50 Years of Work and Nothing to Show

The interviewee, referred to as BR, is a sixty-six-year-old man who works in a Purina cat-litter factory as a forklift driver. From far rural VA, BR has experience working on a dairy farm, several factories, and even owned his own business in lawn care. BR dropped out of high school to join the military to support his family when he was 17 years old after the family farm took a turn for the worse, and so his second job was driving trucks in Korea. He tried to build himself up with a successful business in lawn care, but the 2008 recession drove the business into the ground. His experience with capitalism throughout his life caused his perspective to change regarding the market and the system of labor. His disillusionment with capitalism provides a remarkably different outlook than the perspective of the previous interviewees, who were either college students or recent college graduates.

How do you define capitalism? 

How do I define capitalism? Easy. Capitalism is s**t, boy. It’s a dog-eat-dog system where cutthroat can’t even begin to describe the things someone will do to get an upper hand over somebody else. I’ve done it, but do I regret it? No, you have to play the system to survive in the system. Capitalism is individualism at its finest, let me tell you that. Nobody matters but yourself. 

How do you think capitalism impacts the economy? 

What do you mean how does capitalism impact the economy? That’s a stupid question, girl, capitalism is the only thing that impacts the economy. The economy is run on the system, and the system controls the end product. I learned one thing working at places like BJ’s or Purina, you are a cog in a great machine that pumps out money for people that aren’t you. The biggest machine of them all isn’t the government, it isn’t the economy, it’s what drives both of those things and that a theory, the theory of capitalism that somehow we adopted. 

How do you see yourself in a capitalistic economy? 

I tried to play the economy as an entrepreneur, but the system failed me. I had a very successful business mowing lawns and landscaping in Tennessee, catering to the rich. The 2008 Recession hit me hard, that no good Bush’s bad regulation caught up in the end. I used to see myself as an innovator, a man of business who was going to take the world by storm. Instead, I ended up jobless and almost homeless because of the system. Now I know I am just a cog in the machine like I said. 

What differentiates capitalism from other economic systems in your opinion? 

I wish I could answer that question. I don’t know much about any other economic systems; I was in Korea during the end of the Cold War, and that was about the end of my relationship with “commies.” I could not give a s**t what other economic systems there are because this is the one I have to deal with. 

How did your parents view capitalism? Does it differ from you? 

My parents were adults during the Great Depression, and that does a number on you. My mama used to save plastic baggies and rinse them out with water so that we could use them again. Stuff like that. Economic hardship does things to you. For a bunch of coal miners from Clintwood, [Virginia], you had to do everything you could to scrape by. The economic system wasn’t a concern. My parents dropped out of high school too, married real young. They didn’t see the bigger picture, they just saw the price for food and gas and knew they needed to cut corners to feed everyone. With that in mind, of course, my parents’ view of capitalism is different. I’d be offended if it wasn’t. 

Has capitalism been positive or detrimental to your life? 

I’d say detrimental, but I have food on the table and a roof over my head. It took forever to get here, but I am thankful for what I do have. But off the record? Officially detrimental. I lost my business, I almost lost my home, I’ve struggled to feed myself and my kids, and I have seen the way that the system has treated my kids. Poverty is harmful, and capitalism breeds it. So I guess that’s what I have to say on the matter.


BR is both cynical and realistic when it comes to his understanding of capitalism. Given what I knew of his experiences in the workforce, I was unsure which way he would go in regards to resenting or exalting capitalism. Instead, there is a gruff condemnation of the way that “the system,” as he calls it repeatedly, is run and how it is distributed. Dealing with poverty in both childhood and adulthood gives a different perspective to the fluctuations of the market and how it can impact your daily life personally. BR gives a detailed account of why he has to accept capitalism for what it is because it is the American economic system but bemoans the downfall of his business and the difficulties of working as someone without a high school diploma. BR says that he sees the “bigger picture” better than most Americans and that trying to keep up with the constant changes and influences feels nearly impossible. This perspective of capitalism, shaped by decades of hard manual labor and struggle, truly believes that our economy can only be run through capitalism. BR’s illuminating interview brought up several points regarding the cyclic nature of poverty and economic oppression, and he seems to feel that there is nothing he can do to change his status. Although it is a bit of a bleak outlook on capitalism, his past experiences warrant his doubts.

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