Michael Moore’s ‘Cap­i­tal­ism’: A tall tale

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Michael Moore’s new film, “Cap­i­tal­ism: A Love Story,” chron­i­cles the galling ex­cesses of our mod­ern econ­omy in bru­tal de­tail, jump­ing from home fore­clo­sures to busi­nesses cash­ing in on life in­sur­ance poli­cies they had taken out on their dead em­ploy­ees to bank bailouts to mil­lion-dol­lar-bonuses paid out to ex­ec­u­tives of failed banks. As he comes to a crash­ing, tri­umphant crescendo, the merry prankster of mod­ern moviemak­ing says he wants to get rid of cap­i­tal­ism and re­place it with a bet­ter, fairer, more just sys­tem — democ­racy! Democ­racy? It’s a head scratcher. One doesn’t re­place an eco­nomic sys­tem with a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Say­ing you want to re­place “cap­i­tal­ism” with “democ­racy” is like say­ing you want to re­place “pub­lic tran­sit” with “puppy dogs.” It’s not quite right.

It’s ob­vi­ous why he chose such a mal­a­prop­ism: “So­cial­ism” is what Mr. Moore is re­ally af­ter, but that’s a far more dis­turb­ing word to the av­er­age Amer­i­can. He wants to re­place one sa­credyet-sec­u­lar Amer­i­can word (cap­i­tal­ism) with an­other sa­cred-yet­sec­u­lar Amer­i­can word (democ­racy), fully ob­scur­ing that nei­ther word means any­thing close to its dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion in Mr. Moore’s world­view.

To Mr. Moore, cap­i­tal­ism isn’t an eco­nomic sys­tem that has de­liv­ered bil­lions around the globe from poverty and sub­sis­tence ex­is­tences by virtue of the profit mo­tive.

No, to him, cap­i­tal­ism is an ex­ploita­tive sham, an eco­nomic sys­tem de­signed to de­liver money from the poor into the hands of the wealthy. If he had stuck to the re­cent bailouts of the bank­ing in­dus­try, he might have had a point. Un­for­tu­nately, he spends much of the movie fly­ing far afield of that trav­esty.

And that’s the main prob­lem with Mr. Moore’s movie: His fo­cus is too dif­fuse, his aim too scat­ter­shot. It’s old hat for the di­rec­tor to ar­gue only one side of the story, but this is the first time he has so bla­tantly failed to fo­cus on the pri­mary is­sue at hand, flail­ing, in­stead, at all the wrong tar­gets.

Con­sider Mr. Moore’s take on the fore­clo­sure cri­sis: He sym­pa­thet­i­cally por­trays two fam­i­lies who have gone through fore­closed af­ter fail­ing to meet their re­pay­ment obli­ga­tions. Fore­clo­sure is a ter­ri­ble thing, some­thing no fam­ily should have to suf­fer — un­less, of course, they fail to re­pay the money that has been lent to them.

Credit is a bedrock of cap­i­tal­ism, but credit comes with cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Banks are not char­i­ta­ble in­sti­tu­tions, and there have to be con­se­quences for fail­ing to pay back the money they ad­vance. The sub­prime loan cri­sis was caused only in part by banks lend­ing money to un­qual­i­fied bor­row­ers: No less com­plicit were the ir­re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens who took out far more money than they could af­ford on terms they could not pos­si­bly un­der­stand.

In a way, Mr. Moore and his ilk are the ones ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for this cri­sis. By turn­ing home­own­er­ship into a ba­sic so­ci­etal en­ti­tle­ment — ir­re­spec­tive of credit-wor­thi­ness — they en­cour­aged the poor to bor­row reck­lessly and leaned on lenders to give money even more reck­lessly.

Mr. Moore’s sug­gested so­lu­tions to the cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism are al­most as ab­surd as his di­ag­noses. As the film draws to a close, he asks us to re­con­sider Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s sec­ond bill of rights, and one of those rights in par­tic­u­lar jumps out: the guar­an­tee of a job with a “liv­ing wage.”

This has been a con­stant buga­boo of Mr. Moore’s. He thinks Gen­eral Motors Corp. — faced with com­pe­ti­tion from cheaper, bet­ter, more fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles from Ja­pan and else­where — has shot it­self in the foot. Not be­cause it re­fused to build bet­ter cars or agreed to a back-break­ing deal with the la­bor unions that made the cars too ex­pen­sive, mind you. No, Mr. Moore seems to think GM has come to ruin be­cause it has laid off too many em­ploy­ees, leav­ing the once thriv­ing cities of the Mid­west, in­clud­ing his home­town, Flint, Mich., waste­lands with no busi­ness prospects.

Let us think about this for a mo­ment, shall we?

GM au­to­mo­biles are too ex­pen­sive and too fuel-in­ef­fi­cient. They carry mas­sive legacy costs pro­vid­ing health care ben­e­fits and pen­sions to both cur­rent and past em­ploy­ees of now-de­funct plants. In­creased plant ef­fi­ciency and de­creased need for la­bor are trumped by union de­mands to pre­serve jobs, re­sult­ing in ex­cess work­ers col­lect­ing most of their pay for what amounts to make-work.

Yet GM should guar­an­tee th­ese peo­ple’s jobs and gold­plated ben­e­fits? Or the gov­ern­ment should step in and sub­si­dize in­ef­fi­cient com­pa­nies to pay now-re­dun­dant em­ploy­ees?

Mr. Moore has al­ways been long on provoca­tive ques­tions and short on an­swers. “Cap­i­tal­ism” is no dif­fer­ent: He sug­gests a bright and shiny fu­ture without ad­e­quately ex­am­in­ing the likely con­se­quences of such a fu­ture or of­fer­ing much in the way of pro­pos­als for bring­ing it to life — other than sopho­moric pranks like show­ing up at a bank head­quar­ters to ar­rest its chief ex­ec­u­tive.

A bril­liant pro­pa­gan­dist, Mr. Moore suc­ceeds once again at be­ing provoca­tive while fail­ing to im­prove any­one’s sta­tion in life.

Other than his own, of course.

Pay $9 to see me de­cry cap­i­tal­ism: Film­maker Michael Moore de­clares the New York Stock Ex­change a crime scene in his new film, “Cap­i­tal­ism: A Love Stor y.”

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