Isn't the quest for profits a defiining characteristic of capitalism?

In your last show you said the defining characteristic of capitalism is the employer-employee relationship. Isn't capitalism also defined by the quest for profits? It seems to me that the employer-employee relationship and the quest for profits originated around the same time, in the late middle ages or perhaps during the Renaissance, around the time of the onset of colonialism. I don't think Roman slaveholders or medieval lords were interested in profits, though they certainly sought to increase their wealth, mostly by acquiring more land. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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The best way to respond to your question is to explain the point of a "defining characteristic." The attempt is made to dig down deep to find the key thing that sets the stage for, provides the basis for, generates the major aspects that comprise whatever you are trying to explain. If that is capitalism, then you try to reason your way back to that quality or characteristic that is such a "key thing." In my view that is the employer-employee relationship in production such that the employee produces what he/she consumes plus a surplus beyond that which is taken/appropriated by the employer. If such a capitalist production relation co-exists with a market as the mechanism of distribution (of resources and products) the result is a drive for profits as both the best offensive and defensive strategy vis-a-vis market competitors. In this way of defining capitalism, the key thing that sets the stage for, provides the basis for, generates the profit drive is the production relationship interacting with market exchange as the distribution mechanism.

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  • Richard Wolff
    responded with submitted 2017-01-29 20:14:06 -0500
  • Jay Goldberg
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2017-01-29 20:02:10 -0500