# Is a small business owner without employees a capitalist?

If a man has a small business where he is the only employee or if he is self employed, that makes him a capitalist?

For example a freelance writer. Or a subsistence farmer that only produces enough to feed himself and his family. Or a subsistence farmer that makes a little income on top of feeding himself and his family. Is there an income threshold that makes them capitalist?

• from a historical' perspective, as long as there's private property and you're producing goods or services for a profit then you are a capitalist; there might be a matter of scale ie how big your capital is in relation to other capitals in the industry but as long as the motive is profit seeking then you're capitalist – user14471 Oct 24 '17 at 21:10
• @Joe Jobs, can you please define 'subsistance farmer'? – london Oct 25 '17 at 11:44
• @london - I've updated the question. I was thinking about the subsistence farming like in the Wikipedia definition of "Subsistence agriculture" – Joe Jobs Oct 25 '17 at 12:27
• @user43282 - If he is making only the profit necessary for feeding himself and to pay the bills (can't save money) then he is still a capitalist? – Joe Jobs Oct 25 '17 at 12:29
• @JoeJobs I tdon't think the being a 'capitalist' has to do with how much income one generates; the delineation between subsistence and perishing is similar to the distinction between a firm that makes or doesn't make profits; a firm that doesn't make profits is still a private enterprise albeit an not very successful one – user14471 Oct 25 '17 at 12:35

Freelance Writer: Yes.
Subsistence Farmer: No.

Capitalism is the use to the private sector to grow the economy.
This means that the private sector has to be producing a good or service that can be sold in the marketplace to benefit society.

Let us take a look at your examples.

A small business owner is, by definition, owning a business that is producing some good or service for which there is a market. One example would be a barber shop or a "mom and pop" restaurant. It does not matter if the venture is making millions of dollars or just making ends meet. It does not even matter if they are the only employee. The business is making a good or service that is demanded, and they are fulfilling that demand.

A freelance writer is also producing a good or service that is demanded by others. This could be written articles, books, essays, etc. or the service of taking notes and transcribing words. Again, it does not matter the payment received for this good or service or if the freelance writer is a loner.

However, the subsistence farmer is different. By definition, a subsistence farmer is only producing enough food to keep themselves alive; they are not producing any food to sell to anyone else. The farmer (presumably) has no other source of income and is forced to produce all other items on their own. So, although they are innovative, the subsistence farmer is not a capitalist.

• Thanks for this rational comment. Lots of other answers, with ideological motives, stating otherwise and making everything confusing. – AngelusVastator Sep 20 '20 at 1:40

(Bowing to peer pressure) According to original Marxist theory, no, he is not. Here, the defining characteristic of a capitalist is that he appropriates (as "profits") the surplus value that is created during the production process by other people's labor (capital does not produce surplus value).

Your freelancer or small business owner without employees appropriates only their own surplus value, created by their own labor. And it doesn't matter how large is their income, as long as they make it without employing other people as their employees.

According to some other theory? Well, somebody name the theory, and then we can clarify who is a capitalist and who is not, according to that other theory. Otherwise, it will be too much "personal opinion-based".

• I think limiting the definition to using "other people's labor" is far to extreme. A capitalist is simply someone who uses the "capital" they own to make more "capital" to own. The freelancer's capital is their skill and the tools they own which are used to create a product which they sell to bring in more capital for them to own. Thus, seems like a capitalist to me. I think the key tenets are "ownership" and "uses capital to make more capital" – Dunk Oct 24 '17 at 22:46
• @Dunk I provided the answer that the original marxist theory would give. But certainly anybody can re-define the content of the term "capitalist" in many plausible ways, and then apply it to infer who is capitalist and who is not. – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 24 '17 at 23:27
• @AlecosPapadopoulos, yes, the original marxist ideology was more about wage labour than other issues. But then, answering 'No' to OP's question is probably not appropriate here. You may want to edit your answer by providing a bit more context to your point? – london Oct 25 '17 at 11:46
• if the 'freelancer' does indeed appropriate his/her own labor (I'm not saying that he/she actually does or does not do so) why isn't it also the case that the 'small business owner' is similarly 'appropriating' his/her labor when personal labor is relevant for the business? – user14471 Oct 25 '17 at 13:28
• @Dunk This is why I prefer to stick with recognizable existing theoretical frameworks, at least as a starting point. Otherwise, the issue becomes a philosophical discussion on all things human, with everybody having a different premise. Usually a stimulating discussion, but not a Q&A activity. – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 25 '17 at 19:46

If I correctly remember it, the profit motive was an important factor in the definition, though, there are other characteristics of "capitalist" i.e. wage labour, free market agent, private property etc.

One definition I found useful is this:

A capitalist is, practically by definition, one who exalts capital, who emphasizes the importance of its holders, as against the workers, in the process of production.

You may want to read the rest here

• Fixed the problem – london Oct 24 '17 at 23:17
• Something like that. One definition I saw said a capitalist thought money $\to$ things $\to$ more money, while others thought things $\to$ money $\to$ different things, where "things" could include land, working time, goods, services, etc. – Henry Oct 25 '17 at 23:43