Capital (economics)

Capital (economics)

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In economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

, capital, capital goods, or real capital refers to already-produced durable good
Durable good
In economics, a durable good or a hard good is a good that does not quickly wear out, or more specifically, one that yields utility over time rather than being completely consumed in one use. Items like bricks or jewellery could be considered perfectly durable goods, because they should...

s used in production of goods or services. The capital goods are not significantly consumed, though they may depreciate
Depreciation
Depreciation refers to two very different but related concepts:# the decrease in value of assets , and# the allocation of the cost of assets to periods in which the assets are used ....

 in the production process. Capital is distinct from land in that capital must itself be produced by human labor before it can be a factor of production. At any moment in time, total physical capital may be referred to as the capital stock, a usage different from the same term applied to a business entity. In a fundamental sense, capital consists of any produced thing that can enhance a person's power to perform economically useful work—a stone or an arrow is capital for a caveman who can use it as a hunting instrument, and roads are capital for inhabitants of a city. Capital is an input in the production function
Production function
In microeconomics and macroeconomics, a production function is a function that specifies the output of a firm, an industry, or an entire economy for all combinations of inputs...

. Homes and personal autos are not capital but are instead durable goods because they are not used in a production effort.

In Marxian economics
Marxian economics
Marxian economics refers to economic theories on the functioning of capitalism based on the works of Karl Marx. Adherents of Marxian economics, particularly in academia, distinguish it from Marxism as a political ideology and sociological theory, arguing that Marx's approach to understanding the...

, capital is used to buy something only in order to sell it again to realize a financial profit, and for Marx capital only exists within the process of economic exchange—it is wealth
Wealth
Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem...

 that grows out of the process of circulation itself and forms the basis of the economic system of capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

.

In narrow and broad uses


In classical
Classical economics
Classical economics is widely regarded as the first modern school of economic thought. Its major developers include Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and John Stuart Mill....

 and neoclassical economics
Neoclassical economics
Neoclassical economics is a term variously used for approaches to economics focusing on the determination of prices, outputs, and income distributions in markets through supply and demand, often mediated through a hypothesized maximization of utility by income-constrained individuals and of profits...

, capital is one of four factors of production
Factors of production
In economics, factors of production means inputs and finished goods means output. Input determines the quantity of output i.e. output depends upon input. Input is the starting point and output is the end point of production process and such input-output relationship is called a production function...

. The others are land
Land (economics)
In economics, land comprises all naturally occurring resources whose supply is inherently fixed. Examples are any and all particular geographical locations, mineral deposits, and even geostationary orbit locations and portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Natural resources are fundamental to...

, labour and organization, entrepreneurship, or management.
Goods with the following features are capital:
  • It can be used in the production of other goods (this is what makes it a factor of production).
  • It was produced, in contrast to "land", which refers to naturally occurring resources such as geographical locations and minerals.
  • It is not used up immediately in the process of production unlike raw materials or intermediate good
    Intermediate good
    Intermediate goods or producer goods are goods used as inputs in the production of other goods, such as partly finished goods. Also, they are goods used in production of final goods. A firm may make then use intermediate goods, or make then sell, or buy then use them...

    s. (The significant exception to this is depreciation
    Depreciation
    Depreciation refers to two very different but related concepts:# the decrease in value of assets , and# the allocation of the cost of assets to periods in which the assets are used ....

     allowance, which like intermediate goods, is treated as a business expense.)


These distinctions of convenience have carried over to contemporary economic theory. There was the further clarification that capital is a stock
Stock and flow
Economics, business, accounting, and related fields often distinguish between quantities that are stocks and those that are flows. These differ in their units of measurement. A stock variable is measured at one specific time, and represents a quantity existing at that point in time , which may have...

. As such, its value can be estimated at a point in time, say December 31. By contrast, investment, as production to be added to the capital stock, is described as taking place over time ("per year"), thus a flow
Stock and flow
Economics, business, accounting, and related fields often distinguish between quantities that are stocks and those that are flows. These differ in their units of measurement. A stock variable is measured at one specific time, and represents a quantity existing at that point in time , which may have...

.

Earlier illustrations often described capital as physical items, such as tools, buildings, and vehicles that are used in the production process. Since at least the 1960s economists have increasingly focused on broader forms of capital. For example, investment in skills and education can be viewed as building up human capital
Human capital
Human capitalis the stock of competencies, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value. It is the attributes gained by a worker through education and experience...

 or knowledge capital
Knowledge capital
Knowledge capital is a concept which asserts that ideas have intrinsic value which can be shared and leveraged within and between organizations. Knowledge capital connotes that sharing skills and information is a means of sharing power...

, and investments in intellectual property can be viewed as building up intellectual capital
Intellectual capital
The value of an enterprise is made of physical assets, various financial assets and, finally, intangible assets, i.e., intellectual capital . The term intellectual capital conventionally refers to the difference in value between tangible assets and market value. ....

. These terms lead to certain questions and controversies discussed in those articles.
Human development theory
Human development theory
Human development theory is a theory that merges older ideas from ecological economics, sustainable development, welfare economics, and feminist economics. It seeks to avoid the overt normative politics of most so-called "green economics" by justifying its theses strictly in ecology, economics and...

 describes human capital as being composed of distinct social, imitative and creative elements:
  • Social capital
    Social capital
    Social capital is a sociological concept, which refers to connections within and between social networks. The concept of social capital highlights the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results. The term social capital is frequently...

     is the value of network trusting relationships between individuals in an economy.
  • Individual capital
    Individual capital
    Individual capital, also known as human capital, comprises inalienable or personal traits of persons, tied to their bodies and available only through their own free will, such as skill, creativity, enterprise, courage, capacity for moral example, non-communicable wisdom, invention or empathy,...

    , which is inherent in persons, protected by societies, and trades labour for trust or money. Close parallel concepts are "talent
    Skill
    A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. Skills can often be divided into domain-general and domain-specific skills...

    ", "ingenuity
    Ingenuity
    Ingenuity refers to the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges. The process of figuring out how to cross a mountain stream using a fallen log, build an airplane from a sheet of paper, or start a new company in a foreign culture all involve the exercising of ingenuity...

    ", "leadership
    Leadership
    Leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task". Other in-depth definitions of leadership have also emerged.-Theories:...

    ", "trained bodies", or "innate skills" that cannot reliably be reproduced by using any combination of any of the others above. In traditional economic analysis individual capital is more usually called labour.


Further classifications of capital that have been used in various theoretical or applied uses include:
  • Financial capital
    Financial capital
    Financial capital can refer to money used by entrepreneurs and businesses to buy what they need to make their products or provide their services or to that sector of the economy based on its operation, i.e. retail, corporate, investment banking, etc....

    , which represents obligations, and is liquidated as money for trade, and owned by legal entities. It is in the form of capital assets, traded in financial markets. Its market value is not based on the historical accumulation of money invested but on the perception by the market of its expected revenues and of the risk entailed.
  • Public capital, which encompasses the aggregate body of government-owned assets that are used to promote private industry productivity, including highways, railways, airports, water treatment facilities, telecommunications, electric grids, energy utilities, municipal buildings, public hospitals and schools, police, fire protection, courts and still others.
  • Natural capital
    Natural capital
    Natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital to goods and services relating to the natural environment. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future...

    , which is inherent in ecologies and protected by communities to support life, e.g., a river that provides farms with water.
  • Spiritual capital
    Spiritual capital
    Spiritual capital is a concept that involves the quantification of the value to individuals, groups and society of spiritual, moral or psychological beliefs and practices. Proponents liken it to other forms of capital, including material capital , intellectual capital, and social capital...

    , which refers to the power, influence and dispositions created by a person or an organization’s spiritual belief, knowledge and practice.


In part as a result, separate literatures have developed to describe both natural capital
Natural capital
Natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital to goods and services relating to the natural environment. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future...

 and social capital
Social capital
Social capital is a sociological concept, which refers to connections within and between social networks. The concept of social capital highlights the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results. The term social capital is frequently...

. Such terms reflect a wide consensus that nature and society both function in such a similar manner as traditional industrial infrastructural capital, that it is entirely appropriate to refer to them as different types of capital in themselves. In particular, they can be used in the production of other goods, are not used up immediately in the process of production, and can be enhanced (if not created) by human effort.

There is also a literature of intellectual capital
Intellectual capital
The value of an enterprise is made of physical assets, various financial assets and, finally, intangible assets, i.e., intellectual capital . The term intellectual capital conventionally refers to the difference in value between tangible assets and market value. ....

 and intellectual property law. However, this increasingly distinguishes means of capital investment, and collection of potential rewards for patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

, copyright
Copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 (creative or individual capital
Individual capital
Individual capital, also known as human capital, comprises inalienable or personal traits of persons, tied to their bodies and available only through their own free will, such as skill, creativity, enterprise, courage, capacity for moral example, non-communicable wisdom, invention or empathy,...

), and trademark
Trademark
A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or...

 (social trust or social capital
Social capital
Social capital is a sociological concept, which refers to connections within and between social networks. The concept of social capital highlights the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results. The term social capital is frequently...

) instruments. Capital (all types collectively) is often the tool that is leveraged in order to build wealth both personal and corporate.

In classical economics and beyond


Some thinkers, such as Werner Sombart
Werner Sombart
Werner Sombart was a German economist and sociologist, the head of the “Youngest Historical School” and one of the leading Continental European social scientists during the first quarter of the 20th century....

 and Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

, locate the concept of capital as originating in double-entry bookkeeping, which is thus a foundational innovation in capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

, Sombart writing in "Medieval and Modern Commercial Enterprise" that:
The very concept of capital is derived from this way of looking at things; one can say that capital, as a category, did not exist before double-entry bookkeeping. Capital can be defined as that amount of wealth which is used in making profits and which enters into the accounts."


Within classical economics, Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter 1) distinguished fixed capital
Fixed capital
Fixed capital is a concept in economics and accounting, first theoretically analysed in some depth by the economist David Ricardo. It refers to any kind of real or physical capital that is not used up in the production of a product and is contrasted with circulating capital such as raw materials,...

 from circulating capital
Circulating capital
Circulating capital refers to physical capital and operating expenses, i.e., short-lived items that are used in production and used up in the process of creating other goods or services. This is roughly equal to Intermediate consumption. It includes raw materials, intermediate goods, inventories,...

. The former designated physical assets not consumed in the production of a product (e.g. machines and storage facilities), while the latter referred to physical assets consumed in the process of production (e.g. raw materials and intermediate products). For an enterprise, both were types of capital.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 adds a distinction that is often confused with David Ricardo's
David Ricardo
David Ricardo was an English political economist, often credited with systematising economics, and was one of the most influential of the classical economists, along with Thomas Malthus, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill. He was also a member of Parliament, businessman, financier and speculator,...

. In Marxian theory, variable capital refers to a capitalist's investment in labor-power, seen as the only source of surplus-value. It is called "variable" since the amount of value
Labor theory of value
The labor theories of value are heterodox economic theories of value which argue that the value of a commodity is related to the labor needed to produce or obtain that commodity. The concept is most often associated with Marxian economics...

 it can produce varies from the amount it consumes, i.e., it creates new value. On the other hand, constant capital
Constant capital
Constant capital , is a concept created by Karl Marx and used in Marxian political economy. It refers to one of the forms of capital invested in production, which contrasts with variable capital...

 refers to investment in non-human factors of production, such as plant and machinery, which Marx takes to contribute only its own replacement value
Replacement value
The term replacement cost or replacement value refers to the amount that an entity would have to pay to replace an asset at the present time, according to its current worth....

 to the commodities it is used to produce. It is constant, in that the amount of value committed in the original investment, and the amount retrieved in the form of commodities produced, remains constant.

Investment
Investment
Investment has different meanings in finance and economics. Finance investment is putting money into something with the expectation of gain, that upon thorough analysis, has a high degree of security for the principal amount, as well as security of return, within an expected period of time...

 or capital accumulation
Capital accumulation
The accumulation of capital refers to the gathering or amassing of objects of value; the increase in wealth through concentration; or the creation of wealth. Capital is money or a financial asset invested for the purpose of making more money...

, in classical economic theory, is the production of increased capital. Investment requires that some goods be produced that are not immediately consumed, but instead used to produce other goods as a means of production
Means of production
Means of production refers to physical, non-human inputs used in production—the factories, machines, and tools used to produce wealth — along with both infrastructural capital and natural capital. This includes the classical factors of production minus financial capital and minus human capital...

. Investment is closely related to saving, though it is not the same. As Keynes
John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes of Tilton, CB FBA , was a British economist whose ideas have profoundly affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, as well as the economic policies of governments...

 pointed out, saving involves not spending all of one's income on current goods or services, while investment refers to spending on a specific type of goods, i.e., capital goods.

The Austrian
Austrian School
The Austrian School of economics is a heterodox school of economic thought. It advocates methodological individualism in interpreting economic developments , the theory that money is non-neutral, the theory that the capital structure of economies consists of heterogeneous goods that have...

 economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk maintained that capital intensity
Capital intensity
Capital intensity is the term in economics for the amount of fixed or real capital present in relation to other factors of production, especially labor...

 was measured by the roundaboutness
Roundaboutness
Roundaboutness, or roundabout methods of production, is the process whereby capital goods are produced first and then, with the help of the capital goods, the desired consumer goods are produced....

 of production processes. Since capital is defined by him as being goods of higher-order, or goods used to produce consumer goods, and derived their value from them, being future goods.

See also

  • Capital deepening
    Capital deepening
    Capital deepening is a term used in economics to describe an economy where capital per worker is increasing. This is also referred to as increase in the capital intensity. Capital deepening is often measured by the capital stock per labour hour. Overall, the economy will expand, and productivity...

  • Capital accumulation
    Capital accumulation
    The accumulation of capital refers to the gathering or amassing of objects of value; the increase in wealth through concentration; or the creation of wealth. Capital is money or a financial asset invested for the purpose of making more money...

  • Capitalism
    Capitalism
    Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

  • Capitalist mode of production
    Capitalist mode of production
    In Marx's critique of political economy, the capitalist mode of production is the production system of capitalist societies, which began in Europe in the 16th century, grew rapidly in Western Europe from the end of the 18th century, and later extended to most of the world...

  • Cambridge capital controversy
    Cambridge capital controversy
    The Cambridge capital controversy – sometimes simply called "the capital controversy" – refers to a theoretical and mathematical debate during the 1960s among economists concerning the nature and role of capital goods and the critique of the dominant neoclassical vision of aggregate...

  • Constant capital
    Constant capital
    Constant capital , is a concept created by Karl Marx and used in Marxian political economy. It refers to one of the forms of capital invested in production, which contrasts with variable capital...

  • Das Kapital
    Das Kapital
    Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie , by Karl Marx, is a critical analysis of capitalism as political economy, meant to reveal the economic laws of the capitalist mode of production, and how it was the precursor of the socialist mode of production.- Themes :In Capital: Critique of...

  • Factors of production
    Factors of production
    In economics, factors of production means inputs and finished goods means output. Input determines the quantity of output i.e. output depends upon input. Input is the starting point and output is the end point of production process and such input-output relationship is called a production function...

  • Means of production
    Means of production
    Means of production refers to physical, non-human inputs used in production—the factories, machines, and tools used to produce wealth — along with both infrastructural capital and natural capital. This includes the classical factors of production minus financial capital and minus human capital...

  • Organizational capital
    Organizational capital
    Organizational capital is the ability of an organization to mobilize and sustain the process of change required to execute strategy. Working practices such as Just In Time, accounts payable processes and Total Quality Management contribute to organizational capital...

  • Physical capital
    Physical capital
    In economics, physical capital or just 'capital' refers to any already-manufactured asset that is applied in production, such as machinery, buildings, or vehicles. In economic theory, physical capital is one of the three primary factors of production, also known as inputs in the production function...

  • The Accumulation of Capital
    The Accumulation of Capital
    The Accumulation of Capital is the principal book length work of Rosa Luxemburg first published in 1913.It is in three sections as described below :# The Problem of Reproduction#...

  • Venture capital
    Venture capital
    Venture capital is financial capital provided to early-stage, high-potential, high risk, growth startup companies. The venture capital fund makes money by owning equity in the companies it invests in, which usually have a novel technology or business model in high technology industries, such as...

  • Wealth (economics)