Home > Book Summary, Quote/Snapshot > Martha Howell: Commerce before Capitalism (Definition of Capitalism)

Martha Howell: Commerce before Capitalism (Definition of Capitalism)

Interesting definition of Capitalism here. Not market production, or trade in a market, that has been present historically since the first human societies. That is to say the market is not what is unique about capitalism, every culture has had market exchange, “take surplus from production and trade it” via a third unit of measure like money. So it is not money either. Capitalism is not market production. People who live by buying and selling or negotiate for people who want to buy and sell are not capitalists, that is not unique to any period of life. There were always active markets and traders. So maybe we should stop using capitalism. Rather in a Marxist sense Capitalism is an attitude, which is production for the purpose of procuring a surplus. C-m-C’ basically. Note the focus on production rather than trade, the industrialist rather than the merchant. “people produce for sale” is the central definition of capitalism. People make things in order to sell them. This is an interesting definition of capitalism that relies on the way people relate to their own labor and the products of that labor. They don’t care what they make, only what they can make to sell. The object is to sell, to make a profit. Howell further says that people are compelled to invest most of the profits in production and the sociopolitical infrastructure that allows them to keep and expand that money. The object of production becomes making more money. It is a world of a certain logic which governs production. Peasants and subsistence agriculturalists and artisans are not capitalists. Ofcourse they go to market, but the purpose is not to produce surplus and profit. Obviously this is an ideal type of Capitalism, even today no one really only produces to profit more and they often spend on personal expenses or for non-profit reasons. But still as an ideal type, this is the logic of capitalism.

Not that the logic of pre-capitalist was irrational, it was a different rationality, The ends were different. The values were different. The relation to property was different. Not everything was for sale. (Almost sounds like Heidegger’s instrumental logic). Relations to land even in Europe were communal, everything on the land was owned in common by a family, or many people who could claim revenue of that land. Because land produces profit perpetually. Land is pretty much priceless.

Capitalism emerges when people start acting by the profit motive.

Moveable objects volatile, can be destroyed or make you a lot of money (like a ship).



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