Friday, October 09, 2009

Michael Moore on Capitalism

If you were going back and forth on whether Michael Moore might have socialist leanings, Capitalism, a Love Story ought dispel any doubts. It's a pretty forthright call for a democratic revolution. That's not the subject or real business of the movie, though. Rather, he is mainly exercised by some blatant abuses of crony capitalism that extend back at least to Reagan.

There is no shortage of outrages to point out: the private juvenile jail in Wilkes Barre Pa that bribed judges to sentence young teens to long incarceration for trivial or non existent offenses (in one case, for posting insulting remarks about a vice principal), the so-called "dead peasant" policies that many corporations take out on their employees, causing the employees to be worth more to them dead than alive, the bribes to Senators and Representatives, and, most centrally, the systematic scamming of homeowners by the mortgage game.

As usual, Moore has a repertoire of childish but amusing stunts. One of my favorite moments was the stern faced security guard turning him away from Goldman-Sachs who couldn't quite keep from cracking up. He also has a great eye for the telling detail - former Merrill Lynch head and White House Chief of Staff Don Regan telling President Ron Reagan when to sit down and shut up was one. Another was the set of three memos of Citigroup welcoming its prime customers to what they called the "Plutonomy" - rule by the richest 1% - and explaining the threat posed by the other 99% who were still, somehow, allowed to vote.

I don't agree with Moore's diagnosis of capitalism ("intrinsically evil") and I don't think he is fair to some of the subjects, notably Tim Geithner, but he assembles a powerful indictment of the system as it exists - the creation of which largely took place under the presidencies of Reagan, Clinton, and Bush jr.

Some stunts I found predictably irritating: a Wall Street trader and Harvard prof Ken Rogoff failing utterly to simply define a "financial derivative," and some putatively mysterious but actually rather simple equations for calculating their value. (Oooh - Calculus!)

Moore also has a big collection of quotes from Jesus and the founders (Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin) revealing their rather socialistic sympathies.

Despite a rather slow start, I would rate it one of his most powerful movies. The people who really should see it, though, probably won't.