Before it is an ideological option, capitalism is a being, with an individual history (and fate). It is not necessary to like it — but it is an it.
Nick Land, Outside In
What is Capitalism? Where do we even begin to define it? When we find Adam Smith describing Capital (as ‘stock’) it already exists. Or does it? Capitalism is believed to be simply the system “in which trade, industry, and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the goal of making profits.” from this we develop a contrary theory ‘socialism‘ – in which they are controlled by public ownership. However, at no point in time does this ideal situation arise; in Smith’s discussion in Wealth of Nations, he documents the effect of tariff changes on wheat prices. That is to say, he documents what is ostensibly a public control on trade. Never do we have a system in which all three of these come completely into the hands of private owners – but who are private owners, anyway? Is a man who serves as an alderman for a time and then goes back to his business a ‘private owner’? Is a King a private owner, or a public owner? Are men like Dick Cheney, who switch between high office politics and high corporate governance private owners? Are they actually public owners?
We can, for some situations, attempt to make a clear delineation. A tariff is a public control over trade, provided it is the government – by which we mean the sovereign and its delegates – that determines the tariff and sees that it is enforced. If the sovereign is a king, we still regard it as a public control in this system; as the king embodies the people or state. But this embodiment, even with democratic sovereigns, is problematic. Granted, in theory it makes sense, but in practice we find regulations pushed by private actors through government to benefit them. Trust busting is notoriously taken on behalf of a monopoly’s potential or real competitors. This is not new – even before there were official incorporated entities like we have, there were private actors using public office and law to benefit themselves. There doesn’t seem to be a non-technical distinction between private and public; or it may be that private and public are not, as we might have assumed, contradictory at all.