Capitalism is an economic system where such items that can generate monetary value are owned by private businesses and corporations which trade in a 'free market' of competition. This system uses the investment of money or 'capital' to produce hefty profit for its owners and shareholders to reinvest in the system to generate a seemingly endless cycle of wealth1. It has been commentated by many that the system leads to the main body of available wealth and power in the world to be held by an elite minority. There is no query as to whether such a system exists today as that much is clear. What is in debate however and the question I will address in the essay is its origins and the extent to which certain historical events influenced the rise of capitalism. Most accounts centre largely on change in the social scene across Western Europe during the 16th century with intense focus on colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade as the central feature to its inception some stating "slaves were the capital that made capitalism"2. Others, though acknowledge the contribution that the transatlantic slave trade made, don't regard it as the prime cause of a capitalist modernity3. .
In this essay, I will examine the actions of both the European nations and later on the newly independent United States to distinguish if the transatlantic slave trade was the main contributor to the development of a capitalist modernity by looking at four major developments in the social and economic structure of the world from 1440-1870. The discovery and colonisation of the Americas, the exploitation of slaves to be used as a work force to generate commercial goods, the consumerist and industrial revolutions that followed and the formation of the foundations of the modern financial system.
The transatlantic slave trade occurred between the 16th and early 20th Century, it was a truly horrific period of human history where millions of men, women and children were uprooted throughout West Africa and dispersed across the colonised Americas connecting the economies of three continents.