Capitalism & Globalization

Capitalism & Globalization



Capitalism, also known as the free-enterprise or free-market system, is the economic structure that permits people to use their private property however they see fit, with minimal interference from the government. Under capitalism, people are free to work at jobs of their own choosing, to try to sell their products or services at whatever prices they wish, and to select from among various product- and service-providers for the best value.

In “managed” socialist or communist economies, by contrast, central governmental authorities exercise much greater control over the life of the people. These authorities may determine, for instance, what jobs people are permitted to have; what the prices for various goods and services should be; and what the nation’s import and export quotas should be. In the socialist/communist economic model, private-property ownership is severely restricted; the state confiscates virtually everything, ostensibly for the benefit of “the people.” Such a system invariably involves the wholesale redistribution of wealth, overseen and enforced entirely by government bureaucrats.

It should be noted that “pure” capitalism, unencumbered in any way by government, exists neither in the United States nor anywhere else in the world. Moreover, the capitalist system of present-day America differs in significant ways from other capitalist systems around the globe, just as it differs from the capitalism that existed in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century. While private-property rights and certain amounts of economic freedom have always been part of American life since that time, those rights and freedoms have become increasingly weighted down by heavy governmental regulation.

Critics of capitalism believe it is imprudent to allow an unregulated market to run its course, and to permit private citizens to make their own economic decisions based on self-interest. Asserting that such systems are inherently chaotic and inefficient, these critics propose that government regulators and bureaucrats — “experts” presumably unencumbered by the greed or the impulse for self-interest that motivates private citizens — should be empowered to “manage” economies authoritatively. In response to these positions, the Ludwig von Mises Institute scholar Robert P. Murphy writes:

“This view is flawed in two major respects. First it is impossible for a central authority to plan an economy. New technologies (if entrepreneurs have freedom to create new technologies), changes in consumer taste (if consumers have freedom to pursue their tastes), and innumerable variables that can affect production, distribution, and consumption of everything from newspapers to lawnmowers on national or international scale are simply not ‘manageable’ in the way socialist planners like to think they are. Second, the planning bias completely misunderstands the role of profit and loss in a market economy. Far from being arbitrary, a company’s ‘bottom line’ indicates whether an entrepreneur is doing what makes sense: if his product is one that people want and if he is using his resources in the best possible way.”

Perhaps the most common objection to capitalism is the Marxist claim that it exploits the poor in order to serve the interests of the rich. History shows, however, that this is precisely the antithesis of the truth. In pre-capitalist, medieval Europe, for example, most people either toiled in the fields to which they were bound or they worked at crafts that were heavily regulated by various guilds. The aristocracy, meanwhile, acquired a virtual monopoly on luxury goods.

The rise of modern capitalism changed all this. The fortunes of the big businessmen who emerged under capitalism no longer depended upon the patronage of a few wealthy clients. Rather, these entrepreneurs began catering to the needs and desires of a newly empowered working class consisting of millions of people. By meeting those needs and desires, businessmen greatly increased their own wealth and influence. In the first days of the Industrial Revolution, workers were abused. Yet they organized into unions that protected their interests and changed capitalism itself, pressuring it to evolve from its early exploitative model to a more humane one. As a result, capitalism helped improve the lives of people in every social stratum. For example, the transition into the capitalist era brought a dramatic decrease in infant-mortality rates and a significant rise in life expectancy. Moreover, the average blue-collar worker under capitalism was far wealthier than the “bosses” of socialist economies.

After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, communist true-believers expected that their system would offer the average person a better standard of living than capitalism ever could. But the working classes in the United States lived far better under capitalism than their counterparts in the Soviet Union under communism, most of whom were subjected to impotence and immiseration. Wherever communism was tried, it resulted not only in economic deprivation but also in political tyranny and oppression. Moreover, it brought about an immense wealth disparity between the common people on the one hand, and government authorities and their bureaucratic operatives (the nomenklatura) on the other.

Notwithstanding this historical track record, modern-day Western intellectual elites continue to despise capitalism, blaming it for virtually every social ill that can be identified. Indeed, feminists blame capitalism for the inequitable treatment to which women were historically subjected. Civil rights leaders blame capitalism for having created the psychological conditions and the economic incentives that made the slave trade and racial discrimination possible. Environmentalists blame free-market industrial pursuits for poisoning the air and water, and for triggering the “climate change” that allegedly threatens the well-being of every form of life on earth. Peace activists blame war on greedy capitalists and their insatiable thirst for wealth and empire. Consumer-advocacy groups allege that capitalism encourages business to put “profits over people,” and thus to be inattentive to the needs and the safety of consumers. And moralists decry the commercialization associated with capitalism.


Globalization refers to the worldwide phenomenon of increased technological, economic, and cultural interconnectedness between nations. It is essentially capitalism on a global, rather than a national, scale. In a globalized economy, economic activity is unrestricted by time zones or national boundaries. There is an international exchange of labor forces, ideas, knowledge, products, and services. This trend has accelerated dramatically since the 1980s, as technological advances (most notably the rise of the Internet and advances in telecommunications infrastructure) have made it easier for people to travel, communicate, and do business internationally.

The expansion of international trade and foreign investment was sparked not only by technological progress, but also by two major sociopolitical developments of the 1980s. One of these was the collapse of global communism. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet empire freed some 400 million people from the shackles of closed, centrally commanded economic systems. The second development was the demise of the Third World’s reliance upon import substitution — a trade and economic policy founded on the idea that a developing country can increase its wealth by importing as few goods as possible and relying instead on locally produced substitutes. When import substitution proved to be a colossal failure, struggling countries all over the world — starting with Chile in the mid-1970s and China later that decade — began opening their markets and welcoming foreign investment.

Opponents of globalization characterize the phenomenon as a form of Western expansionism and cultural imperialism, claiming that it will merely increase the opportunities for wealthier nations (and their multinational corporations) to take advantage of poorer ones. This happens, the critics say, because multinational corporations can exploit the cheap labor and lax regulations typical of developing countries where there are no labor unions. Believing, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that a planned economy ensures the greatest economic benefit to the poor, the anti-globalization movement tends to favor socialism over capitalism. It also warns that globalization could eradicate regional diversity and lead to a homogenized world culture where “native” cultures are swallowed up by Western traditions.

Supporters of globalization respond by pointing out that since the 1980s, every nation that has experienced an increase in its manufacturing output has also seen its per capita income rise; that nations open to trade tend to be much more prosperous than nations with closed economies; and that the increased wages spawned by globalization correlate with reduced poverty and improved living conditions for all. The most impressive gains in this regard have been realized in East Asia.

Advocates of globalization also assert that free trade, by raising a society’s general standard of living, helps people achieve higher levels of education, thereby fostering the growth of a larger and more independent-minded middle class that can lead a movement toward more representative forms of government. Examples of such developments can be seen in Taiwan and South Korea, which were essentially dictatorships as recently as the 1980s but are now governed by presidents and elected legislatures, and are now characterized by civil-liberties protections and free political debate. Likewise, the movement toward economic liberalization in Latin America has helped usher in an era of representative governments in that region.

The two most prominent pro-globalization entities today are the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum. The former, consisting of 144 members, was created to establish a set of rules to govern global trade through the process of member consensus. The latter is a private foundation that does not possess decision-making power but is a powerful networking forum for many of the world’s business, government, and not-profit leaders.

* Major resource for the Capitalism section: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, by Robert P. Murphy (Washington, DC: 2007).

Additional Resources:

The Capitalist Manifesto
By Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler

In Praise of the Capitalist 1 Percent
By George Reisman
October 21, 2011

Markets, Governments, and the Common Good
By Walter E. Williams

Capital, Capitalists and Capitalism
(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 6)
By Mark Hendrickson
August 6, 2013

The Moral Case for Capitalism
By Sydney Williams
July 31, 2012

An Audacious Promise: The Moral Case for Capitalism
By James R. Otteson
May 2012

Why Capitalism Works
By Russell S. Sobel and Peter T. Leeson

Teaching the Benefits of Capitalism
By Roger B. Butters

The Moral Basis for Economic Liberty
By Robert Sirico
July 13, 2010

In Defense of Capitalism
By Vasko Kohlmayer
September 18, 2009

The Evils of Capitalism
By Roger Kimball
January 14, 2014

Why Capitalism Is Morally Superior to Other Systems
By Walter E. Williams
December 11, 2019

Does Capitalism Make Us More Materialistic?
By Ben O’Neill
September 10, 2007

Why Socialism Is on the Rise
By Ben Shapiro
January 8, 2014

The Pope and Capitalism
By Walter E. Williams
December 17, 2013

Economics Does Not Lie
By Guy Sorman
Summer 2008

Plunder or Enterprise: The World’s Choice
By Thomas Woods
May 18, 2007

Growth Is Good for the Poor
By David Dollar and Aart Kraay
March 2000

Why Is Capitalism So Unpopular?
By Art Carden
September 7, 2009

Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?
By Robert Nozick
January/February 1998

Capitalism and Human Nature
By Will Wilkinson
January/February 2005

Global Capitalism Saves the Children
By Rich Lowry
September 20, 2007

The Case for the Market’s Morality
By Rupert Murdoch
April 21, 2013

What Is a Capitalist?
By Jonathon Moseley
December 8, 2013

Lying Propaganda
By Walter Williams
September 23, 2009

World Poverty
By Walter Williams
February 7, 2007

The Profit Police: Make the Left Do Their Math and Show Their Work
By Kevin D. Williamson
June 30, 2014


Globalization and Culture
Cato Policy Report
May/June 2003

Ten Myths About Globalization
By Richard D. McCormick
September 28, 2000


A Moral Case for Capitalism
By Prager University
March 4, 2024

Myths, Lies, and Capitalism
By Prager University

Why Capitalism Works
By Prager University
March 2014

Why Private Investment Works & Government Investment Doesn’t
By Prager University
April 25, 2016

Is Capitalism Humane?
By Milton Friedman

Profits Are Progressive
By Walter E. Williams
April 2015

Is Capitalism Moral?
By Walter E. Williams
September 2015

Private Sector vs. Public Sector
By Prager University
July 8, 2016

Is Capitalism Evil?
By Dennis Prager
December 3, 2020

Milton Friedman: Free to Choose (10-part series)
Kitman TV

Milton Friedman on Capitalism and Poverty

Milton Friedman on Greed

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