My last interviewee I connected with is a college educated man born and raised in Virginia. Born in 1966, he attended a 4-year university and received a degree for marketing from the school’s college of business. Now, the interviewee is a Territory Manager for a nationally known insurance agency, specifically focusing on business insurance. These questions were ones that had come up in conversations before, so I generally knew what opinions would be shared, but it was interesting to hear from another person who had a business background.
I started with the question that I have started all of my past interviews with: How do you define capitalism? (*interviewee yawns*) I would say it’s like a free market and being able to do what you want to do to have the freedom to make the money you want to make without any restrictions. Right off the bat, this is a pretty similar answer to the past interviews that I have had. This interviewee has the basic principles of capitalism down, but I was interested to see if there were any more opinions that would come out later in the interview. (I also have to laugh that this interview started out with a yawn!)
Next, I asked: Do you like capitalism? Yeah, what’s not to like? … it allows open market for almost anybody to make money in the way that they want to. It’s not all about the money, but it is also about the money… and the opportunity of making money. Capitalism is pretty much me telling myself how to live my life and having no one else tell me that, so yeah, I like it. I feel like this is an opinion that could be shared by people who are employed, in the middle class, college-educated, home owning, etc. crowd. This interviewee was someone who very obviously benefits from a capitalist system and therefore has more positive opinions than some others might. He hits the principle that at its root, capitalism is all about money.
Following, I asked whether or not he believed that capitalism is inherent to society? (going even further, I asked whether or not he thought that it was specifically related to American society.) The interviewee stated, I think that countries are bound to have some form of economic principles, whatever they may be, and I happen to think that capitalism works for the most part. I think that America was basically founded on capitalist principles… I don’t know if it was for sure but the fact that we were under British rule and we found our way out of that was because we didn’t want to be under their thumb and wanted freedom… we found capitalism through that, I think. This was a question I had never asked in an interview before, but I think it was a productive one. I’m not really sure if I think a clear answer came out from this question, but I think it was good to add in the specifically related to America part… I think he was able to foundational he trace the beginnings of capitalism in our society, which is something that we’ve been doing throughout our readings and discussions this semester.
I then asked, What role do you see capitalism in your daily life? Responding, In my personal life, I think being able to buy the house I wanted to buy, being able to invest money into companies that I want to and not ones that others tell me to, to buy the car I wanted to, to give my kids an education… In my work life, I think all of my independent agents wanted to start and run their own companies, so that’s what they did to be able to work for themselves. They wanted to make as much or as little money as they wanted and wanted to do it themselves… there is no better example than an independent insurance agent that represents capitalism. My interviewee works for a very large, national insurance agency, and works with people from around the east coast to figure out how to best serve his customers. A lot of the people he works with have started their own agencies, which is an example of capitalism at work; a person seeking their own way of making money through their own means.
Next, I asked: What are positive/negative aspects of capitalism? The interviewee listed off some points for positive with negative points following and then providing commentary: positives: you can do what you want, you can start your own business, you can make as much/little money as you want, you can mold your own future. Those are the biggest positives. The market also takes care of itself and things ebb and flow based on what people want… Just look at the gas prices during the pandemic and now and how wide things have swayed. There are some negatives too though… I think there is a lot of greed in capitalist society. I also think capitalism can cause a divide between the “haves and the have nots,” kind of like socioeconomic divides. I think this question relates to the question of whether or not this person likes capitalism. I would take his answer as yes, and these positives mentioned are why. He first said, “you can do what you want,” which is only so true; he can do what he wants because he was college-educated and is in the upper middle class and had opportunity from the get-go with the family that he was born into… not everyone is so lucky. The points about making your own money and starting your own business go along similarly; some people have privilege from the start and others do not. He seemed less sure about his negative points; he connects greed (which I would connect to consumerism) to capitalism and socioeconomic divides that can be connected to capitalism, but doesn’t necessarily experience that monetary divide, so this is not as strong as a negative as it could be for some people.
A question that has come up a lot in conversations in the past is, What do you think of other economic systems besides capitalism? He responded first discussing ideas that link to politics and stated: I don’t care for the way places like North Korea work… people do not have the same opportunities; you are just put into buckets and that’s what you have to do. Media is controlled and therefore everything is controlled. I don’t think there is as much room for people to do what they want to do or create their own path… economic forms other than capitalism can be suppressive. The interviewee then turned to talk about more economic systems, Thinking about socialism, I think of Bernie Sanders, he wants an environment where people are more equal and get the same access to things like healthcare, education, and stuff like that. That is what I think about when I think about socialism. There are certain parts of it that I don’t mind, but there has to be a means to pay for those benefits, and you can’t expect the government to pay for everything or else taxes would be through the roof. In my mind with socialism, you get all of the free stuff and pay more taxes for it, or with capitalism you pay for it yourself and people can do what they want and work hard for it. There are links to politics within this argument as well which is a whole another story… I think that it was interesting that my interviewee connected media to capitalism despite not being asked about it; the way things are portrayed have everything to do with marketing and business, so of course media controlled states could have the possibility of having different, and more controlled, economic systems. He also related the economic and political sides of capitalism when talking about American political figure Bernie Sanders and his closer-to-socialist ideas than the average American politician. This interviewee seems to be in the system that would do the most to benefit him (parts of capitalism), and not what would benefit each person and community as a whole (parts of socialism).
A question that intrigues me each interview is, How is your parents view of capitalism different than yours? He responded, I don’t really think it is too different to be honest with you. I think my dad would define it the same way that I did… I think that generationally the more liberal values that are at play now and are way more common… and that more conservative views were more prevalent when they were younger that were closer to the purest capitalism. I think there has been a shift in values, and therefore a shift in ideas about economic systems like capitalism (and socialism). This question also brings in the relationship between politics and economics that definitely exists in our society. I personally don’t think that one could function to its full potential without the other.
Overall, I would say that this interviewee has an okay idea of role that capitalism plays in their life and community, but I don’t feel as though they had a true understanding of the deep roots of capitalism in American society. That wasn’t necessarily something I asked about, but I was able to realize through the questions that I asked that those would not be the most relevant in this interview. I thought it was interesting that so much of this interview was centered around the relationship between politics and economics, when most of the other interviews have just been focused on just the economic side of capitalism. It was interesting to hear another interviewee talk about their perspective through a business lens and how capitalism influences the way that they do their work and live their life. I share some of these same views, but feel as though I am much more community-minded and focused at this point in my life; perhaps this will change as I leave college and step into the working world, but for now I am figuring out where my beliefs lie in this system.