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OverviewEarly Advocates, Foes, Origins, Globalization, Bibliography

Capitalism has been the dominant economic system in the West since the nineteenth century and has increasingly spread across the globe. Characterized by unfettered markets in labor and natural resources, commodity production, and the reinvestment of profit, capitalism must be distinguished from other forms of commercial society that existed in early times or outside of the West, in which market-oriented activity remained ultimately subservient to political or moral goals. (Examples of such non-capitalist market society include the so-called mercantilism that preceded full-fledged capitalism in Europe and the city-state empires of the ancient Mediterranean world, which actively engaged in commerce yet did not generate capitalist socioeconomic relations.) Throughout its history—even before it took root—capitalism was a controversial idea that posed serious issues for philosophers, moralists, and social scientists alike.

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