Capital Book Summary - Capital Book explained in key points
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Capital summary

Karl Marx

A Critique of Political Economy

4.3 (365 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

Capital by Karl Marx is a seminal work of political and economic theory that analyzes the capitalist system. It examines the exploitative nature of capitalism and proposes a revolutionary vision for a more equitable society.
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    The basics: commodities and labor

    You may have heard the term commodities before, particularly in the financial news. A commodity refers to any object that satisfies human needs—from food to clothing to homes to gadgets. It is the usefulness of a commodity that gives it what Marx calls use value, which is significant because it forms the basis of wealth in any society. 

    In capitalism, commodities can also become the physical representation of something called exchange value. In this sense, even objects without a use can have an exchange value. For example, art and music don’t provide shelter or food, but they can still have a high value in the marketplace. 

    Many things have both a use and an exchange value. The contents of a well-stocked storeroom of athletic shoes in a shop, for instance, can be exchanged for money, which will pay rent and salaries, and buy more shoes to sell. These shoes may then accrue even more exchange value for being trendy and stylish rather than just being useful as shoes.

    But all exchangeable commodities – from shoes to cars to hairspray to corn – have something  in common: they are products of human labor. In this way, commodities are like crystallizations of social labor, bearing value.

    Labor is responsible for creating both the use value and exchange value of a commodity. The concept of useful labor is used to describe the work that contributes to the use value of an item. For example, the work involved in tailoring a coat or weaving linen are both types of useful labor because they create useful products.

    Not all labor is equal, though. The production of different commodities requires different types of labor. These types are not interchangeable – a tailor can't produce linen, and a weaver can't make a coat. This differentiation forms the basis of the social division of labor – the varying kinds of work required by a community to function and produce commodities.

    While this division of labor is necessary for producing commodities, it doesn't always mean commodities are created by individuals. In many systems, like in some Indian communities or factories, tasks are divided. So not all labor can be simply exchanged as a commodity.

    The value of a commodity, be it a coat or linen, reflects the human labor embedded in it, abstracting away from the specific type of labor. This abstraction is critical for these goods to be comparable and exchangeable in the market. For instance, despite the difference in the types of work, both tailoring and weaving are considered equivalent, as they both represent human labor.

    The magnitude of a commodity's value is determined by the amount of labor it embodies, meaning a coat worth double the value of the linen that forms it contains twice the amount of labor. This doesn't change the use value of the commodities, however, as a coat will still serve its purpose of providing warmth.

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    What is Capital about?

    Capital (1867) represents a groundbreaking analysis of money and its many roles at the height of the industrial revolution. By focusing on the exploitation of the working class, the text challenges traditional economic theories and frames a capitalist economy as a system inherently leading to social inequality and class struggle.

    Capital Review

    Capital (1867) by Karl Marx is a thought-provoking analysis of the capitalist system and its inherent flaws. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It provides a comprehensive examination of the nature of capitalism, shedding light on its impact on society and the exploitation of labor.
    • With its meticulous research and analysis, the book offers a deep understanding of the social, economic, and political implications of capitalism.
    • By offering an alternative perspective to capitalist ideology, Capital challenges readers to question the prevailing economic order and consider more equitable alternatives.

    Who should read Capital?

    • Students studying political theory, economics, or sociology
    • Those curious about one of the most influential texts in economics
    • Readers seeking insights on class struggles and social inequalities

    About the Author

    German philosopher, economist, and social theorist Karl Marx is regarded as one of the most influential figures in history. His revolutionary ideas about class struggle, capitalism, and economics, which he developed alongside his close collaborator Friedrich Engels, sparked the foundation of many socialist and communist movements across the globe. His published works, including Capital and The Communist Manifesto, continue to influence economic and political debates more than a century and a half after their first appearance.

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    Capital FAQs 

    What is the main message of Capital?

    The main message of Capital explores the workings of capitalism and advocates for a revolutionary change to the economic and social system.

    How long does it take to read Capital?

    The reading time for Capital varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Capital a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Capital is a thought-provoking and influential book. It provides a deep analysis of capitalism and its impact on society, making it a worthwhile read for those interested in economics and political theory.

    Who is the author of Capital?

    The author of Capital is Karl Marx.

    What to read after Capital?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Capital, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
    • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
    • How to Think Like a Philosopher by Peter Cave
    • Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter
    • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
    • Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman
    • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
    • Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
    • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
    • The Success Principles by Jack Canfield