Friday, January 28, 2011
So, Yeah, Capitalism
For my forthcoming research project on the economic culture of the Chickasaw Indians, I am trying to determine the extent to which that nation had developed a capitalist economy by the time of Removal (the late 1830s). The problem, of course, is that there is no simple, universally-accepted definition of capitalism. Does it refer simply to a market economy? A society that respects private property rights? A wage-labor economy? Widespread entrepreneurial activity? Devotion, avant la lettre, to the ideals of Ayn Rand? All of the above? I cannot say I have given the matter much thought since graduate school. Apparently, the time has come to do so. Therefore, I will shortly embark on a series of blog entries that will endeavor to define "capitalism," by looking at some of the principal social scientists who tried to do the same (Smith, Marx, Weber, Polanyi), along with several historians who have studied its early American variant (Allan Kulikoff, Joyce Appleby, Gordon Wood, and others). My findings will not be as rigorously presented as they would be in an academic article, but I hope my readers will find them edifying, or at least not too much of a death march.