I was given an English task in which the teacher has asked us to do a presentation/speech on Capitalism. The thing is he didn't specify which aspects (historical, economical and the political) we should be focusing on as the concept is rather vague. Thus, I was wondering if anyone here could suggest some points that the presentation should contain (we'll be using slides), and some references (movies, books and videos) so as to enlighten the class more on the concept with simple ideas. Thanks in advance.

PS: I don't study history nor economics nor politics, so the presentation will be just for general culture.

  • $\begingroup$ This is rather vague and overall I think this is more of a political science question $\endgroup$ – Pedro Cavalcante Feb 18 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question, partly because it's very broad and partly because we have a policy regarding homework questions where we require that you show some work before an answer is provided. More on this topic here:economics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1465/…. $\endgroup$ – Adam Bailey Feb 18 at 11:21

Capitalism is a system where the owners of capital can voluntarily choose to put make their resources available for the production of goods and services. If I own a car, I could put it to use as an Uber driver, but I do not have to do so. In the simplest capitalist system, the owners of capital control the means of production.

Its extreme opposite is a communist system where the workers own and control the means of production. For that to work, however, there cannot be any private property. Otherwise, you would have to steal a car to be an Uber driver. There are cars, but no private ones. The production exists at the control of society.

The first problem with capitalism, in its simplest form, is that owners are, essentially, small kings and queens or maybe dictators. Unlike a democratic government where people vote, the owners can command the workers or take away their employment. They do not own their jobs and have no property rights to their jobs. Unlike a union representative who is elected by the workers, managers are appointed without democratic control.

The balance of this system tends to be unions. That gives workers the power to own, to a limited degree, their job. The German system mandates that all workplaces must be unionized and that all corporate board of directors appoint a minority of directors from the non-manager workers. There are also employee-owned businesses in the United States.

The second problem with capitalism is the misproduction of public goods and the presence of external costs. Certain types of goods will be produced in the wrong amount in a free market. For private goods such as green beans, this is not a problem. However, for certain types of public goods or quasi-goods such as roads, police protection, healthcare, and education a market system is inefficient.

The other issue is when there are external costs. An external cost happens when a third party has to pay the costs created by a transaction between two other parties. Pollution is a good example of this.

Now, if capitalism sounds bad, communism is worse, even in its simplest case.

The fatal problem with communism is that there is no private property, so prices do not mean anything. Prices in a capitalistic system represent the change in the relative scarcity of a good. They allow people to reallocate their purchases for their budgets without needing a complex, wasteful and costly information system. For a private good, such as green beans, prices contain all the information about the relative scarcity and the relative desirability of the product. It impounds all the public information about the desirability and scarcity of the good and all of the private information that people wouldn't voluntarily provide.

Condoms are a good example. If everyone had to broadcast their condom preferences and uses then condom use would decline. The public information about condoms would imply that we need very few. The private information would imply we need a lot. If there is a sudden surge of purchases, then prices will increase, and people will change their behavior in response to this.

In a communist system, someone has to work out from only public information on how many items to produce of every type and quality. Furthermore, they have to work out all of the needed ingredients in the correct proportion. If two things require steel, then the amount of steel necessary has to be mined, refined and milled first. That takes tremendous planning. The average grocery store carries 35,000 distinct items.

How do you account for the unexpected in such a system such as a fish harvest that was less than planned? For canned tuna, you will now need less aluminum, but you have to have a way to instantly convey that knowledge. For an excess harvest, you will either need more aluminum or refrigeration facilities. Prices can change instantly. If a fish harvest starts to come in heavy and they try to order additional aluminum cans, then the prices of the can will start to go up. The price of fish will fall, but the price of cans will go up. This will affect soda sales, which will affect chemical and water sales and so forth. Pretty quickly the entire planet's prices adjust.

These tend to generate two different cultures. Capitalism injects a form of class system of owners and workers. Some individuals can gain great power. After all, owners of systems can decide the rules for those who use it. This has become obvious with Facebook or Google. They can choose what you see, how you see it and control what you believe to be true. People aspire to be owners and may look down upon workers.

A McDonald's worker provides you with sustenance. The food is really good. It isn't as good as you may get at a restaurant run by Gordon Ramsey, but it is good. Why is that worker less than Jeff Bezos? How does the person who provides you with food have less dignity? How is one human worth less than another?

Communism, in its best case, creates a lot of waste and provides no incentive to work hard. It is simply too difficult to determine what to build, in what quantities and at what qualities. Furthermore, since no one owns anything you cannot get ahead. Working hard gets you the same thing as working little. In the worst case, it requires violence to get output as well as corruption. How can I make you work hard, I can not provide your family with enough food or I can make you vanish forever.

Socialism isn't the middle of the two. It's a third case. It also isn't well defined. Someone like Bernie Sanders or AOC wouldn't be considered socialists in Europe; they would be considered conservatives.

Socialism can mean the government owning some industries, but not generally all. It has private property, but the government can compete against its citizens in some industries. In the United States, for example, the mortgage industry is heavily controlled by government-created entities such as Fannie Mae or Ginne Mae. These were originally federal agencies. The original agency was created because there were massive foreclosures in process and the nation was on the verge of collapse. Sometimes, when capitalism fails, the taxpayer pays the price. Congress intended to disband the agency when it was no longer necessary, but powerful interests kept its existence by privatizing it and selling shares to private owners subject to very strong Congressional control.

Socialist societies currently have higher standards of living than those of US citizens. It is 4x more likely to become a millionaire in Denmark than in America. In European societies, it has created a system where people are entitled to vacations, sick time, child care and health care. There is a question as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I would make two suggestions. First, go to a library and visit a reference librarian. They will be able to get you good citations and articles on the cultural effects of these systems. There are a ton of good books on communism, capitalism, and socialism. The second is to go to YouTube and watch videos on comparative economic systems.

Who owns and controls what determines what type of culture you can have. Think of just a hundred years ago when women couldn't generally own property in the US. What culture did that create? What about now when women are equal?

I have only touched the shallowest elements of this topic. You should watch a YouTube video on the Trabant. The iPhone could never happen in a communist country because it isn't necessary. The Trabant is a worst-case example of what happens, but although it is an extreme case it illustrates the culture it creates.

  • $\begingroup$ While this answer raises interesting points, it is very long, unstructured, blurs facts and opinions, treats Europe like a single country and contains factual mistakes like the claim that "McDonald's [...] food is really good." $\endgroup$ – Giskard Feb 18 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ "...they would be considered conservatives." The labels "liberal" and "conservative" take on the opposite meaning in Europe from in the US. So in that sense, being considered a conservative is the same as being considered a socialist. $\endgroup$ – Hans Feb 24 at 7:54

Search for 'Milton Friedman' on youtube, he was a nobel prize winning economist, probably the best advocate of capitalism, especially his Q&A's with college students are very entertaining and also very accessible.


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