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.”

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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.

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