Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Evolution of Capitalism: A Comparison of British and American Literature

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Evolution of Capitalism: A Comparison of British and American Literature

Article excerpt


In order to understand how capitalism has evolved over time, it is necessary to understand the origins of modern capitalism. The establishment of the mercantile system and the creation of a financial recording system were critical in the establishment of modern capitalism.

Origins of Modern Capitalism

The origins of modern capitalism took place in Italy in the fifteenth century. Venetian merchants are considered to be the creators of the first mercantile system and Venice is considered to be the birthplace of capitalism (Lane, 1963). Due to its location, the sea port in Venice was used to facilitate trade between Europe and the Middle East, Africa and Asia. As a result, the Venetians were able to become global merchants. In addition to the ability to transport goods freely around the world, the other major component of the creation of modern capitalism is a financial system, which records the transactions. Luca Pacioli, born in 1445, is considered to be the father of accounting and bookkeeping. Pacioli developed the double entry accounting system which is the foundation of recording financial transactions between parties. Pacioli was also the author of the first accounting textbook published in 1494 which included the process to develop financial statements (Sangster, Stoner and McCarthy, 2007)

Evolutionary Discussion on Capitalism by British Authors

Sir Thomas More

Utopia (1516)

Sir Thomas More's Utopia presents an ideal society in which individuals work in harmony to the benefit of the common good. Utopia can be considered a book in which both economic and moral issues are addressed. Southall (1973) argues that More views that capitalism rewards. The individual's drive to succeed and creates the deadly sin of pride. This motivation of the individual results in negative consequences for society. In Utopia, More presents an ideal society in which private property is abolished so that the accumulation of material goods cannot take place. Therefore, More presents an alternative to the mercantile system and capitalism by destroying the concept of an economy which is based on money (Southall, 1973). More's belief is that the wealthy have accumulated resources unjustly and that they have exploited workers in order to accumulate their wealth by paying and treating workers poorly. In addition, More believes that the wealthy use the legal system to their benefit in order to protect their wealth (Southall, 1973). More argues that the wealthy not only protect their money through the legal system but also ensure that the poor are unfairly treated through the criminal system. In Utopia, More states that:

"By one means, therefore, or by other, either by hook or crook,
they must needs depart away, poor,
silly, wretched souls, men, women, husbands,
wives, fatherless children, widows,
woeful mothers,
with their young babes, and their whole household,
small in substance and much in number,
as husbandry requireth many hands ...
And when they have wandered abroad till that
be spent,
what can they then else do but steal,
and then justly pardy be hanged,
or else go about a--begging?" (1)

As a result, society is created based on the power of the rich who use their influence to create a legal and economic system which forces poorer members of society to break the law in order to survive (Southall, 1973). Therefore, More argues that as long as individuals have private property, they will accumulate their wealth and use their power to their own advantage which could never result in a just and fair society. More summarizes his view on private property by stating:

   "I'm quite convinced that you'll never get a fair distribution of
   goods, or a satisfactory organization of human life, until you
   abolish private property altogether. So long as it exists, the vast
   majority of the human race, and the vastly superior part of it,
   will inevitably go on labouring under a burden of poverty,
   hardship, and worry. … 
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