An enjoyable video introduction to what capitalism is can be found in the 1948 cartoons “Make Mine Freedom” and “Going Places,” both found at the Internet Archive. While not perfect (having some flaws in understanding capitalism), the two videos are worlds away and head, knees, and shoulders above most “presentations” of capitalism today.
Whether we agree or disagree with capitalism — or any viewpoint for that matter — we should at least get it right. Misrepresentation and dishonesty make us look foolish and untrustworthy. Lying or misrepresenting to support a cause or ideal can be just as bad — sometimes worse — as lying or misrepresenting to attack a cause or ideal.
To properly understand capitalism, we need to understand it in historical context. Capitalism developed — in history, in reality, in economics, in politics and in philosophy — hand-in-hand with the concept of individual rights. There can be no such thing as capitalism in a society run and burdened by economic and political chains and regulations. (We do not have capitalism in the US today; we have a mixed economy/welfare state.)
Ancient Rome had a republic, but not capitalism. Why?
Ancient Athens had democracy and a great deal of freedom, but not capitalism. Why?
Modern China has technology and a growing economy (or so it seems), but not capitalism. Why? And did they develop their economy and finances and methods on their own, or did they get them from the West?
Modern China, Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany had money, but not capitalism. Why?
Modern England, India and the US have competition (albeit limited and regulated), but not capitalism. Why?
Neither “having money” nor “based on money” nor “based on competition” characterizes capitalism. Yes, it involves money (people are advanced enough to not have to rely exclusively on barter; and every other modern society has money, so this is no characterization of capitalism). Yes, it involves competition (but so does baseball, soccer, totalitarianism and communism (where dictators fight for control)). Yes, property is important (but everyone needs property: food, shelter, and clothes at the very least).
History shows us that it is property rights that distinguish capitalism. Of course, property as such does not have rights. It is individual human beings who have rights. So it is the property rights held by individual human beings that distinguishes capitalism. In other words, it is individual rights of human beings that founds and makes possible capitalism, and distinguishes capitalism from other social systems.
It was not until John Locke gave the first integrated, systematic, theoretical presentation of natural, inalienable, individual rights that capitalism could grow up and break free from the chains of monarchy.
But don’t take my word for it: think it out for yourself; study history on your own; do your own research; draw your own conclusions.