Capitalism is an economic and social system, the main attributes of which are:
The shaping of the globe into a single, coherent system built on exploitation is the direct consequence of the pursuit of the valorization of capital. The current catastrophic state of the world system is a product of both the exigencies of the idealization of capital and the degrees of resistance to it encountered or engendered in the course of the history of the modern period. Since its inception, the capitalist system has combined the pursuit of capitalism with unrestrained geographical expansion. It is this physical, and, where deemed necessary, militarily aggressive, conquest that has given capitalism its world-wide systemic character.
In its process of development, monopoly capitalism evolves into state monopoly capitalism, which is characterized by the interlocking of the financial oligarchy with the upper echelons of the bureaucracy, the increased role of the state in all spheres of social life, the growth of the state sector in the economy, and increasingly active policies aimed at mitigating the socioeconomic contradictions of capitalism. When associated with imperialism, this engenders a profound crisis in bourgeois democracy, an intensification of reactionary tendencies, and the increased role of force in domestic and foreign policy. It is inseparable from the growth of militarism and military expenditures, the arms race, and tendencies towards the unleashing of aggressive wars.
At the national level, the tendency of competitive capitalism to reduce competition has been countered by anti-trust laws. The tendency to exploit labour has been constrained by regulation of working conditions. The tendency to exclude has been constrained by social welfare programmes. The tendency to deceive has been constrained by advertising laws and consumer protection legislation. The tendency to externalize environmental costs has been constrained by environmental protection regulations. But these achievements at the national level are increasingly undermined by the globalization of of competitive capitalism through which these same problems are now bypassing national constraints and re-emerging at the global level.
The capitalist world-system is not confined to those parts of the globe which can formally be designated as the capitalist countries. Some observers see the existing socialist countries as part of the capitalist world-system to the extent either that their internal organization follows capitalist criteria of efficiency and/or they participate in the world economy on terms set by capitalist competition and the law of value. In this sense they are not only victims of those ominous military, ecological and social developments and threats propelled by the dictates of capitalist accumulation, but they also bear their due proportion of responsibility for hampering social transformation. The deterioration of the conditions under which the mass of the population has to live in many areas of the world, the increase in conflicts between and within countries, the intensification of the world economic crisis, are demonstrating that unequal and uneven development, with all the forms of immiseration and alienation which it creates, cannot be surmounted within the capitalist world-system. The extent of the problem has been highlighted within the USA itself by a report from a conference of Catholic bishops stating that the distribution of income and wealth in the USA is so inequitable that it violates minimum standards of distributive justice. In 1982 the richest 20% of Americans received more income than the bottom 70% combined.
Capitalism emphasizes limitless increases in consumption and waste, disregard for the poor, and indifference to any concept of appropriate development. The capitalist system is under severe attack from victims of inequality, alienation, racism, sexism, irrationality, and imperialism, who are struggling to free themselves from oppression and are learning that capitalism is one of their main enemies. The very existence of such challenges proves that capitalism is neither a smoothly operating system nor a system unsusceptible to change. The histories of capitalist systems give numerous instances of resistance from those whom capitalism has sought to subordinate. Often this resistance has been overcome only through the use of violence and coercion. The apparent vitality of capitalist economies is illusory in that it obscures recognition of the progressive devitalization of those sectors and countries on which that vitality depends for its resources.
Capitalism is intended to serve the unique goals and needs of individuals. Throughout the history of capitalism, that individual goal has usually been upward social mobility. Essential to the achievement of all the different personal goals is the individual freedom that capitalism provides in greater measure than any other system of economic organization.