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Aperçu du corrigé : Capitalism.



Publié le : 10/5/2013 -Format: Document en format HTML protégé

Capitalism.
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Capitalism.
I

INTRODUCTION

Capitalism, economic system in which private individuals and business firms carry on the production and exchange of goods and services through a complex network of
prices and markets. Although rooted in antiquity, capitalism is primarily European in its origins; it evolved through a number of stages, reaching its zenith in the 19th
century. From Europe, and especially from England, capitalism spread throughout the world, largely unchallenged as the dominant economic and social system until
World War I (1914-1918) ushered in modern communism (or Marxism) as a vigorous and hostile competing system.
The term capitalism was first introduced in the mid-19th century by Karl Marx, the founder of communism. Free enterprise and market system are terms also
frequently employed to describe modern non-Communist economies. Sometimes the term mixed economy is used to designate the kind of economic system most often
found in Western nations.
The individual who comes closest to being the originator of contemporary capitalism is the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, who first set forth the essential economic
principles that undergird this system. In his classic An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith sought to show how it was possible to
pursue private gain in ways that would further not just the interests of the individual but those of society as a whole. Society's interests are met by maximum
production of the things that people want. In a now famous phrase, Smith said that the combination of self-interest, private property, and competition among sellers in
markets will lead producers "as by an invisible hand" to an end that they did not intend, namely, the well-being of society.

II

CHARACTERISTICS OF CAPITALISM

Throughout its history, but especially during its ascendency in the 19th century, capitalism has had certain key characteristics. First, basic production facilities--land and
capital--are privately owned. Capital in this sense means the buildings, machines, and other equipment used to produce goods and services that are ultimately
consumed. Second, economic activity is organized and coordinated through the interaction of buyers and sellers (or producers) in markets. Third, owners of land and
capital as well as the workers they employ are free to pursue their own self-interests in seeking maximum gain from the use of their resources and labor in production.
Consumers are free to spend their incomes in ways that they believe will yield the greatest satisfaction. This principle, called consumer sovereignty, reflects the idea
that under capitalism producers will be forced by competition to use their resources in ways that will best satisfy the wants of consumers. Self-interest and the pursuit
of gain lead them to do this. Fourth, under this system a minimum of government supervision is required; if competition is present, economic activity will be selfregulating. Government will be necessary only to protect society from foreign attack, uphold the rights of private property, and guarantee contracts. This 19th-century
view of government's role in the capitalist system was significantly modified by ideas and events of the 20th century.

III

ORIGINS

Merchants and trade are as old as civilization itself, but capitalism as a coherent economic system had its origins in Europe in the 13th century, toward the close of the
feudal era. Human beings, Adam Smith said, have always had a propensity to "truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another." This inclination toward trade and
exchange was rekindled and stimulated by the series of Crusades that absorbed the energies of much of Europe from the 11th through the 13th centuries. The voyages
of discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries gave further impetus to business and trade, especially following the vast flood of precious metals that poured into Europe
after the discovery and conquest of the New World. The economic order that emerged from these events was essentially commercial or mercantile; that is, its central
focus remained on the exchange of goods rather than on their production. Emphasis on production did not come until the rise of industrialism in the 19th century.
Before that time, however, an important figure in the capitalistic system began to emerge: the entrepreneur, or risk taker. A key element in capitalism is the
undertaking of activity in the expectation that it will yield gain in the future. Because the future is unknown, both the risk of loss and the possibility of gain always exist.
The assumption of risk involves the specialized role of the entrepreneur.
The thrust toward capitalism from the 13th century onward was furthered by the forces of the Renaissance and the Reformation. These momentous developments
changed society enormously and paved the way for the emergence of the modern nation-state, which eventually provided the essential peace, law, and order crucial for
the growth of capitalism. This growth is achieved through the accumulation of an economic surplus by the private entrepreneur and the plowing of this surplus back into
the system for further expansion. Without some minimum of peace, stability, and continuity this process cannot continue.

IV

MERCANTILISM

From the 15th to the 18th century, when the modern nation-state was being born, capitalism not only took on a commercial flavor but also developed in another special
direction known as mercantilism. This peculiar form of capitalism attained its highest level in England.
The mercantilist system rested on private property and the use of markets for the basic organization of economic activity. Unlike the capitalism of Adam Smith, the
fundamental focus of mercantilism was on the self-interest of the sovereign (that is, the state), and not the self-interest of the individual owners of economic resources.
In the mercantilist era, the basic purpose of economic policy was to strengthen the national state and to further its aims. To this end the government exercised much
control over production, exchange, and consumption.
The most distinctive feature of mercantilism was the state's preoccupation with accumulating national wealth in the form of gold and silver. Because most nations did not
have a natural abundance of such precious metals, the best way to acquire them was through trade. This meant striving for a favorable trade balance--that is, a
surplus of exports over import...


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