More Winners Than Losers

In the conclusion of my last interview, I said I would pick a person whose experience with American capitalism had been more positive. This next interviewee had to be older, someone who had time to establish themselves in the market. His name is DR, an eighty five year-old retired doctor from central Pennsylvania. After concluding his medical residency in 1959, he started his own obstetrics and gynecology practice. Later in his career he moved into nutritional health. While DR’s experience capitalism has been more tangible than mine or my previous interviewee, his view on the subject is also influenced by his understanding of history and current political trends in the country.

What is the definition of capitalism?

DR believes that free market enterprise means that individuals have a way to “earn money based on personal choices.” Individuals may spend how they choose and businesses can create whatever products they want. In the end, “capitalism is about freedom and individual choice.”

Like Captain Sean Luke Picard in Star Trek: Next Generation, who vociferates to the Borg that Earth’s culture stands for freedom and self-determination, DR reinforced his view that capitalism is the freest economic system out there. Capitalism’s continuation is necessary to the United States’ survival as a commercial superpower. Later in the interview, I return to his equation of capitalism with freedom.

How has capitalism affected you personally?

For DR, the route to success seemed straightforward. If he wanted to become a doctor, he had to go to college, then to medical school, intern, and complete a residency, so that is what he did. After serving in the army, he got an education thanks to the G.I. Bill. He said, “I wanted to join a profession and open an office, so I had to go to school and work hard. A lot of flunkies got into college because of the G.I. Bill and they washed out.” Some, like DR, had the aptitude to succeed in higher education, but the military helped them pay for tuition.

I asked my interviewee if he felt like the barriers to the medical profession were an infringement on free market principles. After all, the law says you cannot practice medicine without a license and you cannot get a license without going to school. He said, “No, it is just what I had to do. I had an obligation to go to school and serve my patients, but these requirements did not affect my economic freedom.”

What do you think are alternatives to capitalism?

Throughout the interview, DR used Canada as a foil to the United States. He asserted that “Canada is more socialistic because the national government pays for education and healthcare.” He believes the U.S. government is moving in the same direction as Canada, though he is unsure if the people are.

What are capitalism’s origins?

“The U.S. was founded on the idea that we should be a capitalist democracy. People left Europe and England to be free to do business and trade as they please.” From there, I wondered if DR saw capitalism and democracy as inextricably linked. However, he does not believe so. Again, referring to Canada, DR noted that the country is parliamentary democracy even where people can speak and vote as they please, even if they do have to bear a greater tax burden.

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

My interviewee admitted that the forces of creative destruction do create in people’s lives, citing the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. He mentioned that “prejudices” may come out. When I pressed DR he expressed his view that “when economic times are bad prejudices run high. So when the economy contracts, people tend to look for scapegoats. For example, people on the lower-end of the socioeconomic scale blame immigrants for taking their jobs.”

How has capitalism changed over time?

“Capitalism has changed, but mostly because of government regulation. Because of emerging economies like China and post-Communist Russia, things are more competitive.” However, I wanted to know about his personal experience with the alterations to the capitalistic system.

I asked him about how free market forces in the medical field had changed. “The two biggest changes in my career were the steep rise in malpractice insurance rates and the invention of Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs. Malpractice premiums rose through the roof, but HMOs capped how much a doctor could be reimbursed. I was a specialist, an OBGYN, so I was not affected too much. An insurance company or a patient would still pay me to treat them.” In his view, tort reform could help control runaway malpractice premiums and reduce healthcare costs, but noted that all efforts to enact tort reform have failed because most members of Congress are lawyers who benefit from the current system.

Is capitalism a natural fit for human beings?

He simply said, “It should be. Capitalism will never die, but it will continue to change.”

How has capitalism been taught to you in various stages of your education?

DR was born in 1930. He says that no one questioned capitalism and that it was just the way the U.S. worked, therefore it was never taught to him.

I found this astonishing. After all, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only president he had ever known until he had reached adolescence; under his custodianship, American capitalism underwent the most radical changes it had ever experienced. When I pointed this out, DR argued that “The New Deal was about avoiding another Great Depression, it was not about changing capitalism.”

I retorted that Social Security forced employees and employers to set aside wages and earnings to pay for retirement. If capitalism is about individual choice, then does Social Security contradict capitalistic principles? He answered, “No, that was about reforming society and the way people saved for retirement, not about economics.”


In this interview, I got to talk with someone who has thrived under capitalism. At the same time, misunderstandings and contradictions were apparent. Was colonial America a capitalist society or something totally different? If capitalism means individuals are free, then why is Social Security, a system that forces retirement contributions, acceptable? These are difficult questions, and they have frustrated historians, pundits, and thinkers for decades. One thing is certain, DR’s views stand in stark contrast to my first interviewee’s. He believes capitalism produces more winners than losers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *