor, while also producing more goods for people to purchase.
During this period, the term "capitalism"—originating from the Latin word "capitalis," which means "head of cattle"—was first used by French socialist Louis Blanc in 1850, to signify a system of exclusive ownership of industrial means of production by private individuals rather than shared ownership.
Contrary to popular belief, Karl Marx did not coin the word "capitalism," although he certainly contributed to the rise of its use.
Industrial Capitalism's EffectsIndustrial capitalism tended to benefit more levels of society rather than just the aristocratic class. Wages increased, helped greatly by the formation of unions. The standard of living also increased with the glut of affordable products being mass-produced. This growth led to the formation of a middle class and began to lift more and more people from the lower classes to swell its ranks.
The economic freedoms of capitalism matured alongside democratic political freedoms, liberal individualism, and the theory of natural rights. This unified maturity is not to say, however, that all capitalist systems are politically free or encourage individual liberty. Economist Milton Friedman, an advocate of capitalism and individual liberty, wrote in Capitalism and Freedom (1962) that "capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. It is not a sufficient condition."
A dramatic expansion of the financial sector accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism. Banks had previously served as warehouses for valuables, clearinghouses for long-distance trade, or lenders to nobles and governments. Now they came to serve the needs of everyday commerce and the intermediation of credit for large, long-term investment projects. By the 20th century, as stock exchanges became increasingly public and investment vehicles opened up to more individuals, some economists identified a variation on the system: financial capitalism.
Capitalism and Economic GrowthBy creating incentives for entrepreneurs to reallocate away resources from unprofitable channels and into areas where consumers value them more highly, capitalism has proven a highly effective vehicle for economic growth.
Before the rise of capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries, rapid economic growth occurred primarily through conquest and extraction of resources from conquered peoples. In general, this was a localized, zero-sum process. Research suggests average global per-capita income was unchanged between the rise of agricultural societies through approximately 1750 when the roots of the first Industrial Revolution took hold.
In subsequent centuries, capitalist production processes have greatly enhanced productive capacity. More and better goods became cheaply accessible to wide populations, raising standards of living in previously unthinkable ways. As a result, most political theorists and nearly all economists argue that capitalism is the most efficient and productive system of exchange.
Capitalism vs. SocialismIn terms of political economy, capitalism is often pitted against socialism. The fundamental difference between capitalism and socialism is the ownership and control of the means of production. In a capitalist economy, property and businesses are owned and controlled by individuals. In a socialist economy, the state owns and manages the vital means of production. However, other differences also exist in the form of equity, efficiency, and employment.
EquityThe capitalist economy is unconcerned about equitable arrangements. The argument is that inequality is the driving force that encourages innovation, which then pushes economic development. The primary concern of the socialist model is the redistribution of wealth and resources from the rich to the poor, out of fairness, and to ensure equality in opportunity and equality of outcome. Equality is valued above high achievement, and the collective good is viewed above the opportunity for individuals to advance.
EfficiencyThe capitalist argument is that the profit incentive drives corporations to develop innovative new products that are desired by the consumer and have demand in the marketplace. It is argued that the state ownership of the means of production leads to inefficiency because, without the motivation to earn more money, management, workers, and developers are less likely to put forth the extra effort to push new ideas or products.
EmploymentIn a capitalist economy, the state does not directly employ the workforce. This lack of government-run employment can lead to unemployment during economic recessions and depressions. In a socialist economy, the state is the primary employer. During times of economic hardship, the socialist state can order hiring, so there is full employment. Also, there tends to be a stronger "safety net" in socialist systems for workers who are injured or permanently disabled. Those who can no longer work have fewer options available to help them in capitalist societies.
Mixed System vs. Pure CapitalismWhen the government owns some but not all of the means of production, but government interests may legally circumvent, replace, limit, or otherwise regulate private economic interests, that is said to be a mixed economy or mixed economic system. A mixed economy respects property rights, but places limits on them.
Property owners are restricted with regards to how they exchange with one another. These restrictions come in many forms, such as minimum wage laws, tariffs, quotas, windfall taxes, license restrictions, prohibited products or contracts, direct public expropriation, anti-trust legislation, legal tender laws, subsidies, and eminent domain. Governments in mixed economies also fully or partly own and operate certain industries, especially those considered public goods, often enforcing legally binding monopolies in those industries to prohibit competition by private entities.
In contrast, pure capitalism, also known as laissez-faire capitalism or anarcho-capitalism, (such as professed by Murray N. Rothbard) all industries are left up to private ownership and operation, including public goods, and no central government authority provides regulation or supervision of economic activity in general.
The standard spectrum of economic systems places laissez-faire capitalism at one extreme and a complete planned economy—such as communism—at the other. Everything in the middle could be said to be a mixed economy. The mixed economy has elements of both central planning and unplanned private business.
By this definition, nearly every country in the world has a mixed economy, but contemporary mixed economies range in their levels of government intervention. The U.S. and the U.K. have a relatively pure type of capitalism with a minimum of federal regulation in financial and labor markets—sometimes known as Anglo-Saxon capitalism—while Canada and the Nordic countries have created a balance between socialism and capitalism.
Many European nations practice welfare capitalism, a system that is concerned with the social welfare of the worker, and includes such policies as state pensions, universal healthcare, collective bargaining, and industrial safety codes.
Crony CapitalismCrony capitalism refers to a capitalist society that is based on the close relationships between business people and the state. Instead of success being determined by a free market and the rule of law, the success of a business is dependent on the favoritism that is shown to it by the government in the form of tax breaks, government grants, and other incentives.
In practice, this is the dominant form of capitalism worldwide due to the powerful incentives both faced by governments to extract resources by taxing, regulating, and fostering rent-seeking activity, and those faced by capitalist businesses to increase profits by obtaining subsidies, limiting competition, and erecting barriers to entry. In effect, these forces represent a kind of supply and demand for government intervention in the economy, which arises from the economic system itself.
Crony capitalism is widely blamed for a range of social and economic woes. Both socialists and capitalists blame each other for the rise of crony capitalism. Socialists believe that crony capitalism is the inevitable result of pure capitalism. On the other hand, capitalists believe that crony capitalism arises from the need of socialist governments to control the economy.
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Today, Korus and Nafta have been replaced by updated agreements(one not yet ratified) that look much like the originals. South Korea accepted quotas on steel. Mexico and Canada agreed to higher wages, North American content requirements and quotas for autos. Furthermore, the article points out Douglas Irwin, an economist and trade historian at Dartmouth College, calls these results the “status quo with Trumpian tweaks: a little more managed trade sprinkled about for favored industries. It’s not good, but it’s not the destruction of the system.” Mr. Trump’s actions so far affect only 12% of U.S. imports, according to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. In 1984, 21% of imports were covered by similar restraints, many imposed by Mr. Reagan, such as on cars, steel, motorcycles and clothing. Protectionist instincts go so far in the US, there are strong lobby groups for both protectionist and freetrade in the US.The second reflects a emerging rivalry between the US and China. Undo some of the integration that followed China accession to the WTO. Two questions 1) How far is the US willing to decouple with China 2) Can it persuade allies to join.
The second is going to be difficult because China's economic ties are greater than they were between the Soviets, and China isn't waging an ideological struggle. Trump lacks Reagan commitment to alliance and free trade. The status quo with China is crumbling Dan Sullivan, a Republican senator from Alaska, personifies these broader forces reshaping the U.S. approach to the world. When Mr. Xi visited the U.S. in 2015, Mr. Sullivan urged his colleagues to pay more attention to China’s rise. On the Senate floor, he quoted the political scientist Graham Allison: “War between the U.S. and China is more likely than recognized at the moment.” Last spring, Mr. Sullivan went to China and met officials including Vice President Wang Qishan. They seemed to think tensions with the U.S. will fade after Mr. Trump leaves the scene, Mr. Sullivan recalled. “I just said, ‘You are completely misreading this.’” The mistrust, he told them, is bipartisan, and will outlast Mr. Trump. both Bush II and Obama tried to change dialogue and engagement, but by the end of his term, Obama was questioning the approach. Trump has declared engagement. “We don’t like it when our allies steal our ideas either, but it’s a much less dangerous situation,” said Derek Scissors, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute whose views align with the administration’s more hawkish officials. “We’re not worried about the war-fighting capability of Japan and Korea because they’re our friends.”The article also points out unlike George Kennan in 1946 who made a case for containing the Soviet Union, the US hasn't explicitly made a case for containing the Soviets, Trump's administration hasn't, because as the the article explains its divided Michael Pillsbury a Hudson Institute scholar close to the Trump team, see 3 scenarios
I guess my prescription, really, is to move back to more of a negotiating kind of a settlement. Return to WTO and what it really was meant to be. Something where you have somebody make a decision but have it not be binding.The US is using financial and legal instruments developed during the Cold War like its extradition treaties (with Canada and Europe), and Section 301. Here is a very good recent article about enforcement commitment that China will make.‘Painful’ enforcement ahead for China if trade war deal is reached with US insisting on unilateral terms
As part of a deal, China is pledging to help level the playing field, including speeding up the timetable for removing foreign-ownership limitations on car ventures and reducing tariffs on imported vehicles to below the current auto tariff of 15%. Beijing would also step up purchases of U.S. goods—a tactic designed to appeal to President Trump, who campaigned on closing the bilateral trade deficit with China. One of the sweeteners would be an $18 billion natural-gas purchase from Cheniere Energy Inc., people familiar with the transaction said.The second part will involve the following.
This question is all the more puzzling because the scope and depth of demands placed on entrants into the formal international trading system have increased substantially since the formal conclusion of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations in 1994, which expanded the agenda considerably by covering many services, agriculture, intellectual property, and certain aspects of foreign direct investment. Since 1994, the international community has added agreements covering information technology, basic telecommunications services, and financial services. WTO membership now entails liberalization of a much broader range of domestic economic activity, including areas that traditionally have been regarded by most countries as among the most sensitive, than was required of countries entering the WTO’s predecessor organization the GATT.What are the WTO commitments Barshefsky goes on about? When countries join the WTO, particularly those countries that weren't members of GATT and joined after 1997, they have to work toward fulfilling certain commitments. There are 4 key documents when countries make an accession to WTO membership, the working party report, the accession protocol paper, the goods schedule and service schedule.
The terms of China’s protocol of accession to the World Trade Organization reflect the developments just described and more. China’s market access commitments are much more far-reaching than those that governed the accession of countries only a decade ago. And, as a condition for membership, China was required to make protocol commitments that substantially exceed those made by any other member of the World Trade Organization, including those that have joined since 1995. The broader and deeper commitments China has made inevitably will entail substantial short-term economic costs.
According to the survey, 39 percent of the country views China’s growing power as a “critical threat” to Americans. That ranked it only eighth among 12 potential threats listed and placed China well behind the perceived threats from international terrorism (66 percent), North Korea’s nuclear program (59 percent) and Iran’s nuclear program (52 percent). It’s also considerably lower than when the same question was asked during the 1990s, when more than half of those polled listed China as a critical threat. That broadly tracks with a recent poll from the Pew Research Center that found concern about U.S.-China economic issues had decreased since 2012.In looking at how US conducts relations foreign policy with China, we should look at it from the three areas of most concern - economic, national security and ideology. Each sphere has their interest groups, and sometimes groups can occupy two spheres at once. Security experts are concerned with some aspects of China's economic actions like IP theft and industrial policy (China 2025), because they are related to security. In these sphere there are your hawks and dove. And each sphere is dominated by certain interest groups. That is why US policy toward China can often appear contradictory. You have Trump want to reduce the trade deficit, but security experts advocating for restrictions on dual use technology who are buttressed by people who want export restrictions on China, as a way of getting market access.
Trade with China has hurt some American workers. And they have expressed their grievances at the ballot box.What is interesting about Paulson's speech is he spend only one sentence about displaced US workers, and a whole paragraph about US business operating in China. While Kissinger writes books about China, how much does he contribute to both Democrats and the Republicans during the election cycle? China is increasingly makING it more difficult for US companies operating and those exporting products to China.
So while many attribute this shift to the Trump Administration, I do not. What we are now seeing will likely endure for some time within the American policy establishment. China is viewed—by a growing consensus—not just as a strategic challenge to the United States but as a country whose rise has come at America’s expense. In this environment, it would be helpful if the US-China relationship had more advocates. That it does not reflects another failure:
In large part because China has been slow to open its economy since it joined the WTO, the American business community has turned from advocate to skeptic and even opponent of past US policies toward China. American business doesn’t want a tariff war but it does want a more aggressive approach from our government. How can it be that those who know China best, work there, do business there, make money there, and have advocated for productive relations in the past, are among those now arguing for more confrontation? The answer lies in the story of stalled competition policy, and the slow pace of opening, over nearly two decades. This has discouraged and fragmented the American business community. And it has reinforced the negative attitudinal shift among our political and expert classes. In short, even though many American businesses continue to prosper in China, a growing number of firms have given up hope that the playing field will ever be level. Some have accepted the Faustian bargain of maximizing today’s earnings per share while operating under restrictions that jeopardize their future competitiveness. But that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. Nor does it mean they aren’t acutely aware of the risks — or thinking harder than ever before about how to diversify their risks away from, and beyond, China.
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