This is a review of Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (2009).
Spoiler Alert: This review contains information about scenes in the movie-documentary, so if you have not seen it yet, you may want to read this after viewing the film.
Michael Moore’s documentary was very good, but contained some serious errors, misrepresentations, and half-truths. First I will mention the positive, then some minor errors, and then some major flaws.
The parts about health care and warfare were excellent. Workers should be given adequate benefits including health care. Health is a life and death issue, just as national defense is, police and fire protection. If a house is on fire, the government puts it out, so why not for a human body that is on fire? The fire can also be cancer, heart disease, etc.
Warfare has been used too often in the U.S. and I agree with Michael Moore on that issue too. Sometimes it may have been for corporate interests as he suggested. Even if not, the reasons should not be trivial.
The parts about the housing crisis and foreclosures were very good too. But he failed to show the causes leading up to the housing crisis and foreclosures. The reason the banks and realtors swooped in to make the big bucks off poor people is because the Fed lowered interest rates to ridiculously low levels, unheard of in American history. Why did the Fed lower interest rates so low? The Fed was trying to prevent a recession from the runaway government spending by Bush and Cheney on the Iraq War. The Bush Administration doubled the national debt in less than six years from the start of the Iraq War. Going to unnecessary wars is not capitalist, it is totalitarian and has more in common with dictatorships.
Now on the capitalist issues, there were some errors and flaws:
In the beginning he talked about how great the U.S. was (scenes appeared to be from the 1950’s) with people making a decent wage, low unemployment, low inflation, people buying things with cash, etc. And then he gives his reason for the prosperity: a 90% tax rate for the highest bracket. The 90% tax rate was for only a few years to recover from the expenses of post WW II and the Korean War. It was not a long-term thing.
He shows manufacturing plants closing down and small cities like Flint becoming very depressed. Yes, that can be part of capitalism, but what is the alternative if the company is making inferior products? Is the company supposed to be run by the government, stay open and continue to make products no one wants to buy? What would we do with all of the products that no one wanted? Do we store them in warehouses as trophies? An analogy would be a company in 1910 that makes saddles for horses. All of a sudden everyone is buying cars (the new invention) and no one wants to buy the saddles anymore. Does the company continue to make saddles? Is it the government’s job to force the company to continue to make saddles even though no one wants to buy them anymore? The only logical choice is for the company to re-tool, make different products or close down.
Moore also showed the judge who ordered teenagers to juvenile hall because the juvie facility was run by a business partner of his and they made tons of money off more kids being sent there. That is not capitalism?! That is corruption, plain and simple. Political corruption exists in all countries, in all economies. In socialist and communist regimes there are plenty of kick-backs, corruption, bribes, favoritism, etc.
Moore interviewed a couple of priests who called capitalism evil. Moore also called it evil. That is not an argument, that is an ad hominem. It is simply name-calling. How is it evil? He mentions the greed factor. Yes, there can be greed, he should know, such as paying his actors $100 each in Roger and Me. Several of them have tried to sue him, but he had signed contracts with them paying them the low wages. History has shown, that productivity does not work without incentive. If socialism and communism were so great, why didn’t they work in the countries that tried them? This includes the Soviet Union, North Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, and China. Vietnam and China are the only “communist” countries that are doing okay and they are only doing okay after they adopted capitalism.
The parts about Jesus were funny, especially with the dubbed in voice for how the Republicans have twisted his teachings. But Moore’s argument here is a non-sequitir. Not everyone is Christian and since he is a devout Catholic, he fails to see that some might think Jesus had it wrong. Jesus probably was a socialist, but that doesn’t mean he got it right.
And if the above is not bad enough, here are some Major flaws in his argument:
Moore talks repeatedly about how great Germany and Japan are, how they take care of the workers. Also throughout the movie he talks about how great and important unions are. The problem is: Germany and Japan are capitalist!! Japan does not have unions!! One of the delays in getting Japanese car manufacturers to the U.S. was that they were non-union. To this day, all Toyota and Honda workers in the U.S. are non-union. The top tax bracket in Japan is 40% not 90% like in many socialist leaning countries, such as Sweden.
In the beginning of the movie he talks about how great America was in the 1950’s and how prosperous we were, how people paid cash for things, how there was a decent standard of living, how his father bought a home for his family that was paid-for. The problem with that argument is: it wasn’t socialism that did that, it was capitalism!!! That was during the height of the Cold War and we were fiercely capitalist, IKE was in the White House and there were no wars going on. It was a good form of capitalism at that time, not socialism in any way, shape, or form.
The parts about the corporate giants and how they took tax payer money in the bail-outs was very good and very accurate. They stole tax payer money so that they could give out large bonuses and go on expensive junkets. The only problem with Moore’s argument here is that this is not free-market capitalism at all; this is corporatism. Corporatism is when the government bails out some industries, but not others, when it artificially boosts some industries (such as defense or Wall Street), but not others. No free maket capitalist Libertarian supported the bail outs. This is an issue that both the left and right agreed on. The Republicans led by Bush and Cheney are not capitalist. They are corporatist. That is where the country has been going downhill. It is not the fault of capitalism, but rather the lack of capitalism as the government has moved more toward a corporatist economy.
So in conclusion, Moore is mostly right, his labels are just seriously wrong. It is not capitalism that is to blame, but rather the lack of a true free-market capitalism and the move toward a bought and paid for corporatist government.
Capitalism and the Constitution
In one part of the film, toward the end, Michael Moore is seen going to the National Archives to look at the original document of the U.S. Constitution. He asks everyone, “where does it say capitalism in the Constitution?” In one attempt at comedy, he asks a security guard this question. The security guard points him in the direction of a tour guide.
The Constitution does not say ‘capitalism’ because it does not need to. It is implied. In the same way that the Constitution does not contain the word ‘democracy’ in any part or in any place. But the articles and Amendments of the Constitution deal with nothing but a representative government and how officials are elected and for how long their terms are, etc. The word ‘democracy’ is never used, but it is implied.
In the same way, capitalism is implied. The First Amendment provides freedom of assembly, the Second Amendment provides private gun ownership, the Third Amendment refers to private homes and how soldiers cannot use them unless in time of warfare, the Fourth Amendment protects private property from being searched, the Fifth Amendment protects private property from being seized, the Tenth Amendment reserves other rights not mentioned, to the people. In these and other places, the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that this is a nation where the means and production are to be held primarily in private hands, not the government, i.e., Capitalism.