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.

1 comment:

Deaf_Dionysus said...

That does sound like a worthy subject matter to investigate. It does poses several questions regarding to the nature of “what is capitalism” in the mindset for the given time period. I am quite sure that you and I would agree that the Chickasaw and other Native American tribes have engaged trading with Europeans and Colonial Americans. I do acknowledge that more often than not goods have been bartered. I am sure that this can be considered the infancy of Capitalism. I can imagine that a Chickasaw would have in his or her minds that “I would need to acquire X number of fur to get this nifty European firearm or pots and pans.”

As for the wage-driven society, I am not quite sure. (I fully acknowledge that I do not have the expertise such as you) I do however would like to see what kind of answers or solutions to this particular problem would be.