Michael Moore’s newest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, is an emotionally devastating movie that effectively dispels the notion that capitalist principles are at the root of American greatness. Through careful editing of archival footage, insightful interviews, and his own home movies, Moore paints a portrait of a nation whose greatness has been systematically undermined by those who claimed to be merely perpetuating its traditions.
Moore begins his documentary by inviting the viewer to take a glance at his childhood, portrayed here as an idyllic slice of Americana of the kind that conservatives often cite when making their pleas for a return to “American values”. Moore talks movingly about his father’s union job, his modest home, and the pleasure his family took in luxuries such as Christmas morning. Moore, however, states that this way of life was not made possible by unbridled, competitive capitalism of the variety proposed by contemporary conservatives, but by the thrift and modesty of hard-working men like his father. By directly attacking a main conservative talking point, Moore begins his convincing assault on the economic system that has for far too long been allowed to be manipulated by corporate pirates in the spirit of “American values”.
The most effective sections of this film are those in which Moore shows us lives that were destroyed by policies made possible by deregulation of the American financial system. Homes have been stolen from hard-working families whose only crime was dealing with a bank that chose to participate in risky financial dealings, and use these families’ futures as collateral. One family shown in the film is compelled to clean out their own house and destroy their belongings before the bank seizes the home, in the hopes of securing a check from the bank for a pitiful sum. Even more egregious is the obscure policy of “dead peasants insurance”. As the name implies, this policy allows large companies to secretly take out life insurance policies on their workers, and to then collect exorbitant sums of money when they pass away. An economic system that encourages industries to take a vested interest in the demise of its workers can not be defended by any sane progressive, or for that matter any sane American.
Moore also brings to light a shocking memo from CitiGroup, issued to a select group of powerful shareholders in 2006. This memo clarifies what many astute observers already knew: that America is swiftly becoming a nation by, for, and of the incredibly wealthy. This memo speaks approvingly of an American society in which all political power if effectively in the hands of the wealthy. The memo gloats about the growing disparity in wealth distribution in America. The author(s) of the memo advises the readers that the USA is becoming a “plutonomy”, a state in which the country is governed, either directly or indirectly, by the small group of people who control the majority of the wealth. This memo only serves to confirm that those who are benefitting from the current economic system are deliberately depriving the American public of both their financial security and their political clout.
One concern I had with the film was Moore’s insistence that the root of the problem of inequitable wealth was capitalism itself. Although I am a progressive, if Moore is trying to insist that socialism will cure all of our ills, he is a far less intelligent man than I had previously thought.
At the movie’s otherwise stirring conclusion, he proposes that capitalism be replaced with “democracy”. Although this sounds like a nice idea, democracy is a political system, one that is best accompanied by capitalism. Moore should have more clearly made the point that capitalism is not inherently structured to destroy equality, but that if the wrong people are allowed to shape it then that occurrence will be inevitable.
Despite the above issue, and in spite of some over the top grandstanding by Mr. Moore, Capitalism is a must-see movie for anyone interested in exploring the root causes of our current economic crisis. It shows that America has not been undone by irresponsible homeowners, or by lazy workers, or even by illegal immigrants. Rather, the entire American public has been betrayed by a select group of powerful men whose unquenchable thirst for wealth is threatening to tear apart the fabric of this great nation. Although it is clearly aimed at progressive audiences, I urge people of all political biases to see this movie, and to strive to reclaim our country from those who have discreetly stolen it from us.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
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