“I Couldn’t Imagine any other System”

DR is a 63 year old male. He is white/Caucasian and is a native born American. He completed three years of college but never graduated. DR is an Iron worker and has been in the construction business for 30 plus years. He owns his own small rebar business and works throughout the state of Virginia. DR identifies himself as part of the middle class, at best.

How has capitalism been taught to you at different levels of your education?

I guess in high school it was just the history of capitalism. The Rockefeller and Carnegies and the rise of the Unions.

I can’t really remember learning about it in college but I imagine it was the history again and alternatives to capitalism.

Was this an economic course or a history course?

It was macroeconomics in college and history in high school.

How would you define capitalism?

A system by which people can pursue a profession/trade where they can make a profit. A system where there are many opportunities for freedom of movement between socioeconomic statuses and lines of business. It’s basically economic freedom.

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“Capitalism allows for freedom”

The first person I chose to interview was JV, a sixty year-old, married woman living in Virginia. JV grew up in a working class family in a small town, and credits the capitalist system as an aid in bettering her economic position throughout her life. In 1976, JV received a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and went on work in the fields of parole and probation. JV currently works as a hearing officer for a Virginia government agency. JV’s work involves disputed of private enterprise and government regulations, and thus she regularly sees the effects of the form of capitalism present in America today.

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“Living for Yourself”

For my first interview, I discussed the nature of capitalism with my roommate, SM.  A 22-year-old white male with two college educated parents, I was interested to see how similar SM’s perspective on capitalism would be to my own.  SM identifies as relatively wealthy, middle class, and he grew up in a diverse neighborhood in Northern Virginia.  His father is wealthy, and according to SM, worked his way up to become a senior administrator in a major bank.  His uncle also owns a small business.

When I asked SM to define capitalism, he defined an economic system that provides for “the means to pave your own way and choose what it is you want to do.”  He elaborated that capitalism enables people to have the opportunity to do what they want to do in life – to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and pave their way toward economic independence.

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“Political & Economic Structure related to Private Business”

For my first interview, I chose to ask my Canadian friend PC via Skype (I’m not sure what the telephone rate for Canada is, but I’m sure my phone bill would not be very friendly). PC is a 25 year old college student and identifies as Caucasian, upper middle class, male, and Canadian. For his occupation, he states he is a writer and student. He has done a study abroad program here in America, so he has experienced American capitalism from the perspective of a visiting student. I began the interview by asking him what he defines as capitalism.

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Take it or Leave it World

My first interviewee was JB who works for the University of Mary Washington. JB holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English which he received in 1973 and a Master’s of Library Sciences which he received later from the University of Illinois. JB is a published author of several works and therefore has some personal insight into the nature and function of Capitalism in modern America. I did not ask about political affiliation or really any political opinions which JB might hold. I chose JB for this interview because of prior conversations he and I have had regarding some literature relevant to the Capitalist topic. JB mentioned ahead of the interview that he is not well versed in the history or nature of Capitalism but will answer as honestly and sincerely as possible. (All answers designated as JB are paraphrased by me unless specifically indicated as direct quotes.)
I began the interview by asking JB what his definition of Capitalism was.
JB: Capitalism is a the system by which an individual or company has the right to produce a good to the quality of their choosing and then sell that good at whatever price they wish to charge. Capitalism works basically on the concept of Supply and Demand which helps dictate the prices which individuals or companies choose to charge. There are some obstacles to the system such as Unions which can cause issues with Supply and Demand and the pricing system.
I followed up the definition by asking if he had any personal experience with Capitalism. (luckily JB has had quite a bit of experience with Capitalism.)
JB: Being a published author has been quite an interesting experience with Capitalism. Throughout the publishing process I had to deal with publishers which lead to questions of royalties and copyrights. I had just read an article which talked about how some publishers are now taking the copyrights from the authors during negotiations. A lot of the time publishers throw out a “take it or leave it” type of offer which really led me to wonder “how much negotiating power I have.” I also had a paper route when I was just a kid. That was a great experience with Capitalism. I wanted to make money, just like any kid, and in order to do that I had to learn not just to deliver these papers on time but I also had to collect a lot of money and get new subscriptions as well on occasion deal with complicated costumers. I also got tipped and had to learn how to budget properly so that I would have some of that money later on. It was a really eye-opening and wonderful experience.
JB’s experiences seemed really positive so I asked if he could think of any negative interaction he’d had with Capitalism.
JB: The only real negative thing I can think of right now was a job I had while in college. I was working as many hours as I could to make extra money. This is before all of the 40 hour work week rules and the idea of overtime. I worked well over 40 hours a week every week, without getting paid any extra, I just wanted to make money. They had been paying me for my lunch break for a while. It was a complete accident and no one noticed right away, but once they did notice, I had to pay it all back, which was difficult to do. But that’s really all the bad experience I can think of. I do think that regulations have made it harder for kids to work through school. When I was in school I just did as much work as I could without the rules about overtime and full time versus part time. There just wasn’t as much regulation to deal with and I think that made it easier for people to work their way through school. My tuition was also only like a few hundred dollars a semester versus the thousands people have to pay now.
I figured that made for a great description of experience with Capitalism and so I moved on and asked JB if he thought Capitalism had evolved over time.
JB: Oh boy! That’s a tough question. There is no doubt that Capitalism has evolved over time but I can’t think of specific examples of changes. Capitalism always created a sort of take it or leave it world but I guess there were changes made which affected Capitalism. You know there used to be those horrible sweatshops and places where working conditions were just awful, like the triangle shirt fire and places like that. The government implemented rules like fair wages and work place safety which helped a lot but also changed the way Capitalism worked by sort of bringing morality into play. That is why unions and things like that exist now. But I think that even though things improved because of these changes, the market is overregulated now and doesn’t allow for true Capitalism to happen. In a lot of ways it ends up crippling the system. I had a friend who had to close down his book store because his employees started demanding that they get paid just as much as people at like Barnes and Noble and so of course he couldn’t afford that because he wasn’t a big corporation and so he ended up having to close up the shop because of things like that. But then again there are also places that are probably helped by all the rules about the treatment of workers, places like Walmart. I know that I go there a lot, especially early in the morning and I see the same people all the time and their managers really keep them on their feet and busy so without the regulations Walmart would probably be a really hard to place to work at.
After the discussion evolution of Capitalism, I concluded the interview by asking JB if he thought of Capitalism as a reflection of Human Nature.
JB: I think it definitely has some of the attributes of basic human nature, or at least opens up an avenue by which people can pursue their natural instincts in a modern world. It used to be that the whole point of life was really to provide for yourself and your family that existed even way back in the Stone Age. Capitalism just seems to modernize that concept. Instead of providing, people earn now, which in turn helps them provide. I think that Capitalism allows for everyone to earn as much as they can, with some earning more than others, just like in the Stone Age some provided more than others based on certain conditions.

A Natural Fit

For my first interview I chose to question someone who is similar to myself. TS is a good friend of mine. We have been friends since middle school, and share many experiences and beliefs. TS is a 24 year old middle school teacher. She was raised by her mother who had her at age 19. Given the struggle her family initially had with finances, TS has a positive opinion of capitalism. She sees herself as embodying the “American Dream.” She is a first generation college student and paid her way through college with loans, and various jobs. TS admits to not knowing much about the economy but is a highly active participant in it, she openly refers to herself as a “shopaholic.”

Given the nature of the questions this interview entailed, I thought a good first question would be…

What is the definition of Capitalism?

It is a free market. The government butts-out and the economy runs itself.

How has Capitalism affected you personally?

Well I’m a consumer.  When things go wrong in the economy or the government steps-in, these factors affect the price of products I buy.

What are some alternatives to Capitalism?

There are no alternatives. (Jokingly)  Well I don’t know, I suppose socialism is an alternative. A government run economy. But we all know that doesn’t work.

How do you think social issues are affected by capitalism?

Well, being a teacher, this question immediately brings to mind the issue of education. We should have a capitalistic approach to education. There needs to be less government regulation to allow educators to create a curriculum to fit the needs of the students and society.

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“A Vague Understanding of Capitalism”

KWH is a white, female college student from Northern Virginia with fairly liberal political views. She studies art and geography and has little interest in history or the economy. KWH, like many others, has spent very little time thinking about capitalism since she took Civics in middle school. Continue reading “A Vague Understanding of Capitalism”

” Land of opportunityY”

My interviewee was a family member CG , who is 48. CG grew up, and still currently lives in NJ. He received a bachelors and masters for his education. The career path he chose is in finance, specifically a financial analyst. His views and ideas are directly effected by Capitalism because of the path he chose.

How would you define capitalism?

capitalism is a system that capitalists allocate who needs it the most. It is a free market system where individuals and businesses are free to make decisions versus a social or communist system which is more government involved or planned.

What has your personal experience with capitalism been?

It is part of my job, I follow companies. I see how companies and capitalistic systems optimize their capital better. They tend to be more inventive and create technologies for an incentive of new products to sell or better ways to build their product.

Do you thinks it has been an overall positive experience?


What do you think are some alternatives to Capitalism?

Socialism and Communism. I view socialism as an in-between Capitalism and Communism. In socialism you have private enterprise but the government does playa large role in the system. The companies do not have much freedom as in the capitalistic system.

What do yo think about all the systems, do you think they would work for us or stay the same?

I like the current system, one can argue that in the last few decades there has been government regulations. Some would argue we are moving i that way with Obamacare and the aging of america. We will continue to see the government play in a larger role putting the needs of the population in versus the private sector. Could it work? yes. It takes away the drive to perform well and things like that.Most of the advances in technology has been in the US my personal belief is capitalism helped drive that.

How does capitalism influence America?

America is the land of opportunity. people come here because their other countries, and background are not limiting them. (he states he has not spoken to many people that have immigrated here) There are more limitations in other countries. People come here to educate themselves and believe opportunities are endless.The fact some many people come here is the testament to our opportunities here.

How has capitalism influenced America in the past?

The same thing people have the opportunity to create and grow businesses because of the system that is in place in this country.


What do you think are capitalism’s origins in the global and american sense?

Part of it is many settlers here originated from England and it has a capitalistic system. The whole idea of people coming here to start a new life and o what they want. Doing whatever you want includes what occupation you want to do. The first worry was necessities for families, and then population grew expanding the necessities and the market.(?)

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

On one hand there is class struggles and that is magnified because of the opportunities here. There are people who accumulate much wealth. This can lead to conflicts amongst classes. The other issue is racial tensions, i believe that capitalism helped with that. Many issues is due to lack of understanding and education.Media is part of the problem and solution with getting information out to the masses via newspaper and television.

Are the issues still present?

Definitely, In the last five years the disparity between the wealthy and poor has grown. That is always a problem. The foundation of a capitalistic system is a strong middle class. That has become a challenge.

How do you think capitalism had changed over time ?

Ideas and things are moving faster through technological advances.There is inventions that lasted like railroads. The cycles are getting smaller because of the rate of advancement in technologies. We still use the railroads, just more for goods. We see things evolving like the PC that was the biggest commodity. Now people are using mobile phones take place of the abilities of a PC.

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

Yes, I think human nature is to strive to do better and excel. Be it getting a better job, or an athlete.I think it is always a human desire to perform better and have the incentive to do so. the incentive is to accumulate wealth, similar to an athlete striving to win an award.

How has capitalism been taught to you at different education levels?

As you go further you just learn more details. Middle school you’re taught the basics, the key differences between capitalism, socialism and communism. High school and College is where you learn specifics, and specific economic equations of what starts to work and detailed history of all of them.

CG looks at capitalism and our system in America as the most free and opportunistic. Our economy has struggled and he sees it first hand while comparing it to other capitalistic systems. His views are based on what he sees first hand working in a financial data position. I took away how the system works with other systems and how were only as strong as our middle class.

“Just An Economic Theory”

My first interviewee is a family member named Chris, a forty-seven year old IT salesman who works in Arlington. His father was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and throughout much of the Cold War, so he grew up mostly on various military posts, particularly Kwajalein, where he attended high school during the Reagan years. In college, he was a member of College Republicans, though his politics have since shifted. He received an MBA in Finance from Georgia State, and currently works selling software.

How would you define capitalism?

“An economic system in which allegedly free markets are used to allocate capital and resources in the most efficient manner.”

Can you expand on that “allegedly”?

“In theory, free markets work as advertised. But in practice, for it to work, all parties have to be on equal ground. In reality, people game the system and some parties have access to better information or resources than others.”

What is your personal experience with capitalism?

“I have lived in a capitalist system my entire life, much of it during the Cold War between capitalism and communism. I also have an MBA in Finance, so aside from living under capitalism, I’ve studied how a capitalist society works in some depth.”

What are alternative systems to capitalism, and do you think any of them are workable systems?

“Communism and socialism are the two other main systems that come to mind. Other than that, maybe earlier barter-based systems. The experience of many countries in Europe, such the Scandinavian countries that practice social democracy, suggests that socialism to an extent can work. I think a free-market approach works better in some sectors of the economy, and in others, more socialistic practices are better.”

How does capitalism influence America?

“Capitalism is just an economic system meant to efficiently distribute capital, but for Americans it’s a political and moral issue. Actually, even an article of faith almost. Capitalism arises from a sort of Puritan ethic of hard work and raising yourself up, when in reality usually government or other people were involved. ”

Do you think the Cold War sort of amplifies capitalism as an American ideology?

“Sort of. I think politicians and business interests used the Cold War to advance their agendas, which leads to the Cold War view of capitalism.”

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

“I think the hyper-capitalistic attitude in the United States has led us to try and use market-based solutions for social issues, though the Democrat Party has generally resisted these sorts of ideas.”

Can you give some examples?

“Faith-based charity initiatives, which are usually encouraged by the government. Most churches function as businesses and do these initiatives in order to continue being considered charities. Obamacare is an attempt at providing market incentives to fix the problems of healthcare, though with socialist underpinnings in the government’s role. ”

What are capitalism’s origins, either for America or globally?

“I think the American state’s version of capitalism originally comes from the writings of Adam Smith and the New England, Puritan work ethic.”

Do you think capitalism has changed over time?

“There used to be restraints on capitalism, which is just intended to efficiently manage capital. Government used to prevent capitalism from overly benefiting the wealthy few. In recent times the restraints have been loosened, hence current wealth gap in this country. ”

Do you think capitalism as a system is more natural for humans than other systems?

“No. Humans are naturally tribal, and maybe even sort of socialistic. Capitalism is not natural and only appears relatively recently in human history.”

Do you think there’s a reason capitalism has sort of stuck as the primary economic system?

“I think it’s the success of particularly the US as a capitalist country that makes people think capitalism is better. It’s an example of correlation and causation though because the US rises economically after WWII when the competition has been invaded and bombed. Like, I was watching a Ken Burns series a while back,  and it was talking about how the image of Americans moving to the west in a sort of entrepreneurial way was actually backed by the government with the homestead grants in the 1800s. Capitalism isn’t really actually better; again, I think a combination of  systems is probably best.”

How has capitalism been taught to you during your education?

“Largely as a positive, not surprising since the Cold War was going on. I had one undergrad course taught by an actual self-proclaimed communist professor, but overall, especially in grad school, capitalism was taught as a net positive.”

One of the things I take away from this interview is that not everyone who grew up in the Reagan era and embraced the conservative, pro-market political spirit of the time has necessarily maintained that view in light of events in the 21st century. Chris has a relatively critical view of capitalism for someone who came of age during America’s much-vaunted triumph in the Cold War and was a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. Perceptions of capitalism can shift for individuals and perhaps on a wider scale as well.


Breck O’Donnell


Capitalism Without Corruption?

CM is a 68-year-old white woman living in Virginia. While she was raised in a household poor, she was able to move to a lower middle class position in her adult life. She is college-educated, holding a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Management as well as Applied Behavioral Science. She is currently semi-retired, but working as an assistant/consultant to CEO of a non-profit organization.

Continue reading Capitalism Without Corruption?