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Capital and capitalism
We cannot understand recent developments and their continuing negative consequences and what to do differently without a longer view. Growth? Capitalism? How do these two fit? *
Capital is a surplus produced by society as it goes about meeting its needs. All effective societies have capital. Capitalism however is a system where some of us own that surplus of society and most of us don’t. Surplus is physical , more grain, cattle, silver, crafts, whereas capitalism is a social system with rules and norms on how that surplus is handled. Trying to change capitalism is a serious and worthy task. The legal form that capital, surplus, takes is modifiable. The distinction between capitalism as rules and capital as physical stuff, will hold.
It is surprisingly helpful to observe the history of words. Early uses often reveal meanings that are later forgotten but are key to how the meaning can shift for better human purposes. I will take a look at the origins of capital. So bear with me for a few paragraphs on what seems like a detour but is really very helpful. Capital plays a major role in the discussion of the future of society. We need to understand it. Early societies were evolving from herders and planters to what look like extensive cattle ranches. In Rome for example cattle was the measure of wealth.
Quoting from From the Online Etymological Dictionary - I will use throughout the book and worth learning to use.
- early 13c., chatel "property, goods," from Old French chatel "chattels, goods, wealth, possessions, property; profit; cattle," from Late Latin capitale "property" (see cattle, which is the Old North French form of the same word). Application to slaves is from 1640s and later became a rhetorical figure in the writings of abolitionists.-
Breeding a cow and a bull gave rise to a new calf, a new head of cattle, cap from latin for head and so modern capital is just an extension, a tweak, of the old cap, latin for head . So capital is the fruit of an organic system of increase and hence its dynamism. Modern capitalists often present themselves as having power because they can create more from less. In those early times the birth of a new calf was complex because it raised issues of ownership which itself was going through evolution from simple possession of local things to socially law based systems of great variety.
The word property comes from what is proper to a man of rank to show his status in society.
*from the draft of Gardenworld Politics,