Capitalism: A Love Story

The event. I had a chance to see a sneak preview of Michael Moore’s new movie Capitalism: A Love Story on Sunday at, of all places, the GM headquarters in Detroit. Moore was there for a Q&A after, as was Mary Kaptur, the democratic congresswoman from Toledo. For some video of the controversy surrounding the event, go to his website or this video.  For footage check out this video (in which you can see me in the audience around 6:00). I don’t have much to say about the Q&A or the setting itself, except that it was enjoyable and informative, but not as much as the movie itself.

The film. I went into this film with medium-to-low expectations.  I liked Sicko, and I generally enjoy Moore’s films with some reservations that I’ve already mentioned. This film is his best. It contains some of his trademark antics, such as driving a Brinks truck to banks to get the taxpayers’ money back, and, as usual, he does lengthy  interviews with victims of the crisis — people who have lost their jobs and homes while corporate CEOs get richer.

But instead of only attacking, ridiculing and exposing, the film also performs a good analysis of and potential solutions to the underlying problems. He traces a lot of the crisis to Reagan’s program of massive deregulation of the financial industry and subsequent gutting of the FBIs white collar crime division. The film gives a lot of time to the Republic Window and Glass takeover of December 2008, as well as to a couple worker-owned businesses, and calls for greater democracy in the workplace as well as in the economy.

Perhaps the most striking portions of the film are those involving Toledo Congressowman Marcy Kaptur, who opposed the bailout, calling bank CEOs criminals and accusing them of hijacking Congress. She has also called for people to stay in their home is evicted, and challenge the banks to produce an actual mortgage, which may be impossible in many cases, due to bank practices of chopping up loans and trading them.

The thesis of the film is that Americans are no longer in control of the economic system in the United States, and that we must act to reintroduce democracy into all areas of government. For Moore, capitalism as it is practiced today is antithetical to democracy, as it concentrates 95% of the wealth into 1% of the population, who then control financial regulations, tax codes and, generally, congress. He does a good job supporting this through historical analysis as well as anecdotal examples.

My biggest reservation about the film is the treatment of President Obama. The film posits Obama’s campaign as a desire for change in the system, which makes sense, but fails to evaluate his actions so far. It mentions that all of the major banks contributed heavily to his campaign, and it attacks Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, and company, but without making the relevant point that (as Aaron Petcoff points out) Obama appointed them, or without explicitly drawing the connections between the campaign contributions and the appointments. There is a case to be made the Barack Obama so far has done little or nothing to fix these problems. I suspect Moore doesn’t criticize him too much because it is early in Obama’s presidency, and the main point is not to  sit back and rely on elected officials, but to take action to keep them accountable.

This film should energize those on the Left. For those on the Right, I hope criticism of the film goes beyond ad hominem attacks (Moore is a hypocrite because he makes so much money in a capitalist economy; Moore is fat and loud and obnoxious, etc.) or taking small snippets out of context. I don’t really hold out much hope for this, but maybe this film, if nothing else, can spark serious discussion of our economic situation.

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