Capitalism in our DNA

For my third interview, I discussed the nature of capitalism with a peer of mine, BO.  A sophomore here at UMW, BO is a female and identifies as African American.  I was quite interested to see how BO’s answers would either reinforce or differ from SM’s and SL’s (my first two interviewees) perspective on capitalism.  BO identifies as middle class (in terms of her income), and she grew up in Alexandria, Virginia.  She was raised by two college educated parents and her parents always emphasized the importance of a college education. She works multiple jobs in order to help pay for her education here at UMW.

When I asked BO to define capitalism, she defined a “system which creates markets so people can make money.”  She continued, “Capitalism allows people to start their own businesses, but it also incentivizes greed.”  BO said that she has a tenuous relationship with capitalism, as she didn’t have access to the same privilege in society that some of her peers did growing up and had to work hard in order to pave her way.

I asked her if she thinks that growing up in a capitalist society benefited her, and BO responded, “No, I have had to work tooth and nail for everything in my life, for all of my opportunities.  There are positive benefits to working hard and having to fight for everything; I know I have a good work ethic and that is important, but at the same time, I like to imagine what we could do as human beings if we weren’t weighed down by the need to make money.”  I asked BO if she thinks that capitalism is the natural order or human life, and she said “no” just like SL, and unlike SM.

“Human beings weren’t put on this planet to manufacture money and ways to make money.  Capitalism is destroying our planet, literally, and it disenfranchises and disempowers the many while empowering and enriching the few.”  This perspective is quite different from both SL and SM, my first two interviewees, who respectively argued that capitalism is not inherent to human beings and that is why it is good, and that capitalism is natural because of the “dog-eat-dog” world.  Interestingly, BO is the only interviewee so far who has not argued that capitalism is intrinsically human in nature.  “I think capitalism is inherently unnatural to human beings.  Just look at the way it destroys lives throughout history, and how it is currently destroying our ability to continue surviving on this planet.”


BO’s perspective on alternatives to capitalism are also different, and she clearly disagrees with SL and SM that capitalism is clearly better than any of its potential alternatives.  “I refuse to engage in the false capitalism-socialism dichotomy.  I don’t think the world needs to be either/or.  I think that there are clear benefits to capitalism and competition, as long as it is regulated. It is necessary to make this compromise the way our society is structured today, but I am definitely a proponent for socialized existence.  I truly believe that it is more natural and would stop us from hurting each other and the planet that we call home.”

I asked BO about the influence of capitalism on America’s past.  “Capitalism has clearly had a profound impact on our history as a country,” she said.  “It has spurred innovation, for sure, but it has also led to profound social agitation and movements for change consistently throughout our history.”  I asked BO about the origins of capitalism in the United States, and she argued that we developed capitalism as we evolved from a colonial economy.  “Capitalism is definitely engrained in our DNA, and it was certainly present from our founding.  Colonists were coming over here in search for wealth, so that drive to create money is engrained in who we are, but this relationship has evolved over the past two centuries.  The gilded age, the Reagan era, we have consistently redefined capitalism in this country.  Our modern corporatist financial capitalism is far different from the capitalism that governed slave holders before the Civil War, but they are both cut from the same cloth.”


It was interesting to see how BO differed in her opinions from SL and SM.  BO recognized a sense of history in the development of capitalism in the United States, and uniquely argued that capitalism is not inherent to human existence, but rather an invention of humans that has its flaws.

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