I've recently come across a book called The Ethics of Capitalism (Daniel Halliday and John Thrasher, OUP 2020). Unsurprisingly, it starts by groping for a definition.
... Treating the relationship between markets and freedom as all or nothing tends to be a mistake of both the “purest” defenders and opponents of capitalism. It is better, then, to think of capitalism as a certain approach to harnessing and promoting markets, in part with the help of government and civil society, not a deference to markets as such... Market forces and markets are ubiquitous, and yet the existence and promotion of markets alone are not the “essence” of capitalism. What, then, is? ... In many respects, no two capitalist societies are entirely alike, so there is limited value in generating an exhaustive, philosophically precise definition of capitalism.
... We need to make sure that any definition of capitalism, however flexible, at least captures most existing societies that are seen as more or less capitalist. One crude way to do this is to use a proxy measure like the Economic Freedom of the World Index, which is produced annually by the Fraser Institute. Their methodology measures size of government, legal system and security of property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation.
... A country’s economic freedom score is highly correlated with its per capita income. Countries that are unfree, like Venezuela, have very low per capita incomes, while countries that are very free, like Hong Kong or Canada, have very high per capita incomes. The ranking on the list also correlates well with where people around the world are trying to enter as immigrants and from where they are trying to escape. This gives us one way of arriving at an approximate and preliminary definition of capitalism. Although we will expand on this somewhat, we should think of capitalist societies as those that rank highly on most of the measures that the Economic Freedom of the World Index highlights. In particular, capitalist societies will have:
A. Strong legal protections for private property
B. Wide dispersion of private property across their population
C. Extensive international trade
D. Consumer sovereignty (including competition in the provision of goods and services)
E. Diversity of employment contracts
Existing capitalist countries will have these features to greater or lesser degrees, but without at least meeting these (admittedly broad) conditions, it is unlikely that we would consider the society in question capitalist.
And that's as far as they go in their build-up. Even if it's a useful background discussion (and there's plenty more of interesting stuff in the book), as regards essaying a definition of capitalism this is a pathetic cop-out.
Eventually they get to this:
...“pure” capitalism [is] the economic arrangement in which power is de-centralised, property is widespread and employment options are diverse.
Feeble. I've occasionally shared a few definitional ideas of my own here in the past. What do dedicated C@W readers say? We want a definition in no more than a couple of sentences, even if you need to add an explanatory paragraph or two.