Does Capitalism Work for You?

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The exhibit this week in Times Square (photo: Jake Schlichtin)

American artist Steve Lambert set up a massive scoreboard in Times Square this week asking the public for a true or false answer to the following statement: Capitalism Works For Me. On Wednesday, after five days, he tallied a final score — True: 522 and False: 599.

Inspired by the poll, the Moyers team wanted to know how our viewers would vote, and we asked for your thoughts on our Facebook page to learn what is or isn’t working when it comes to capitalism in America.

Our fans, for the most part, said capitalism was not working for them; they elaborated on the problems they have with it and offered some solutions.

The one percent

Some of our fans told us that although capitalism may work for them personally, they vote against it because the economic system leaves too many people in the dust. As Michael Feher put it: “It’s not working for me because it’s not working for my fellow man.”

For Sybil West it’s the income inequality resulting from capitalism that’s turning her stomach. “When I see the wild disparity in pay, when folks aren’t even paid a living wage while they work hard — I am sickened at what capitalism has become. Do we really want a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world here in this country?”

Like others, Vivian Nelson Gassan said her situation is difficult. “My husband and I are 63 and on unemployment. We have no medical coverage, no jobs program and are terrified that the Republicans are going to cut or disable the Social Security we have paid into for 55 years. We’re not sure we will even be able to keep our home.”

Some new members of the workforce, like Dan R. Interdonati, also had problems with capitalism. “I graduated college in 2010 with a social sciences degree and a 3.83 GPA. I have applied for well over 100 jobs since then. I only have part-time work and am struggling to pay back my student debt.”

Capitalism, many said, no longer works because it only benefits a small percentage of citizens to the detriment of others. “Capitalism should be one tool in a box with many tools,” Becky Swan wrote. “We have turned it into a religion, and the one percent are turning the poor into a human sacrifice. There must be restraints on greed.”

Many contributors said that the economic system in America can, in fact, no longer be called capitalism. Some, such as John Goodman, say the US is operating under a plutocracy, where a small minority of a country’s top wealthiest citizens dominates.

Goodman believes that the outcome of the McCutcheon v. FEC campaign finance case currently before the Supreme Court could exacerbate the problem. “We live in what is billed as a representative democracy, but what is represented are the wealthy of this country. It’s only going to get worse if the Supreme Court rules in favor of McCutcheon,” Goodman wrote.

Koch Brothers: Exit to the left

The influence of money in politics was on the mind of scores of fans who weighed in. Amy Cederlind agrees that the over-reaching influence of corporations is causing an array of insurmountable problems. “We are being screwed over by corporations in every area of our lives: the environment, what used to be democracy, education, infrastructure, workers’ rights, our food supply, healthcare, need I go on?”

And Lois McNulty wrote, “I may be doing all right, but as long as the Koch brothers and Monsanto are buying congressmen, capitalism isn’t working for me.”

Scott Orland Rogers said that while capitalism works very well for some areas of our society, it can be detrimental to others. “It is damaging or dangerous for some functions, such as the military, education and basic research. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex and over the past few decades we have seen the tangible effects of this complex in the form of increased military actions, funding and suppression.”

As for solutions, a number of people pointed out that having company ownership through co-operatives could help spread wealth more equally. As Joseph Segal puts it: “We have to organize workers to switch from the dictatorial top down corporate economic control that squeezes every last healthy working hour out of us all for the minimum pay possible to worker owned co-op business.”

And then there’s this one from Max Izmenit that sums up many calls for a more progressive movement. “We need a sustainable system. Let’s call the new system progressivism incorporated in the best ideas of capitalism, adding in more fresh forward-thinking new ideas to meet the needs of humanity.”

Karin Kamp is a multimedia journalist and producer. She has produced content for, NOW on PBS and WNYC public radio and worked as a reporter for Swiss Radio International. She also helped launch The Story Exchange, a site dedicated to women's entrepreneurship.
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