Which country can be viewed as the perfect example of "Capitalism"?

That is, which country represents the Capitalism at its peak?

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    -1 for not defining what "capitalism" means or which of the existing formal definitions to use – DVK Sep 1 '12 at 21:50

Speaking as a Marxist historian, the question we should ask is not "which country exemplifies capitalism" as capitalism is a constantly changing phenomena—rather we should ask which country best exemplifies capitalism in particular historical moments, and (moreover) who considers the country to exemplify capitalism and why?

For example:

Holland is probably the premier example of mercantile capitalism prior to the French revolution.

England was the typifying example of capitalism in the 19th century for Marx and Engels. It was also the typifying example for the Manchester School and The Economist.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century Germany's advanced production techniques meant that it was held as an example of the second phase of the industrial revolution.

Since the 1890s the United States has been pointed to as a pinnacle of capitalist achievement, particularly in its early and thorough-going implementation of Fordism-Taylorism.

The Soviet Union was upheld by Cliff and others as an example of the highest stage of capitalism, capitalism encountering its own negation.

Finally if we look at China's current capacity to accumulate surplus value, surely this indicates that China's state capitalist and private capitalist economies working in coordination exemplifies the contemporary ultimate in accumulation.

Given that my background is firmly Marxist, and I view capitalism as a system for accumulation of surplus value in an expanded form, I have concentrated this list on societies which were successful at accumulating surplus value in an expanded form, and societies which engaged in innovative ways of accumulating. These societies expanded the number of useful things in life that were considered commodities, expanded wage labour, and increased the total pool of useful things and human wealth that operated as "value," ie as capitalised value or wage labour.

Hopefully someone from a normative perspective can answer in terms of the moralism of "ideal" capitalism.

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    You kind of lost me with the Soviet Union there, but I've no reason to doubt that it is a faitful representation of the arguments of the people you credit it to, so I won't hold it against you. – T.E.D. Aug 30 '12 at 22:33
  • Tony Cliff, and others of his ilk, claim the Soviet Union's continued wage labour and use of "value" in calculation of the economy made it "state capitalism." It is a cogent argument, the SU did run economic calculations as if commodities were in capitalism, and did viciously oppress workers as workers. – Samuel Russell Aug 30 '12 at 23:02

No country in the world has ever been a perfect example of any system, inasmuch that humans are inevitably far less perfect than the ideologies they invent.

Any answer to this question also hinges on how one defines "capitalism." An Austrian-school economist, Weberian sociologist, and Marxist historian would provide very different definitions. Ideologues may reject state capitalism, anarcho-capitalism, and other models as not "true" capitalism. In some ways, no modern society is as "capitalist" as some bygone societies because of contemporary morality and views on government intervention; in other ways, modern society is more "capitalist" than has ever been possible before because computerization, modern communications, and sophisticated financial markets make things like price discovery far more efficient.

With that in mind, the Fraser Institute, a Canadian pro-free-market think tank, produces an annual "Economic Freedom of the World" report in conjunction with like-minded research institutes around the world. Note that this report is based on their definition not of "capitalism" per se but of relative "economic freedom"; the word "capitalism" does not appear anywhere in the text of the report except in an essay condemning "crony capitalism." They determine economic freedom, in turn, based on ratings of several dozen factors ranging from the impartiality of the court system to the existence of military conscription to the volatility of the inflation rate.

With those considerable caveats in mind, according to the 2011 report, the following countries have the freest economies, and may be judged to be the most "capitalist" on that measure in 2011:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Singapore
  3. New Zealand
  4. Switzerland
  5. Australia
  6. Canada
  7. Chile
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Mauritius
  10. United States

There are many similar competing reports, but this one seems to have the widest number of participating organizations.

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    Like at least the first half of this answer a lot (so +1). The second half...the top two make sense. However, all the rest of the countries on the list actually have a lot more socalist institutions than the USA does. (For example, in the UK the entire medical system, nearly 10% of their economy, is run by the government). Still, it was a good try, and I can't think of a better list to use. – T.E.D. Aug 30 '12 at 21:51
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    @Luke - A common misconception (in the USA at least). Under the old (2008) system, USA doctors were paid by private comanies (generally not the government), who were in turn paid directly by private citizens (and/or their employers, also generally not the government). The only thing the ACA really changes is that everyone has to get one of those companies, or pay a bit extra on their taxes. This is very different from a true socalized system like the UK has, which works more like our VA system. – T.E.D. Aug 30 '12 at 22:23
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    @T.E.D., if you read the full report, you'll see that there are several dozen factors that are weighed. FWIW, the right-leaning Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation have a list (heritage.org/index ) which reaches largely the same conclusions. The reason the U.S. has sunk so far in the rankings is the sharp increase in regulatory burden, complicated and inefficient taxation, and an unhealthy level of government spending. – choster Aug 31 '12 at 4:48
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    @choster - In other words, they specifically weighted things to give the USA a low score to promote a political point. That's certainly their prerogative, but I think it makes the results less useful for our purposes. – T.E.D. Aug 31 '12 at 12:35