From Le Hub/The Climate Justice Organizing HUB
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In a restricted sense, the term capitalism describes an economic system based on private property and in which the means of production (land, raw materials, tools) do not belong to the owners or producers. [1] Capitalism is an economic system in which almost anything we need or want must be bought on the market, and in which most of us have nothing to sell but our labour. Capitalism is not a thing, but a social relation between capital and labour that divides humanity into two principal social classes: the capitalist class, or bourgeoisie, which owns the means of production (tools, resources, land), and the working class, or proletariat, which does not have access to the means of production and therefore must sell its own labour power, or ability to work. -Jeffery R. Webber, Beautiful Trouble [2]

Capitalism originated in northwestern Europe between the sixteenth and nineteenth century, and expanded from this region to the rest of the world through colonialism and imperialism. 

Characteristics of capitalism from a sociological point of view include:

  1. Incessant search for profit through commercial exchange
  2. The separation of producers and the means of production
  3. The private (exclusive) and privative (depriving others) appropriation of wealth

Examples of the consequences of capitalism

Capitalists are indifferent to the morality of the commodities produced; the only goal is to generate profit. Capitalism's uncontrolled growth translates into an ever-increasing exploitation of people and nature. Social and environmental consequences of capitalism are further discussed on the page: anti-capitalism.

Ecological degradation

  • The choice between solar energy or tar sands oil is decided based on costs vs profits, not the health of people and the planet. 

Poverty and inequality

  • More than one billion people live on less than USD $1 per day, and another billion and a half on under USD $2.
  • Treatment for diseases, and in some countries for any medical or health related service, are only available to those that can afford them.


  • Fast fashion is an example of the need for newer, better, and more driven by capitalism driving extreme productions of waste. 


  • Workers earn a salary to compensate their labour. This is often a fraction of the salary afforded to the individual who could afford to fund the facility the worker is employed in, or who runs the brand or company they work for. 
War and violence
  • The imperial push for oil and thus profit led to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many innocent civilians were killed, and those that fled the countries faced severe racism. [3]

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to

Creative commons.png
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Back to Homepage

  1. Fortier, Jean-François and Pizarro-Noel, François. Sociology from A to Z , 2013, ERPI, Montreal, 175p.