The basic point of Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story is that economics is evil, a system that takes from the 99% of society and gives to the 1% who are wealthy, and it needs to be taken down by a populist uprising of the proletariat. Marx is cheering from his grave.
Though filled with often funny gimmicks, the film can be frequently infuriating—either because of the capitalist evil you perceive he is revealing, or because you know he is tricking the audience with only one half of the story. There are a lot of unexplained concepts, elaborate conspiracy stories, and vague solutions that essentially call for a revolution of the poor over the rich. (The upshot is that, if you’re interested in day trading, you can buy stock in the anti-stock market film.)
I should say up front, that there are several parts of Capitalism that I agree with Moore about. He is critical of TARP, fraud, and corruption. The film tells the story of a judge colluding with a private prison to unnecessarily extend sentences to increase the prison’s profits and a glass factory in Chicago that refused to pay it’s employees after going bankrupt. Moore reminds his viewers of the Keating 5 and Countrywide “Friends of Angelo” scandals. In telling the story of the Bailout, Moore accuses Wall St. of colluding with the Bush White House and Congressional democrats to get the Troubled Asset Relief Program passed by using fear.
Just like Moore, we should be just as upset about these things. Fraud and corruption are wrong and they ultimately only hurt the economy, much less individuals. However, Moore suggests that capitalism inevitably leads to breaking the law, therefore it must be eliminated and is “evil.” This is not true. Over 15% of America’s prisoners are housed in facilities operated by private companies, but they aren’t all in cahoots with judges to boost profits. Just because Countrywide’s chief executive handed out favors, doesn’t mean that every mortgage company does. A few instances of fraud—relative to all other business that goes on without a problem—don’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Would a socialist/non-free market system get rid of government corruption or make it worse?
Beyond this agreement, however, the film becomes disingenuous, shotty journalism, and sheer propaganda without substantive argument. Moore’s movie is largely a series of “unfortunate” situations strung together pointing out supposed evils of capitalism. In fact, the movie largely just shows that capitalism isn’t utopia. Big surprise.
Moore harps on the “evil” of banks foreclosing on homes. As he shows a lot of people who are getting kicked out of their homes, he sets it up to say: look at the evil banks, forcing “hard working” middle class families out of their homes, creating neighborhoods filled with boarded up houses, destroying the values of homes. He doesn’t get into why the people couldn’t pay their mortgages, particularly if they really were “hard working” families. The stories aren’t completely, he doesn’t address the possibility that some of the families being foreclosed on are living in homes and on properties that are beyond their means.
It certainly is tragic that people loses their homes. But if banks just stopped collecting then why would people pay off mortgages? In local situations it might be possible for exceptions to be made, where local banks can be more understanding, but that falls on the homeowner in choosing where they get their mortgage. Moore may argue that this type of system is unacceptable. But the alternative, a system without the incentive to pay for one’s own home, requires collectivism. A collective, profit sharing society (sometimes called communism or socialism depending on the details) can only work when all members voluntarily buy in. Forcibly, you get the USSR, simple as that.
Throughout the film, Moore makes arbitrary moral statements: he suggests that all are entitled to a job and “livable” wage. But while all have the right to work, is everyone entitled to the job they want where they want it? What kind of terrible consequences would there be if FDR’s second bill of rights was passed guaranteeing a job for all? It sounds great, until businesses are forced to take on unaffordable expenses or keep incompetent employees. It’s not a recipe for a stable economy.
Moore misses the point of capitalism. He claims capitalism is “all about taking advantage of others misfortune.” But the story of America has not been the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Since the 1970s America has grown freer and richer than ever before. In the end, Moore’s film was his lowest opening ever, just a rehashing of his old tricks, and only watched by people who have $11.75 to see the film in theaters. I doubt they are the proletariat Moore wants to see rise up against the elite.