A set of economic arrangements which developed in the 19th-c in Western societies following the Industrial Revolution, though with antecedents in other societies, notably 11th-c China. The concept derives from the writings of Marx, and rests upon the private ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class, or bourgeoisie. The workers, or proletariat, own nothing but their labour, and although free to sell their labour in the market, they are dependent upon the capitalist class which exploits them by appropriating the surplus value created by their labour.
Non-Marxist economists define capitalism as an economic system in which most property is privately owned and goods are sold freely in a competitive market, but without reference to exploitation, except where monopoly situations occur. capitalism may be an ideological stance: Marx saw it as one stage in a historical process, finally being replaced by socialism. It has been the most productive economic system to date, although it has brought with it massive environmental (eg pollution) and social (eg unemployment) problems.