“There has to be an interconnectedness…”

My next interviewee I connected with is a college educated man from Texas who was born in the late 1970s. He studied speech communication during his undergraduate studies and later received his Masters of Divinity. Now, the interviewee works full-time doing ministry, mentoring, and writing a book. Some of these questions were ones that we had talked about loosely in the past, but this was the first formal discussion. Unlike my last interview, I was able to weave in a few more questions based on their related category heading to create a smoother conversation. 

I first began with the question that I started my last interview with: How do you define capitalism? The interviewee said, [capitalism] is private ownership… people can own property and resources in order to buy/sell/trade in the free market… That’s at least my cursory, uneducated opinion. Off of the bat, it is evident that there is basic knowledge about the economic system that is capitalism from this interviewee. 

Continuing on in that category of basic understanding, I asked: How do you think that capitalism impacts the economy? Stating, It is the free exchange; you do have to have a level of government control [and] it’s hopefully it is free exchange where people can make money and a better life for themselves. My philosophy though about capitalism is shaped by my faith; I think about everything theologically and you can think theologically about money. If you don’t think about it theologically, then you’re doing yourself a great disservice. If we can freely exchange, how do we respond to that freedom? A lot of people think we’re free from certain government regulation, and I would flip that on it’s head and ask what are we free for? What can we do with that freedom? America is founded on individual freedom and liberty, and as a Christian I would move that view towards persons rather than individuals. To me an individual is a category as a person is someone I would have to know/interact with. Consider what my ability to freely trade/sell do to affect others? I may own land, but if it is sold to a developer who will build something that will have an impact on a neighborhood poorly, I would have to consider who I was selling that property to. So, capitalism is good because it frees us, but as a Christian it frees us for good. I cannot separate economics from spirituality. There is social responsibility that goes alongside capitalism. This answer is different than my past interview and offered an interesting perspective on the ways that capitalism can be an idea that is closely weaved with the Christian faith. Capitalism in my eyes is a very individual opportunity for each person, but what if it could be more than that, like the interviewee was saying?

When asked, How do you see yourself as a capitalist in society?, the interviewee responded: I see myself as a capitalist and I ask myself the question of if you really separate economics from spirituality? I don’t think you can or should. Certain things should inform our decisions and we should make responsible decisions. Frankly as a white man in America, there is a lot that I get to do, but there is a lot of weight in our economic system about debt and we’re called the land of the free?… How am I as a responsible capitalist thinking about saving and investing and charitably giving? These are the thoughts that I feel like are the opposite to what much of capitalism is about. As stated above, I feel as if his ideas about capitalism/consumerism are very different; his ideas are way more community based than I think could be possible in our current economic/political climate.

I then asked whether there was a specific event where capitalism played a role in his life. He talked about growing up saying, my grandparents were tomato farmers and grew far more than we could consume or sell, so my version of a lemonade stand was my own tomato stand growing up. I sold the tomatoes, of course with no cost from my supplier, and was taught about the value of earning money as an individual. This is a memory that most of us could probably relate to, selling tart lemonade out of sticky cups for a few dollars during the hot summer. But, those early moments for all of us were us participating in the practice of capitalism. 

Following, I asked: What do you think about other economic systems? Communism failed and the government owning everything failed because there wasn’t meaningful work. Socialism of course has a greater social safety net, but there is more placed on people who have more to pay more taxes. Does our economic system need repair? Is it perfect? Of course not, because people are involved; that is my call… trying to lead Christian community in a way that the theology is aligned with the economic world. It all goes back to the main narrative of discovering how we should do capitalism responsibly. How are we informed? The funny thing about this question was that it just led to more questions about other economic systems. He then discussed how to cultivate a community where the theology is parallel to the economic world; I am interested to see how this connects to one of our later readings about the connection between conservative Christianity and the business world…

Generational differences are something that I am very interested in as the interviewer, and we discussed this together: My grandparents were Great Depression kids and gained wealth after WWII, and [my] parents experienced great wealth as kids and were the first ones in their families to go to college. I grew up in Houston in economy fueled by oil and gas, which usually does well if the overall market is doing well. [My] parents came from a silent boomer generation and had a lot of stuff that was “important;” my sister who lives abroad as well as I place less value in stuff. Once again, consumerism is brought in as a sort of “symptom” of capitalism, which I happen to agree with.

When asked, what are the positives and negatives of capitalism?, he responded: The largest positive is the ability for anyone to come to the U.S. and make something of themselves. He talked about a family he knew growing up that moved to Houston and bought a store and said they lived there while gaining wealth responsibly before buying more stores. Some negatives he mentioned were, if you come from generational poverty, you won’t get ahead without some serious unlearning/relearning of how life in the United States works. He also mentioned the media and how that ties in negatively to capitalism and in turn, consumerism. Because of the media, people know they have less or more than others; there are many people who invest in outward appearances rather than other meaningful ways. The interviewee definitely understands that there is a wealth of opinions and thoughts when it comes to not just capitalism, but other economic systems as well. 

My interviewee ended by stating:  To people of faith, let’s consider how capitalism can be a good thing that we get to be for. There has to be an interconnectedness between faith and business/economics. Is capitalism good… yes; you just have to know what’s in your hand and think justly about it. 

Overall, I would say that this interviewee has a very good idea of the role that capitalism plays in their life and community, but has very different opinions than I expect some other interviews won’t have. It was interesting to hear from someone who didn’t think of economics as its own discipline, and that it could be woven into other disciplines/practices like the Christian faith. The interconnectedness of it all in his opinions were interesting to analyze and think about following the interview. Overall, this person believes in the practice of capitalism can be good if done well, believes that it could be improved in some ways, and overall believes in it more than other economic systems. I look forward to hearing from my last interview soon!

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