We’ve let it get out of control

R.G. is a white woman who was born in Texas but raised in Jersey. She attended some university before and during her previous job at a HMO. R.G. enjoyed her job, however she decided to stay at home to care for her children for 15 years before going back to part-time work. She currently works as a receptionist in Hamilton, and lives in Pennington. She sees capitalism as an economy that has lost control.


How would you define capitalism?-

I define Capitalism in a microcosm like a person having a business to profit. The profit they receive belongs to them, and does not have government involvement.  

What has your personal experience with capitalism been?  What is your relationship with capitalism?

My personal experience was growing up with two parents that worked. They taught us kids how to achieve a certain level. I participated by working and I believe I surpassed them in a material setting.

What do you think are some alternatives to capitalism?  What do you think about them?

One alternative is the Barter system where one person trades something they need for another.This system was based on substinence, and more primitive. I believe this system was better because of how much our system has grown out of control.  Continue reading We’ve let it get out of control

Final Interview: A Natural System

My third interviewee, HE, is an eighteen year old student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to enrolling at VCU, she worked as a sales associate at Pac Sun and as a Partner at Starbucks. Throughout the interview she struggled to connect ideas about capitalism as they were taught in school with her own experiences.


How would you define capitalism?


“Capitalism is a system of open markets where the people govern how they organize markets. I’m sorry I don’t have much more to offer than that.”


This is actually the third interview I have done, and I usually get the same answer, that capitalism is a system that allows free transactions.


“That is not necessarily true, because the government regulates the market, or at least that is how it is taught in school.”


That is a good segway to my next question, how would you describe your economics education?


“I have taken a microeconomics course and am about halfway through a macroeconomics course, which is basically the study of capitalism. My understanding is limited, but I’m not very good at applying what I have learned in school. It is difficult to take what we have learned in the classroom and connect it to the real world.”


From your answer, it sounds like you feel as though you are learning solely about how capitalism functions in your economics courses.


“I guess that is true. Micro and macroeconomics are basically the study of how markets work.”


Do you know of any other economic systems?


“Mercantilism is the only one I can name off the top of my head.”


What about socialism?


“I just thought of that too, but I thought it was more of a political system.”


Why is that?


“I guess because socialism is associated with the Soviet Union and the Cold War and not really as a realistic way of organizing an economy. After all, it did fail.”


What do you think are capitalism’s origins, both globally and in reference to the United States?


“AP U.S. History in high school covered it. From the way that I see the history of capitalism, it looks like there was a group of classical economists that philosophized about economics and created the values that are the basis of free market capitalism. That sounds right for the U.S., but as for the rest of the world I am not sure.”


How does capitalism influence America?  How has it influenced America in the past?


“Capitalism plays a big part in our culture and our financial policy. I’m sorry that I’m so inarticulate about this subject. Lots of the issues I hear about are economics issues. From my freshman-outlook on economics, it looks like people are better off when they set their own prices and the economy works to get to equilibrium in prices, supply, and demand.”


“Wait, hold on. I think the reason I am having such a hard time articulating my thoughts is because I have read about capitalism, I understand it, but I have not thought about it. If my teachers had made me apply my knowledge and write essays about it, maybe it would be better.”


What has your personal experience with capitalism been?  What is your relationship with capitalism?


“I worked in the private sector so I know what it feels like to work to make somebody else’s profit. As a sales person, your standing is based on how much you can provide to the company. People are not meant to live based on focusing on profits, but that is not a healthy way to live. However, for my relationship with capitalism, I have to appreciate it because I am on the positive end of the spectrum because I got lucky from it.”


It sounds like you think you are a winner from capitalism.


“I am. I admit I come from a good family.”


A big question that has arisen in my past interviews has been whether there are more winners than losers in the capitalistic system. What do you think?


“There are definitely more losers, but I cannot criticize the system because I have benefited from it.”


Why not?


“I don’t know, I’m sorry I don’t have the words to articulate it.”


How do you think social issues have been affected by capitalism, both now and in the past?


“When it comes to social equality, a lot of people will turn to survival of the fittest. Gender and race play a role too.”


How so?


“I mean I did a paper on how women’s bodies are sold for profit in bra advertisements. My conclusion was that there is a correlation between bra ads and whether or not women engage in premarital sex. Body image plays a big role in marketing. Capitalists make money off of people’s insecurities.”


In light of your research, do you think capitalism is a natural fit for human nature?  Why or why not?


“Yeah, it is evolutionary. People are going to want as much as they can. People who are more intelligent and educated guide the economy, while others may not be as successful. It sounds like Social Darwinism, I know, but that is what happens.”


From what I have been able to conclude in my interviews, it sounds like people take a passive view towards capitalism. My first interviewee saw it as the best of a bad situation, my second saw it as the only viable system (because that is all he was taught), and my third thinks that capitalism has won out in the arena of ideas. It would have been nice to gain more nuanced views about capitalism and its place in history, but these interviews have basically yielded the same answers. More or less, they all believe capitalism is just a system of uninhibited transactions rather than conscious decisions made by people over time. They also think it is natural because people want more than they have. If I can draw any conclusions from my third interview, it is that the American public’s views about capitalism are relatively consistent.

Capitalism is natural, flexible, and durable

AW is a 32 year-old married woman employed as a writer for a marketing department in Norfolk, VA. Prior to working in marketing, AW was a high school English teacher and has worked various retail jobs. Prior to moving to Virginia in her twenties, AW grew up in a middle-class family in Rochester, NY. She attended the University of Richmond and graduated with a degree in History and American Studies. Continue reading Capitalism is natural, flexible, and durable

“Capitalism is Successful because it is Unnatural”

For my second interview, I discussed the nature of capitalism with my father, SL.  A college-educated 58-year-old white male, I was interested to see how similar SL’s answers would be to SM’s (my first interviewee) perspective on capitalism.  SL identifies as lower middle class (in terms of his income), although he grew up relatively poor in Norfolk, VA.  He was raised by a single mother, and at a young age, often had to work to help contribute to the family’s survival. He has been working since he was roughly 15 years old, and has a diverse background when it comes to employment, having worked for people who started their own businesses, big corporations and the United States government.

Continue reading “Capitalism is Successful because it is Unnatural”

“The Natural Order of Human Affairs”

JB is a 59 year old white male who owns a small communications business and recently started a small farm. He typically votes Republican, though he has recently begun to consider himself more of a Libertarian than anything else. JB states multiple time that capitalism is the “natural order of human affairs” and that he knows of nothing that works anywhere near as well as capitalism.

How would you define capitalism?
“Capitalism is free enterprise business, where business is not very restricted in what it can and cannot do […], and it is the natural order of human affairs when freedom is present.”

Continue reading “The Natural Order of Human Affairs”

“It is the motivation of the people, and gives people a place in society”

F.C. is a Hispanic male, who is twenty-one years of age, and grew up in Fredericksburg, Va. He is a senior a Mary Washington studying Economics. F.C. works at a company called Fasanol Industrial and Construction. When F.C. graduates he plans on continue his career in the finance field as a broker and living in Richmond.

How would you define capitalism?

Capitalism is the pricing and distribution of products for profits. There are two roles laborers and capitalists. Laborers make the products and capitalists are the salesmen who sell the product for profits.

What has your personal experience with capitalism been?  What is your relationship with capitalism? –

I study capitalism and plan to be a capitalist. I am a salesman right now and a broker at my job after graduation. I distribute and sell freight at my job making me the capitalist.

Continue reading “It is the motivation of the people, and gives people a place in society”

“It was Natural for America to become Capitalist”

My second interviewee is KH, a twenty-year old white female college student here at UMW. She is a history major, and lives in Virginia Beach. She is a Republican, and so is rather more conservative than  my last interviewee.


How would you define capitalism?

“An economic system where private enterprise is separate from the government.”

What do you mean by separate?

“Free from any direct government control or interference.”

What is your relationship with capitalism?

“I am personally favorable towards capitalism. I think it is responsible for many technological advances throughout history, and I think it has had major societal and historical  positive impacts in some instances.”

What instances?

“One would be the IT boom through the 80s and 90s. The privatization of the telephone industry in the 80s played a major role in it. The tech boom in recent times in general comes from capitalism.”

What are some alternative systems to capitalism?

“Communism, socialism, fascism, and mercantilism.”

What do you think of them?

“I’m not a fan of any. Mercantilism is technically capitalist, sort of, but it’s not really private enterprise. I guess it’s kind of nationalist, state capitalism almost. Communism, well, people say it works on paper, but in my opinion it doesn’t even make sense in theory. I have not studied Marxism in depth, but that’s sort of what I get from my impression of it. Socialism just seems like a slower means to communism, it’s a step towards that path. Fascism is sort of like another version of socialism. National Socialism after all. But its mainly about nationalist fervor I guess. It’s all about the state.”

Can you elaborate on the similarities/differences between socialists and fascists? Are they after the same things?

“Not entirely I think, but both tend to support the state and they use similar methods towards their goals.”

How has capitalism influenced America?

“I think capitalism has been tied together with America from the start. Capitalism is totally linked with the American Revolution I’d say. The Revolution even really begins the same year that Adam Smith publishes Wealth of Nations. Capitalism is inherent in the structure of the American government as set up by the Founding Fathers. It was natural for America to become capitalist, from that point.”

What do you mean by inherent? Do you think capitalism as a system was sort of intended to become what it did in America?

“I don’t know about intended, but I definitely think capitalism was enabled by the way that our society was set up and began to evolve around this time.”

Where/when do you think capitalism comes from?

“I’m not sure I can describe the exact origins of capitalism. Adam Smith is certainly held up as the founder of capitalist thought, but  I think capitalism probably had smaller origins; people were already practicing capitalism when Smith wrote, they just didn’t call it that yet.”

How do you think social issues are affected by capitalism?

“I think capitalism tends to blanket certain social issues. Pure capitalist theory is liberating in that it is meant to empower the individual. Like Ayn Rand said, the individual is the smallest minority. But pure theory doesn’t work in practice. Capitalism, the free market often overlooks or is blind to certain social issues I think. But the free market can be used for good as well. You can boycott an enterprise that has policies you disagree with.”

So, you think the free market can be used to address social ills?

“Yes, I think so. The free market can bring social problems to light, and a person can use their economic power to effect that issue. It all depends on the individual or enterprise I suppose.”

Do you think capitalism has changed over time? What are some examples?

“I think capitalism in Adam Smith’s time looks different than capitalism in Karl Marx’s. Historically I think we see capitalism through Marxist lens rather than Smith’s. Over time, capitalism has become kind of a synonym for corporatism. So I guess maybe it’s our view of capitalism that has changed.

By Marxist, do you mean a kind of Marxist, class-based historical approach, or are you talking more about Marx himself?

“The Marxist historians I think.”

Do you think capitalism is a good fit for human nature?

“I think so, personally. Basic survival instinct makes us basically selfish, and capitalism actually uses that for good. It’s about what you do with that selfish instinct. Capitalism is not perfect, but it’s helped more than it has hurt. Because people are selfish, capitalism can cater to each of us in a sense.

How has capitalism been taught to you, during your education? Good, bad, neither?

“My education about capitalism has been quite neutral I think. I have not been taught pure capitalist theory really, but I’ve learned about capitalism as a system. In AP US History, a lot of issues with capitalism became more obvious to me. Not all major industrialists like during the Gilded Age were good people, certainly. But they mostly did good things for the country with their wealth, I think. I feel that capitalism does improve the standard of living for everyone. So I would say I’ve had pretty balanced teaching of capitalism.”


A major takeaway from this interview, for me anyway, was the way KH repeatedly refers to capitalism almost as a sort of mystic, abstract force that does things of its own volition. And while she thinks it does have flaws, it seems apparent that she’s pretty much in approval of capitalism on a basic level and thinks it makes sense.




More Winners Than Losers

In the conclusion of my last interview, I said I would pick a person whose experience with American capitalism had been more positive. This next interviewee had to be older, someone who had time to establish themselves in the market. His name is DR, an eighty five year-old retired doctor from central Pennsylvania. After concluding his medical residency in 1959, he started his own obstetrics and gynecology practice. Later in his career he moved into nutritional health. While DR’s experience capitalism has been more tangible than mine or my previous interviewee, his view on the subject is also influenced by his understanding of history and current political trends in the country.

What is the definition of capitalism?

DR believes that free market enterprise means that individuals have a way to “earn money based on personal choices.” Individuals may spend how they choose and businesses can create whatever products they want. In the end, “capitalism is about freedom and individual choice.”

Like Captain Sean Luke Picard in Star Trek: Next Generation, who vociferates to the Borg that Earth’s culture stands for freedom and self-determination, DR reinforced his view that capitalism is the freest economic system out there. Capitalism’s continuation is necessary to the United States’ survival as a commercial superpower. Later in the interview, I return to his equation of capitalism with freedom.

How has capitalism affected you personally?

For DR, the route to success seemed straightforward. If he wanted to become a doctor, he had to go to college, then to medical school, intern, and complete a residency, so that is what he did. After serving in the army, he got an education thanks to the G.I. Bill. He said, “I wanted to join a profession and open an office, so I had to go to school and work hard. A lot of flunkies got into college because of the G.I. Bill and they washed out.” Some, like DR, had the aptitude to succeed in higher education, but the military helped them pay for tuition.

I asked my interviewee if he felt like the barriers to the medical profession were an infringement on free market principles. After all, the law says you cannot practice medicine without a license and you cannot get a license without going to school. He said, “No, it is just what I had to do. I had an obligation to go to school and serve my patients, but these requirements did not affect my economic freedom.”

What do you think are alternatives to capitalism?

Throughout the interview, DR used Canada as a foil to the United States. He asserted that “Canada is more socialistic because the national government pays for education and healthcare.” He believes the U.S. government is moving in the same direction as Canada, though he is unsure if the people are.

What are capitalism’s origins?

“The U.S. was founded on the idea that we should be a capitalist democracy. People left Europe and England to be free to do business and trade as they please.” From there, I wondered if DR saw capitalism and democracy as inextricably linked. However, he does not believe so. Again, referring to Canada, DR noted that the country is parliamentary democracy even where people can speak and vote as they please, even if they do have to bear a greater tax burden.

How do you think social issues have been affected by capitalism?

My interviewee admitted that the forces of creative destruction do create in people’s lives, citing the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. He mentioned that “prejudices” may come out. When I pressed DR he expressed his view that “when economic times are bad prejudices run high. So when the economy contracts, people tend to look for scapegoats. For example, people on the lower-end of the socioeconomic scale blame immigrants for taking their jobs.”

How has capitalism changed over time?

“Capitalism has changed, but mostly because of government regulation. Because of emerging economies like China and post-Communist Russia, things are more competitive.” However, I wanted to know about his personal experience with the alterations to the capitalistic system.

I asked him about how free market forces in the medical field had changed. “The two biggest changes in my career were the steep rise in malpractice insurance rates and the invention of Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs. Malpractice premiums rose through the roof, but HMOs capped how much a doctor could be reimbursed. I was a specialist, an OBGYN, so I was not affected too much. An insurance company or a patient would still pay me to treat them.” In his view, tort reform could help control runaway malpractice premiums and reduce healthcare costs, but noted that all efforts to enact tort reform have failed because most members of Congress are lawyers who benefit from the current system.

Is capitalism a natural fit for human beings?

He simply said, “It should be. Capitalism will never die, but it will continue to change.”

How has capitalism been taught to you in various stages of your education?

DR was born in 1930. He says that no one questioned capitalism and that it was just the way the U.S. worked, therefore it was never taught to him.

I found this astonishing. After all, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only president he had ever known until he had reached adolescence; under his custodianship, American capitalism underwent the most radical changes it had ever experienced. When I pointed this out, DR argued that “The New Deal was about avoiding another Great Depression, it was not about changing capitalism.”

I retorted that Social Security forced employees and employers to set aside wages and earnings to pay for retirement. If capitalism is about individual choice, then does Social Security contradict capitalistic principles? He answered, “No, that was about reforming society and the way people saved for retirement, not about economics.”


In this interview, I got to talk with someone who has thrived under capitalism. At the same time, misunderstandings and contradictions were apparent. Was colonial America a capitalist society or something totally different? If capitalism means individuals are free, then why is Social Security, a system that forces retirement contributions, acceptable? These are difficult questions, and they have frustrated historians, pundits, and thinkers for decades. One thing is certain, DR’s views stand in stark contrast to my first interviewee’s. He believes capitalism produces more winners than losers.

“not good for people like me”

JY is a 20-year-old African American male. He is currently completing his junior year of college in a suburban town, while coming from a rural background and a lower middle class family. Ultimately, this interview shows that JY’s experience with capitalism has largely been shaped by his race and, by association, his families socioeconomic status. In terms of a historical understanding of capitalism, he knows how racial segregation has shaped capitalism, but he does not generally understand its origins.

Continue reading “not good for people like me”