As part of the assignment for interviewing individuals throughout the course, we were also assigned a reflection post to complete at the end of the semester, the purpose of which is to discuss discoveries made through the interviews and how they relate to ourselves and the course. As part of my reflection I will talk about the continuity I found within my interviews in relation to my own opinions and material from within the course.
The interviews demonstrated that the understanding that most people have of capitalism in America is very basic.
Both of my interviewees knew the bare minimums of capitalism, SL even having pointed out that what exists today is not true capitalism. This goes back to Polyani’s work which we read earlier in the semester, The Great Transformation, in which he discussed how the system worked and changed over time. At the start of the course I would have agreed completely, but for reasons that turned out not to be accurate. I personally thought that it was regulation that had morphed capitalism and that its truest form would be the best for all, which was also the opinion of my first interviewee, but as it turns out, as demonstrated by Polyani and Lepler’s The Many Panics of 1837, which demonstrated how relentless the market can be.
Another continuity was the idea of over-regulation of the market. Throughout the course we have read of instances in which regulations greatly improved the way in which the market worked. Yet both interviewees thought that currently the market is too heavily weighed down with regulations for safety and equality. I too was and still partially am guilty of such a thought process. However, as was seen in Railroaded, regulations, especially in the workplace are essential to safety and survival. The book demonstrated instances of poor safety and discriminatory practices which were brutal on people, but have improved now that those avenues of the market have been improved through regulation.
Both of my interviewees saw capitalism as a good thing, a system which measures achievement. Though there is certainly merit in that idea, as was seen in the Many Panics of 1837, sometimes complete misfortunes can befall anyone through circumstances not of their own making. It would be interesting to see where my interviewees would categorize those instances. Many of the other interviews which my classmates conducted did also demonstrate that the opinions I found are not abounding or the overwhelming majority. There were several which I read that included the ideas of losers rather than a world of winners. The understanding of capitalism demonstrated by my interviewees certainly appears to be the idealized version of capitalism which appears in old movies about railroad tycoons and big steel mills. America is built by capitalism and that is often glorified into a system where hard work and good business turns one into a self-made capitalist who gets the riches. I was surprised by the depth of knowledge shown, particularly by my second interviewee, whose insight into the proper nature of capitalism reminded me of Polyani’s book.
Overall I think that the interviewees showed me that many Americans likely don’t understand the true origins or the proper function of capitalism as an economic system. I can include myself in that category, at least, that was my knowledge base at the beginning of the class. Throughout the semester my eyes have been opened to the narrative of capitalism in America and it’s ties to cultural behaviors of Americans. I don’t believe that Capitalism is inherent to democracy or that capitalism is linked directly to human nature. There are specific circumstances which bred the American capitalistic system as it is today. Not to say that it was coincidental, but the development was unique and time sensitive and would not have been nearly as appealing had the developments occurred at a different point in American History.