Late Capitalism is a term that gets bandied about every time I read the works someone who has studied postmodernism, so I decided to do some research on it. It turns out that people can mean different things when they say this term:

  • The broadest meaning refers to the Capitalism of the letter half of the 20th century. The rise of multinational corporations, corporate oligarchies with a corresponding decrease in the power of the people and the state are pretty classically correlated with this concept. Note that rise of an estado corporativo could be included in this as well.
  • When you are talking to a marxist, they are referring to Marx's or Lenin's description of this time, which is all of the above, with an extra emphasis on monopolies, imperialism, and oppression.
  • More recently, it has started referring specifically to a post-industrial economy, which really needs a writeup all its own, but can be summed up as an economy that has moved from big smokestacks and pig iron to information exchange and multiculturalism.
All of which can be summed up as: monstrously big and powerful companies making life weird and not necessarily good.

Help was garnered from the internet on this one, in particular the glossary of Words of Art, located at

The term "late capitalism" always seems somewhat presumptuous to me, because we don't really know how far along the lines of social and economic development the quote unquote capitalist system is. We could be in Stage 2 or 3 of a 6 or 7 stage capitalism, and historians in the year 2525 might find our self-descriptions of "late capitalism" amusing in the same way that someone speaking of "late feudalism" in the year 950 AD would seem amusing to us now. (Not, of course, that people in the 10th century had pretentious social speak, but if they did).

While it seems clear that "capitalism" as it exists now is very different from what it was in the 19th or early 20th century, there is no way of knowing whether this is the "late" form, or perhaps somewhere in the middle, or still towards the beginning.

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