Clambering to Be Content under Capitalism

Based on the interviews my classmates and I conducted throughout this semester, I gained a greater perspective of the average person’s qualms with capitalism. The public perception of the capitalist system focuses mainly on its weaknesses. A few individuals found capitalism unquestionably successful, however, the majority believed the system needed fixing. Respondents shared concerns over greed, inequity, and the lack of a social safety net within a capitalist economy. Although the participants in the interviews generally shared negative attitudes concerning capitalism, they were reluctant to embrace alternative economic systems. Though participants all had strong ideas surrounding their position in a capitalist society, they suggested that changing the operations of capitalism is well beyond their control, and they kept their focus on just getting through the workday.

The subjects I interviewed expressed that capitalism is an imperfect system, though they had mixed interpretations of the best ways to remedy the ideology’s flaws. Many interviewees alluded to Karl Polanyi’s theory of the double movement: when economic situations worsen- people tend to push for better conditions- and the government typically responds with solutions. Similar to Polanyi’s description of the free market as a utopia, participants expressed that although a free market economy sounds like a good system, in theory, there are concerns of inequity and instability that plague capitalism. Perspectives on whether or not government involvement in regulating the market was a good thing were mixed. Participants generally noted that the government had the power to look out for the average person. But, similar to the political-capitalist figures who shaped the economic development of New York, discussed in Brian Murphy’s Building the Empire State, interviewees noted that the government and the economy are almost inseparable actors.

In my interviews, the participant with the fewest years of education had more fears of the concept of government interference. I believe the working position of the respondents also affected how they viewed capitalism. Of the three people I interviewed, the one in retirement seemed to have a generally positive view of government intervention in the economic sphere, while the interviewee working at a big box store held a more negative outlook. How much control people feel they have over their lives impacted their thoughts on the government’s interactions with the economy. The box store worker, who noted he felt used and overlooked in his daily life, spoke about how owners of big businesses influenced political decisions. Continuing, he brought up religion in the context of discussing how capitalism impacts his everyday life. He noted that gods word is more important than the powers at play within the economic and political sphere. His incline toward religion showed me how capitalism can feel like something so beyond the average person, it feels like we are all predestined to the roles the system assigns us and that our only hope is that whoever oversees us has our best interest. Though this respondent was particularly firm in his thoughts on government in capitalism many interviewed individuals echoed similar ideas. Interviewed subjects explained that government officials care more about lining their pockets and winning elections than looking out for the interests of the public. Respondents viewed concerns over their safety and health as collateral in the political game.

My interviews revealed a pattern where people recognized the falsehood that capitalism is a system based on merit and hard work. Participants described the economic system as one designed so the rich get richer. Respondents also expressed that many opportunities are not available to all people and that being born into favorable conditions typically granted a more comfortable future. The majority of participants did not describe what comprised favorable situations other than being a part of a privileged few, though some noted that being white gave an advantage. However, two participants claimed that capitalism was a color-blind system where people of all races could find success. It is important to note that both participants who viewed capitalism as color-blind were white. Many interviewees noticed and condemned the racial and class factors instilled in America’s capitalist economy but did not express having a knowledge of the deep history of racism embedded into the capitalist system. Though, the idea of racism being a prevalent factor in who gets advantages in today’s economy only highlights the ideas expressed in Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism. This acknowledgment that capitalism is not just a system affected by racism, but one created in racist ideologies that serve as a means to maintain racial status-quos.

Along with recognizing the concept of inequities imposed by capitalism, participants noted a lack of a social safety net. Interviewees worried about access to quality health care and corporate greed. They saw that uncontrolled capitalism leaves some people off much worse than others. Many claimed that the government should be responsible for distributing funds to help people pay for things like health care and education. A few interviewees believed that anyone could obtain security by working hard enough and that the government should not be involved. Though other participants contested this viewpoint, accounting for factors such as disability or poverty that could prevent a person from obtaining a steady job.

Though most participants held criticism toward capitalism, they also expressed they were grateful for the freedoms the system provided. Many interviewees said capitalism gave them the freedom to choose things like how to spend their money and what career path they followed. Although many also expressed that these freedoms come at a cost to the greater good and the environment. Perhaps the privilege of freedom to choose is worth more than other people’s safety or environmental conservation. Though most participants did have genuine concern over capitalist greed and its impact on American politics, they reflected that the ability to choose is enticing. My interviewees also noted that they did not ponder the effects of capitalism daily.

Conversing about the system made most participants uncomfortable. All three people I surveyed feared saying something insensitive. Discussing the impacts of capitalism is difficult for people who feel they have little control over the system. Interviewees looked to different modes of escapism such as religion, their families, their hobbies, or even the kind of occupation they pursue to combat the loss of individualism imposed by a system that expects hard work with little reward for the average person. Respondents expressed that they either do not have the time to ponder the negative aspects of capitalist ideology or that doing so is too overwhelming. Most people try to take life day by day without thinking of the intricacies of capitalism. Maybe not paying it too much mind is the only way to rationalize living under such a system.

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