Michael Moore’s ‘Capitalism’: A tall tale
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.”