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.

Her understandings of capitalism are largely based on lived experiences as well as her own research through sources such as NPR, as she was not taught about capitalism while in school. She defines capitalism as “an economic and political system based on private (as opposed to government) or corporate investment in and ownership of goods and products and the entities that produce and distribute them.” Furthermore, “it is characterized by a free market where, in theory, the market sets prices based on supply and demand.” Additionally, she claims that “ideologically, it is based on individual rights, and individuals can grow and prosper based on their own efforts.” However, she has the understanding that capitalism, while in theory it makes many claims, that “effectively, though, it is a system that encourages greed and discrimination and corruption in the name of profits.”

Her knowledge of capitalism historically is limited. She believes that capitalism originated in Europe with usury and expanded due to increased trade. When asked about the United States in particular, she was unsure of how capitalism has affected the country in the past or why it was put into practice. She mentioned the founders of the country, questioning their motives for linking capitalism and democracy. However, she also notes that she doesn’t believe that the founders would have wanted a government that is strongly influenced by wealthy individuals and corporations.

She has much better grasp of capitalism and its effects on present day life. She noted that capitalism affects “almost every aspect of daily life in the US today.” Furthermore, she said that those with “disproportionately large incomes control everything” from “elections” to “grocery prices,” including social issues such as education and welfare. In her opinion, she believes that “what politicians in this country generally call capitalism” doesn’t work because it has been corrupted by “some very wealthy individuals and corporations who have rigged the system to inflate their bank accounts” at the expense of millions, with “no regard for the environment or the welfare of the people they employ or sell to.” Ultimately, according to CM, capitalism has created a society “based fundamentally on greed.” Furthermore, she finds that capitalism encourages this greed and discrimination based on factors such as race and gender, but she does not see that there are enough people willing to change this system because people generally “work for their own self-interest first.” Ultimately, she finds that as long as this is the case, capitalism is bound to be corrupted.

She also has understandings of other economic systems, citing socialism, communism and fascism. She would like to see “collective or community ownership of corporations or businesses or common property,” but she reservations as she understands that it would be a dramatic shift that might not end up peacefully. Furthermore, she has an interest in some alternative economic models that have been effective in Europe. For example, she has a primary interest in the system of democratic socialism adopted by Norway.

While she holds criticisms about capitalism, she believes that she has had a good personal experience with capitalism, as she has owned 5 small businesses and currently owns a small manufacturing company. She has had quite a bit of success with business management. For example, she owned the 3rd largest real estate company in Austin, Texas during her management of the company in the 1990s. Interestingly, she has also had good experiences with government assistance, as her father was able to attend school due to the GI Bill after his service in WWII. During this time, he supported CM, her mother, brother and sister on $50 a month. Interestingly, she understands now that her family was poor as a child, but she didn’t realize it at the time. Growing up in the 1950s, she recalls that there weren’t any worldwide communications methods or national news networks; only newspapers and radios were available to attain news. Furthermore, there were not things like shopping malls and cars were not yet considered to be common property. Therefore, there were few ways to compare ones wealth to another’s. Now, she realizes her family’s economic status, recalling eating Spam sandwiches for dinner, but at the time she claims that they had “a roof over their head, food to eat, and things to entertain themselves,” so she never understood that she was poor. Her relationship with capitalism proves to be interesting; while on one hand the unregulated capitalist system has been beneficial to her, on the other government assistance (delineating from the idea of the unregulated free market) has also helped her as well.

Essentially, CM’s opinions on capitalism were formed mostly by her own experiences rather than having a historic understanding. Her experiences are unique in that she has good experiences with unregulated capitalism as well as government assistance that interfered with theoretical capitalism. From CM’s comments, it seems as if she believes capitalism, while it is corrupt and doesn’t work to everyone’s advantage, may be a natural fit for society solely due to the fact that human nature is to look out for one’s own self-interest. Furthermore, if not for selfishness and greed, capitalism could be a good economic system.

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