The three interviews that I conducted this semester surveyed a range of ages and stages in life, salary range, and knowledge of capitalism as a system and how it operates. However, despite the range of personal perspectives and experiences, the collective thought regarding capitalism was not a positive one, which I was surprised to see across the board. Judging from the history of capitalism in the United States and the ingrained nature of labor in the economy, I believed in the beginning that a large percentage of my interviewees would feel like capitalism was the American economy and therefore there was no changing that. However, that was not the case to the extent that, although the interviewees commonly viewed themselves as “cogs in the machine,” the outlook on capitalism swayed towards the negative. From the recent college graduate, M, to the college senior, T, I expected to see a similar perspective of capitalism given their age and economic status, especially regarding their liberal philosophies and views.
I did not expect the final interviewee, which was a Southern older gentleman who had been working for over fifty years, to so passionately reject and defend capitalism. BR first and foremost felt that he had been cheated by the system. He provides a careful critique of what he considers the American dream of capitalism, discarding the idea as unrealistic in corporate America. His first declaration that capitalism “is s**t” set the tone for the rest of the interview. BR’s condemnation of capitalism stems from the cyclical nature of poverty and how it feels inescapable. BR attempted his entire life to escape from poverty, working from the time he was 14 in an effort to do something with his life. The establishment of his business and the economic growth that he was able to experience was short-lived, with the market crash bringing it to a quick halt. The shift from seeing himself as an innovator to a “cog in the machine” hit immediately, and his view of capitalism changed from a positive outlook to a negative future. His resentment of capitalism, however, is broken by his belief that capitalism is the only system that works and his connection between capitalism and U.S. values. The lack of information that both M and BR have on other economic systems is indicative of their belief that capitalism defines America and their lack of education regarding capitalism as an economic system and what factors make it run. The “cog in the machine” perspective of capitalism leads to what I would describe as both weariness and a general distrust of the economy.
All three of my interviewees have experienced poverty, and that drastically changes the overall view of capitalism and what can be achieved through working in the system. For the young college graduate, the phrase “capitalism doesn’t support me the way I support capitalism” plays into his ignorance of how capitalism works and his own frustrations over the cycle of working, paying taxes, and dying. The idea that capitalism is the lesser of two evils fits in with BR’s beliefs, and that total socialist programs would not work. With socialism as both BR’s and M’s only comparison to capitalism, the choice is clear. There is a small chance that one can rise to the top and make millions, and that small chance is enough for those two interviewees to accept capitalism in the American economic system. Most Americans, without an education in economics or business, do not fully understand how capitalism works as a system in a social, political, and economic sense. T, however, had the educational background to understand how capitalism worked and was the main proponent against capitalism. Ironically, her greater comprehension of capitalism lead to her greater rejection of it as a system and contributed to her ambivalence regarding the nature of capitalism as a system and its pros and cons.
The interviewees M, T, and BR present a spectrum of views that both reject capitalism for its faults and embrace capitalism for its opportunities. BR, although he expressed his bitter feelings towards capitalism and the market after the loss of his business, believes that there is no alternative to capitalism despite his disdain. T, on the other hand, strayed into socialist territory regarding social laws and some economic regulation. Her inherent knowledge of capitalism as a system was the highest, yet she had the biggest issue with it as a part of America’s economy than either BR or M. M splits the middle between BR and T; he both firmly believes that he could have the chance to rise in status, but also asserts that socialist programs should be implemented by the government to alleviate the mental and physical toll capitalism takes on the laborer. Through these three interviews, all three to some extent reject capitalism for what they believe to be a form of corruption but view its positives as outweighing the negatives in the long haul. This group of interviewees provides a conflicting perspective of capitalism that struggles to combine optimism in the face of economic growth with pessimism regarding their expected economic outcome.
Based on these interviews, as well as observing the interviews of other classmates through their posts, across the board there remains this idea that Americans only have a very fundamental understanding of capitalism and what it does. The idea that one can become rich under capitalism is appealing, especially to those who are or have been under the poverty line. More education on economic systems, in this case, indicates a more critical approach to the negatives of capitalism and points out the struggle to change classes under capitalism. The superficial definition and understanding of capitalism contribute to its idealization in the media and in the public’s eyes, allowing for that narrative of capitalism to continue. I myself would have been in the first category of people prior to this class. However, more education and further critical thinking on the subject allowed me to more deeply understand capitalism as a system and the overall effect it has on the American people. The idealization of capitalism and the view that the pros of capitalism outweigh the cons only exists without the education of American citizens as to how a capitalist system operates and how regulation is enforced.