A capitalist is a person that owns man-made property that earns revenue. There are two types of capital: fixed and circulating.

  1. Fixed capital is capital that is fixed to the earth i.e. buildings, machines and roads. Fixed capital can be used to receive rent, or used in production to receive profit.
  2. Circulating capital is capital that is not fixed to the earth i.e. food, fuel and money. Merchants receive profit by trading commodities. Financiers lend money and receive interest (loans, bonds, overdrafts) or buy equities from joint-stock companies to receive a dividend. Bonds and equities can also be traded for profit on a Stock Exchange. (N.B. These are only the basic financial assets available in modern financial markets)

Chief Executive Officers of joint-stock companies are often called capitalists, although in a strict sense they are managers. A Chief Executive Officer can manage a company without owning equity. Due to the dominance of joint-stock companies, the dominance of the individual capitalist has steadily declined.

Many philosophers and political theorists use "capitalist" to mean "an advocate of capitalism"--q.v.