Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” is a scathing indictment of modern America’s “me first” approach to the social contract. He may have made more tightly focused films, but this is still an urgently important piece of work.
As he’s done through his career, Moore wraps his arms around a big subject – the profit motive as a form of Darwinism – and then begins lobbing grenades in all directions.
The result is a film that can infuriate on the same level as “Sicko,” “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Roger and Me.” If Moore’s shtick has grown familiar – showing up on Wall Street, for example, to make citizen’s arrests of bonus-dealing bankers – his message never gets old. In “Capitalism,” which opens in limited release this week before going wider, there are two Americas – and most of us are living in the one that routinely gets the short end of the stick.
Why? Because that other America – the one in which the bulk of the country’s wealth is owned by the richest one percent of Americans – is so firmly committed to hanging on to what they’ve got and getting more. Because, since the Reagan years, Republicans continue to foment the idea that poverty is a flaw of character, rather than a product of social forces, often beyond an individual’s control.
Class warfare? You bet. Yet somehow that phrase – intended to denote the way the upper class keeps the struggling mass under it heel – has been hijacked by that same ruling strata of society, as if to say: Hey, quit pointing out the inequities of a system that favors me and harms you.
Moore, however, has no intention of letting up. “Capitalism” points fingers in a variety of directions, starting with the Reagan and Bush administrations, which did so much to deregulate and destabilize our economy in the name of the free market. He offers hilarious examples – well, hilarious but painful – of how the joys of capitalism have been fetishized over the years.
Indeed, the examples he cites proselytize the notion that capitalism is not only preferable, it’s positively patriotic – and a Christian value as well. And then Moore easily knocks the pins out from under that notion, offering example after example of both the misery that unchecked capitalism has wrought – and of the un-Christian behavior practiced by the very corporations who wave that banner.
Just one example: the “dead peasant” life insurance that corporations (including WalMart) routinely take out on their employees. Moore offers a couple of testimonials from families that are struggling after the death at an early age of a spouse. The death nearly bankrupted the surviving spouse with medical bills – but brought millions to the deceased’s employer, which had taken out a policy on the employee – and then offered none of it to the survivors.
What would Jesus do, given the wave of foreclosures that have ruptured the fabric of so many American lives? Probably not the same thing as the corporations.
But Moore doesn’t stop with Republicans. He takes careful aim at Wall Street and the bankers who casually infiltrated and took over the economic policy of the country, from Donald Regan to Hank Paulson, from Robert Rubin to Timothy Geithner. The influence of Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs is pervasive, as Moore demonstrates – and their interests are not the same as the country’s.
The saying used to be “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” – but now, not so much. Moore can’t resist revisiting his old bete noir, returning to GM headquarters to try to talk to the same executives who gave him the cold shoulder 20 years ago with “Roger and Me.” The effect of that corporation’s plummeting fortunes are sorely evident on Moore’s hometown of Flint, Mich. He even takes his father to visit the site of the AC Delco sparkplug plant where his father spent his career – now a vacant lot with remnants of rubble of the demolished facility.
As noted, Moore’s elaborate turns – showing up on Wall Street with an armored truck and a sack with a dollar sign on the side to ask for the bail-out money back, among others – seem unnecessary. Moore’s material is so strong – his juxtapositions of archival footage and new footage, his interviews with people with a strong understanding of what’s going on who are willing to talk candidly – that he doesn’t need this kind of filler to make his point.
Yes, there’s plenty of outrage to go around – and certainly, unspooling long ribbons of crime-scene tape around the buildings on Wall Street is a visually arresting gambit.
But “Capitalism: A Love Story” has already made its point: that the people have the power to wrest control of their country away from the corporations, if they can quit squabbling long enough to do something about it.