Capitalism as a system developed incrementally from the 16th century in Europe, although capitalist-like organisations existed in the ancient world. Early aspects of merchant capitalism flourished during the Late Middle Ages.
Capitalism became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. Capitalism gradually spread throughout Europe, and in the 19th and 20th centuries, it provided the main means of industrialization throughout much of the world.
Variants on capitalism may include, depending on the theorist, such concepts as anarcho-capitalism, corporate capitalism, crony capitalism, finance capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, techno capitalism, Neo-Capitalism, late capitalism, post-capitalism, state capitalism and state monopoly capitalism.
There are also anti-capitalist movements and ideologies including Anti-capitalism and negative associations with the system such as tragedy of the commons, corporatism and wage slavery.
There is no consensus on the definition of capitalism, nor how it should be used as an analytical category. There are a variety of historical cases over which it is applied, varying in time, geography, politics and culture. Economists, political economists and historians have taken different perspectives on the analysis of capitalism.
Scholars in the social sciences, including historians, economic sociologists, economists, anthropologists and philosophers have debated over how to define capitalism; however there is little controversy that private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit in a market, and prices and wages are elements of capitalism.
Economists usually put emphasis on the market medievalism; degree of government does not have control over markets (laissez faire), and property rights, while most political economists emphasize private property, power relations, wage labour, and class.
There is a general agreement that capitalism encourages economic growth. The extent, to which different markets are "free", as well as the rules determining what may and may not be private property, is a matter of politics and policy and many states have what are termed "mixed economies."
Criticism: Notable critics of capitalism have included: socialists, anarchists, communists, technocrats, and some types of conservatives, Luddites, Narodniks, Shakers and some types of nationalists.
Marxists advocated a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism that would lead to socialism, before eventually transforming into communism. Marxism influenced social democratic and labour parties, as well as some moderate democratic socialists. Many aspects of capitalism have come under attack from the anti globalisation movement, which is primarily opposed to corporate capitalism.
Many religions have criticized or opposed specific elements of capitalism. Traditional Judaism, Christianity, and Islam forbid lending money at interest, although methods of banking have been developed in all three cases, and adherents to all three religions are allowed to lend to those outside of their religion Christianity has been a source of praise for capitalism, as well as criticism of it,' particularly for its materialist aspects.
Indian philosopher P.R. Sarkar, founder of the Ananda Marga movement, developed the Law of Social Cycle to identify the problems of capitalism.
Critics argue that capitalism is associated with the unfair distribution of wealth and power; a tendency toward market monopoly or oligopoly (and government by oligarchy); imperialism, counter-revolutionary wars and various forms of economic and cultural exploitation; repression of workers and trade unionists, and phenomena such as social alienation, economic inequality, unemployment, and economic instability.
Capitalism is regarded by many socialists be irrational in that production and the directions of the economy are unplanned, creating many inconsistencies and internal contradictions.
Environmentalists have argued that capitalism requires continual economic growth, and will inevitably deplete the finite natural resources of the earth, and other broadly utilized resources. Labour historians and scholars, such as Immanuel Wallerstein have argued that unfree labour-by slaves, indentured servants, prisoners, and other coerced persons-is compatible with capitalist relations.