In “Capitalism: A Love Story,” documentarian and overall troublemaker Michael Moore takes on the economic system that underpins the Western world — and rejects it.
“Capitalism is an evil,” he states at the end of the film, in case there were any ambiguity about his point of view. “You have to eliminate it and replace it with something.”
People will differ as to whether his critique is a cogent one. Over at the Wall Street Journal, they are not planning a screening for the editorial board.
Moore is not an economist. But he is a very shrewd filmmaker.
For however much the financial world may dismiss Moore’s analysis (and you can count on that), the filmmaker is a master at tapping into public outrage, consistently finding the lever – humor, at its best – to offer a culprit for widely-felt dissatisfaction.
This time, it’s the entire system – Adam Smith, the profit motive, Gordon Gekko’s greed-is-good – that Moore condemns for having, in his view, subverted democracy and converted it into a “plutonomy,” an economy run by a few rich people on the backs of the working poor and ever-shrinking middle class.
This is pretty close to national heresy. Here in America, capitalism is celebrated as being at the core of our national identity. Isn't that why the Commies lost?
Moore says it’s not. Capitalism, he says, is antithetical to democracy. Unfair. Immoral. He even finds a priest who calls it “radically evil.” (Of course, that priest is in Flint, where everybody’s out of work. )
In this film, Moore stages fewer stunts than usual, although he does put crime scene tape around J.P. Morgan on Wall Street.
But he finds angry people who make his point for him. A family being turned out of their home after 22 years because of a predatory loan. A widow who learned that her dead husband’s company took out a policy on him that is actually referred to as “dead peasants” insurance.
Moore’s timing is good. With millions unemployed, the middle class a shrunken shadow of itself, with the car industry on federal life support, and housing foreclosures sweeping the country, it may be more surprising that Moore is the first prominent voice on the media landscape to challenge the basic premise of our economy.
At the press conference after the initial Toronto screening, Moore was asked with what he would replace capitalism.
“I’m not an economist,” he said. “I’m a filmmaker who sees something he doesn’t like… I think we can do better. It’s not capitalsim versus socialism, or communism. In the 21st century, aren’t we smart enough to come up with something better than we have now?”
Moore’s film reprises the familiar wealth disparity that has become shockingly acceptable in recent decades, the fact that one percent of the population holds 95 % of the country’s wealth.
The film highlights other indicators of economic disparity that have worsened in recent years – bankruptcy rising, debt on an upward spike, wages staying even while productivity climbs higher (this courtesy of the Reagan years).
“Greed is the dark side of human nature,” Moore said at the news conference. “Capitalism is not a moral code that keeps greed in check. “
Moore said that he is supposed to do the rounds of talk shows to talk about his new film, but that some shows (he wouldn’t name them) were afraid of offending their advertisers with the filmmaker’s views.
He’ll be more welcome, no doubt, when he shows the film at an AFL-CIO convention this week.
Overture will be taking the film out on more than 2,000 screens, hoping it will ignite the same kind of response as “Fahrenheit 9-11,” Moore’s controversial examination of the government’s response to Osama Bin Laden.
That one was incendiary. But this is the closest Moore gets to fomenting class revolt. “I refuse to live in a country like this," Moore says in the film. "And I’m not leaving.”
See previous: Moore says "newspapers slit their own throats."