John Roach: The Capitalist

By John Roach Madison Magazine

It snuck up on me. That?s the way it works.

It is a clever opponent, wriggling its way into every part of your life.

Although it?s no excuse, I grew up around it. My dad loved it. My mom was dependent on it. Even my grandparents were into it. Perhaps that?s the way of the Irish. It is a part of our DNA.

I tried it first when I was twelve. It was, ironically, a Capital Times paper route. After that I did it when I mowed lawns, de-tassled corn for Blaney?s, put facemasks on football helmets, baled hay and installed locks. Even worse, I engaged in the same activity at night, stealing away to sing in local bands. It was innocent behavior at first. I wasn?t harming anyone. Or so I thought.

But as political events and rhetoric in Madison over the last year have convinced me, I was wrong. Though blissfully unaware, I was already working hard and saving individual earnings. The hook was set.

And now, after a year of hearing protestors on the Square, witnessing the recall and reading John Nichols, I can finally admit it.

My name is John. And I?m a capitalist.

Hello, John.

If I am to be totally honest (and this journey is all about honesty), I have been engaging in acts of capitalism throughout the last four decades.

When I studied at the UW?Madison, it was not a problem. As a poor student, I had my capitalism under control. It was only when I moved to the big city of Chicago that I got serious about the free-market economy. There are so many temptations, so many companies hanging around on the street corner willing to pay you for hard work and talent.

There was the rush of getting my paycheck. They start you out small. But sure enough, you get a jones for earning currency. I became addicted to the competition, the challenge to be innovative and accountable. To prove myself in a competitive, capitalist environment was such a dizzying high that I did it every day. When I look back on those times, and the long nights I spent working to make a profit, I shake my head.

What was I thinking?

And then the unimaginable happened. I didn?t like my job or my pay. So I engaged in riskier behavior. I quit my job and got a better one somewhere else. I was now into capitalism. Big time.

I got married. We had our first child. I thought things might get better. But they didn?t. In fact, that is when the accumulation of capital really took hold of me. I realized I was not acquiring goods and services for myself, but for others as well. I worked even harder. Tried even riskier behavior by changing jobs once again, for even better pay. There was no end to my capitalism.

Believe it or not, I made so much profit, I actually bought a house.

And invested in a 401(k)! With my own money!

I was out of control.

So we moved back to Madison, thinking that things would get better. But they didn?t. I continued to work and make a profit. We had more kids. Bought a bigger house.

Looking back, I wish someone had intervened. Pulled me up short and screamed in my face, ?John! Do you see what you are doing? You are taking money for your work. You are accruing goods! Saving for college education! Paying taxes that support the local, state and national social and physical infrastructure! What in the name of God is wrong with you??

But no one helped. Not my brothers. Not my sisters. Not my friends. No one. Even my bride and the mother of my children didn?t stop me. But then, how could she? By then she had become dependent on capitalism, too.

And just when I thought it couldn?t get any worse, it did. That?s the thing with the free market economy. You try a little and you want more.

It was my riskiest behavior yet. I started a small business. I incorporated. It wasn?t enough to accrue capital for myself; I had to get others to try it.

The awful truth was that I became a dealer. A pusher of capitalism. I was breaking bad. From then on it was an upward spiral. We were all in on it. I made money. My employees made money. We paid taxes, bought cars, houses, even groceries. It was one big scam.

The worst part? The harder we worked, the more we made.

But the protests in Madison this year made me stop and take a look at my corporatism.

So now I am taking it one day at a time, and hoping for the best.

Admitting that I am powerless in the face of hard-earned, accrual of personal assets is the first step to recovery.

Hello. My name is John.

And I?m a capitalist.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at