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Capital goods – definition and meaning

Capital goods are things that we use in the production of goods and services. They are durable goods. In other words, they last a long time. They do not wear out quickly.

We must not confuse the term with ‘capital,’ which refers to wealth or money.

Capital goods are fixed assets such as machinery, equipment, buildings, vehicles, computers, etc. However, they may also include infrastructure items, such as railway lines, roads, and bridges.

We commonly use the term in a macroeconomic context. Above all, we use it when talking about capital formation and the creation of productive capacity. Macroeconomics refers to the whole economy rather than just parts of it.

To produce goods we need three things: First, capital goods; second,  land; and third, labor. We call these three components collectively as the primary factors of production.

Capital goods for John the gardener - lawn mower
John is a gardener. The lawn mower in the image is a capital good. The video game system, on the other hand, is a consumer good. Only the lawn mower helps him become more productive.

Capital goods vs. consumer goods

We classify goods according to how we use them.

A consumer good is a product that consumers use. It has no future productive use. For example, we buy and then consume a chocolate bar. We do not subsequently use it to produce something else. Therefore, chocolate bars are consumer goods.

Put simply, we ‘consume’ consumer goods rather than use them again.

A capital good is anything that we use to make things or increase production. We refer to the most common capital goods as PP&E. PP&E stands for Property, Plant, and Equipment.

A capital good often requires a considerable investment on behalf of the producer. In accountancy, we refer to the purchase of a capital good is a capital expense.

According to the Financial Times’ dictionary of business term, capital goods are:

“Goods used to produce other goods. This is basically fixed assets such as machinery, buildings, etc, although the term can also encompass roads, train lines and other economic infrastructure.”