Sunday, October 04, 2009

Capitalism by Michael Moore -- Random Thoughts

Just came back from Capitalism and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I do all of Michael Moore's work, but like most of his movies, Moore skips over important details or leaves me with just as many questions as answers at the end of his performance.

Capitalism is a well-justified attack on Reaganomics, largely blaming it for the economic fallout of 2008. Prior to Reagan's election, the capitalistic system appeared to work well to young Michael when his father was fully employed by GM and his mother, like many women of that era, had the option to stay at home and raise children instead of being forced to work outside of the house as well as inside, which is the current trend. The 1950s and 60s appeared blissful; there was much prosperity and people were happy, according to Moore. But were they really or was this a Leave It to Beaver analysis? What about poor women who always had to work or inner-city blacks and Latinos? The inequality and poverty that are hallmarks of the capitalist system were not even mentioned by our baseball-capped champion for labor in the beginning of the movie.

What was hammered home were tragic images of people being forcibly evicted from their houses by the police; stats about the number of personal bankruptcies; greedy lenders who misled people into thinking that they had money in their home that they could borrow but forgot to inform them that when they went to repay it, it would be at double the interest rate: and lengthy explanations about the Wall Street gambling game that resulted in your pension fund being mismanaged or suddenly transported to another planet. How did we go from abundance to foreclosures? Reaganomics, which was based on tax cuts for the wealthy. And even more dangerous was the fact that Ron Reagan invited into his Treasury Cabinet CEOs from companies like Goldman Sachs, so that the line between government and private industry was forever blurred. How could AIG or Sachs ever act in the public interest when the whole mandate of a corporation is to make a profit at any cost?

At the end of Capitalism, Michael Moore shows footage of FDR where he advocated a second Bill of Rights that would have guaranteed all Americans the right to a decent livable wage, a proper education, universal healthcare, and protection for small business owners from monopolies as well as individualinsurance for those who became disabled, unemployed or reached retirement age. All laudable goals that seem more elusive than ever.

Yet certain nagging questions weren't answered in Capitalism. For example, we see a great celebration at the election of Barack Obama but no real discussion as to whether he removed all of the Wall Street financiers from the Treasury Department. Newsflash: he didn't. Look at his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who made millions of dollars in investment banking, and was previously a director at Freddie Mac, a government created program to help people obtain loans for their homes. In passing, Moore says that Bill Clinton didn't eliminate the new marriage between Wall Street and the Federal Treasury either. No One Left to Lie to (as Christopher Hitchens calls him) Bill retained a similar Treasury Department to that of George Bush senior. We see outrage and indignation at the passage of George Bush's bailout for Wall Street but there is no serious analysis as to what would have happened had that Bill not passed. Would the financial sector have collapsed? Global economic meltdown could have resulted if we had failed to take some sort of action. Would Moore have supported a provisional bailout (e.g., the money could have been a loan, and my lips -- no bonuses!)?

What are Moore's real feelings about Obama? I remember seeing him on Larry King live early on in the campaign and he didn't support our current Prez. Has he since changed his tune? How partisan is that when capitalism is embraced by both major political parties as well emphatically by Libertarians?

And Moore is big on anecdotes as opposed to larger, more representative figures. He claimed that pilots flying for American Eagle made as little as $20,000 a year or less. Is that true? I don't want to fly in a plane with a pilot who can hardly afford his own car! Wikipedia says that it depends on the airline, aircraft, position and seniority, and that a first officer in a medium aircraft may only earn $30 to $40,000 a year but a more experienced captain doing a transatlantic flight on an Airbus or Boeing could earn $80 to $90,000 a year. I would have liked to have seen a breakdown. Give us the mean and median or mode average salary of the pilots at United, Continental or American Airlines rather than interviewing two or three beginning flyers at the least well paid airline.

Lastly, Michael Moore suggests that we abandon capitalism in favor of democracy but that's like saying I'm going to skip breakfast because the orchids are blooming outside. They're not related. Democracy is not an economic system. It's a political philosophy that requires representation: government by the people, at least theoretically. The economic system that rivals capitalism would be socialism and that is really what Moore supports. It would have been more honest to have stated his preference for democratic socialism, which is what most European nations practice.

Did these omissions seriously flaw the movie? No. Moore has always had a keen eye for social analysis. Something is fatally wrong with the economic system and we all realized that last year. Where we go from here is anybody's guess.

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