Throughout the interview process this semester, I was expecting to have various answers and opinions on the history of capitalism. My interviewees were all from different backgrounds and generations. I expected them to have different understandings of the history of capitalism that would show a generational divide. However, I discovered that no matter what generation and background my interviewees were from, there was a common theme throughout: corruption. Some were more blunter in their answers, but all my interviewees agree that the history of capitalism is a history of corruption.
For my first interview, I expected her to be a little critical of capitalism. She is a history major, and I figured she would use her prior knowledge of different events in American history to come up with her understanding of the history of capitalism. She says, “Without safety nets, some citizens will fall through the cracks. Profits are more important than people in pure capitalism.” She also states, “It’s so corrupt these days. Corruption is rampant in capitalism, and without some government oversight, it runs amok. Therefore, pure capitalism can’t benefit society.” The first interviewee sees capitalism as corrupt. She has seen this throughout her life and the history of our country. We saw this throughout the course. In our history, government officials sided with different kinds of capitalists, all in the name of money. Whether railroad managers, insurance companies, or even religion, government officials have followed a theme of corruption in American and capitalism’s history.
The second interviewee was not as blatant about corruption as the first interviewee. His answers showed more of a positive outlook on capitalism and its history as a whole. He says, “Positives of capitalism are that everyone has an opportunity to be successful from hard work and opportunities as well.” This positive outlook is very similar to the “American dream” that capitalism promoted throughout our country’s history. However, he also saw how that “American dream” is a dream. He states, “There are certain people, classes of people, different situations, race, economical circumstances, that capitalism limits opportunities for. Opportunities are not fair across the board.” This is a common theme that we have looked at throughout the semester. Many people throughout our history have been victims of corruption when it comes to capitalism. Factory workers, enslaved people, and the poor have all fallen victim to the corruption of capitalism in our country.
My last interviewee was the most critical of the history of capitalism. This did not surprise me; given that he is much younger than my first two interviewees. He does not think that capitalism has changed much and was always corrupt. He states, “I’ve seen it in rich people getting really rich, with oil and railroads.” He also states, “More money in our economy is centered around a few wealthy people as opposed to having the money spread out throughout the country.” He believes that corruption lies at the feet of the rich who get richer and the poor get poorer throughout capitalism’s history. In our readings this semester, we have seen many instances where rich people get richer at the expense of poorer people. Capitalists like factory owners, railroad managers, and government officials have gotten richer. In contrast, other people get hurt in the process.
My interviewees have shown what we have learned about this semester. There has been a level of corruption throughout the history of capitalism in our country. We have read about railroad managers mistreating their workers by cutting wages and benefits, factory owners abusing workers’ lives for profit, and government officials siding with capitalists that abuse the little guy for their profit. The interviewees see that corruption has always been there, and it still is today.