Friday, October 02, 2009

Michael Moore's "Capitalism" is not a "Love Story"

Back in 1972, just before I “came out”, I had consorted with the very leftist Peoples Party of New Jersey, partly founded by Benjamin Spock, because I “liked” their congressional candidate. Then in December, in a drafty tenement in Newark, NJ, his girl friend said, “I don’t know why we need to live with capitalism.” The Party was drawing up platform positions like a maximum income of $50000 a year. I, as a computer programmer with Sperry Univac, was already on the fringe of the predatory or parasitic enemy, mooching off real workers.

In the beginning of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” (Moore's website), Moore interplays America with the Roman Empire (not the Holy one), and suggests nifty parallels about its intending fall. Toward the end, Moore, in a black and white FDR speech, recounts FDR’s proposal for a Second Bill of Rights (I have used the term “Bill of Rights 2”), but these rights could not be fundamental rights in the strict sense, but rather social rights, that could only exist when there is some appropriate level of sacrifice or even expropriation from some people so that all people have something. This speech is surprisingly little known; Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”, which also hint at social rights, are much more often mentioned. (Wikipedia, however, does have an article enumerating FDR's Second Bill of Rights, here.), also incorporating an "Economic Bill of Rights".

Moore also makes the point that the countries that we defeated in WWII did implement this “second bill of rights” without that much controversy, even if modern Europe is having difficult today with its welfare state (and with Muslim lack of assimilation). And the America of the 1950s more or less had this stability, with the proper support of unions – although Moore adds that the 50s were prosperous because America did not yet have competition from the areas that had been ravaged by war (the Soviets came up first). But, what we had in the 50s was capitalism. Moore describes “democracy” as the antonym of capitalism, but modern European democracies are usually viewed, with some envy, as “modern democratic capitalism”, capable of offering great opportunity to talented individuals just as does the US. The level of opportunity in Britain, Canada and the US are all more or less comparable (look at how many young actors today come from Canada). On a mid-term in government in high school, I had to write an essay comparing "democracy" and "communism", as if "they" were "the" opposites.

Moore does build his long film up to a great climax with the collapse of 2008 and the phony Bailout, which he describes as the last great coup by the Rich to keep what they have (Paulson is almost presented as a Democrat). Elizabeth Warren, after admitting “I don’t know” as to where is the money, says that the TARP funds all came with a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for the banks. A clever metaphor indeed, for a similar level of evil.

Moore also describes how The People can resist, as especially the case with the workers at a Chicago window factory to win their severance benefits with a sit-in strike, or with Miami homeowners able to resist foreclosure (a sheriff’s foreclosure-attack in Illinois earlier in the film is quite chilling, almost like the Gestapo coming to the farm in the opening of “Incredulous”). He also goes into the business of "foreclosure sharking", and presents the practice of companies buying "dead pesasnt" life insurance policies on their workers.

In the final analysis, though, rights and responsibilities don’t just lie with groups. Allan Carlson, as I have written elsewhere, has this clever idea that the Family should be an internally socialistic or quasii-Marxist basic unit of an outwardly capitalist society, in order to answer the moral contradiction implicit in reconciling capitalism and modern ideas of individual freedom with the Bible. Ultimately, I think, everybody has to deal with the subtlety of justice at an individual level, and how interdependent we really are. What can rightfully be expected of us can become quite shocking.

There are some curious details in the film, as the girl who is busted and put in a “private” juvenile detention facility in Pennsylvania for making fun of school administrators on a personal Myspace page (online reputation again!), or the mention of the possibility of marital law in the US if Congress didn’t pass the 2008 Great Bailout. Remember Suze Orman wanted the bailout!

Attribution link for Wikimedia picture of Wall Street. The best visual scene in the film is Moore’s putting up the police line around Wall Street. Too bad you can’t shoot video in a theater.

The film is a combination effort of Overture Films, Paramount Vantage, The Weinstein Company, and Moore’s own “Dog Eat Dog Films”, a suitable combination for a "large" indie film. Curiously, TWC's trademark does not appear in the credits. I would have preferred to open the film up with 2.35:1 instead of te standard 1.85:1 which is used here.

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