The word is thrown about by all and assumption about what it is, is made. It is important to understand capitalism because everything we do is contained by it. It is known by many as an economic system, the replacement of feudalism, which died out in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.
Capitalism is more than an economic system. It is the social structure in which we live and everything, from our favoured liberal democracy through to our contemporary codes of morality, is dictated by it; whether we realise it or not.
Capitalism appeals to the rational mind. Its emphasis on individuality and liberalism justifies any inequalities which might appear. And this is where the danger lies. For capitalism assumes we all start the race at the same place and we do not. Some start a long way back and their way is littered with obstacles, while others have a free run and are rewarded by huge capital sums. This is justified by the presence of competition. The harder one works the more one will be rewarded. Not true.
Many people embrace capitalism, particularly in the West. This is because, relatively speaking, we are the winners in the system. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world. Our child mortality figures are low, our longevity is high. Most of us eat well and most do not suffer from malnutrition.
What we fail to see is that even the winners in a capitalist system are losers. All of us get caught up in a way of life that equates happiness with commodities. Of course there are essential commodities, like food and water, which aid our survival but beyond that there are many that do not.
It goes further. For those who perceive happiness not as a temporary state but as a summation of living a good life it has to be asked whether living a good life is even possible under capitalism? The answer to that must relate to the worth of intention.
Defenders of capitalism argue that all inequalities and inequities will be overcome by technological progress. There is precious little evidence this is the case. Capitalism seems certain to survive because changing to any kind of viable alternative requires such a massive change and uprooting that no movement, idea or agitation, short of global catastrophe, is comprehensive enough to thoroughly rinse the world of capitalism.
Most live their lives embracing this system which associates human contentment with accumulative commodity. For those who choose not to there is no genuine isolation from a system which is so pervasive that even basic living contributes in some small way to its survival.
Yet some identify the fundamental unfairness of capitalism and their voices are to be heard and optimism is to be found because ultimately capitalism contradicts the positive essence of human nature.