Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Free Market's Gotten a Bit Expensive

Capitalism: A Love Story
Directed by Michael Moore
Three and One Half Stars

Michael Moore’s latest documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story” brings new life to a simple truth, that capitalism parades itself as a vehicle for free enterprise but ultimately rewards greed more than any other virtue.  Those who have benefitted the most from the free market have become a significant threat to the rest of us.  Capitalism began as a revelatory concept for a national economy, but as time went by the disparity between the top and the bottom stretched out of control.  I’m reminded of a little piece of wisdom from a little movie called “Citizen Kane”.  It’s no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.

Moore makes a pretty compelling case against capitalism here, even if he doesn’t really offer any solution.  Make money your number one priority, he argues, and you shall reap the rewards of capitalism, but it’s your own fault if your dream job doesn’t pay well, or if your employer keeps that extra surplus for himself, or heaven forbid, if you have a pre-existing medical condition and must spend your life savings on hospital bills after a car accident because you can’t acquire health insurance.  Some people just work harder than others, you see, and those people will make more money.  That’s only fair, and everyone gets an equal opportunity.

No, there is very little that’s fair about capitalism.  At least not anymore, not since President Reagan opened the doors and let the hounds of Wall Street loose on the United States government.  The wealthiest one percent of the country has more money than the bottom ninety-nine percent combined.  This has nothing to do with some people working harder than others.  This is about people who have more than enough, more than they could probably spend if they tried, many of whom came into inherited fortunes, who used their money to gain power, and used their power to systematically steal from the undeserving middle class.

How are they doing this?  Moore takes a close look at a few examples, which make up the bulk of the film.  The most interesting of these are derivatives, which, as best as I could tell, basically mean that your bank bet your mortgage that you won’t foreclose.  They chopped it up, divided it, and invested it, and if you foreclose, they’re screwed and will try to regain what they’ve lost by screwing you.  Moore’s best advice in “Capitalism”: if the bank forecloses on your home, assert that you will not budge until they produce a copy of your mortgage.  Often, the bank has mutilated it to such an extent that they can not.

Michael Moore is an artist of blatant propaganda, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t a great filmmaker.  Often, it’s not about Moore being right, but about him raising the right issues.  The state of the free market is a scalding subject right now, and the word itself has taken on a kind of divine connotation, which the far right recite in glory and reverence against the domestic threat of “socialism”.  Isn’t it interesting that Obama began to significantly pull ahead in the 2008 election as McCain and Palin began to fervently label him a socialist?  Perhaps middle class America has grown tired of capitalism not serving their best interests.

“Capitalism” is an attempt to remove the rose colored glasses from the concept of capitalism.  Moore shows us plenty of figureheads reminding us that capitalism is the best economic system there is.  Whether or not this is true, I cannot say for sure.  But even it is, capitalism is far from perfect.  Moore’s documentary is clever and provocative, as one might expect from the man.  Love him or hate him, agree or disagree, there’s no denying that he has made some of the most significant films of our generation.  He’s the best there is at stirring the masses.

Rollan Schott
October 6, 2009
Originally Featured in the Daily Nebraskan

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