"He's a snake in the grass, I tell ya guys; he may look dumb but that's just a disguise; he's a mastermind in the ways of espionage." Charlie Daniels, "Uneasy Rider" Rot at the Core: Michael Moore says "Capitalism is evil", but rightly points to statist corporations and institutionalized theft via government - TT's Lost in Tokyo

Rot at the Core: Michael Moore says "Capitalism is evil", but rightly points to statist corporations and institutionalized theft via government

I haven`t seen Michael Moore`s latest film, "Capitalism: A Love Story" - it premiered in New York last week, but who knows when it will make it to Tokyo? - but I`ve been reading some of his interviews and reviews of his film.

While Moore is confused in identifying the existing U.S. statist corporate system that he criticizes with "capitalism", it seems to me that much of his criticisms of the U.S. political-economic system are consistent with libertarian views (even if Moore doesn`t understand the libertarian criticisms).

Accordingly, while Moore may be off on both his diagnosis of what`s wrong with America and his proposed prescriptions, his film - which appears to be resonating across the political spectrum - presents not merely a challenge to libertarians, but an teaching opportunity.  I hope that libertarians will take advantage of the opportunity to engage Moore`s concerns constructively.

I note below excerpts from media coverage (in no particular order), with a few comments of my own:

Fortune interview, September 22:

- The film covers .... "a privately run juvenile prison that paid off judges to give convicts longer sentences, and last year's $700 billion bailout of the banking system."

- ”I started out wanting to explore the premise of capitalism being anti-American, and anti-Jesus, meaning it's not a Democratic economy. And it's not run with a moral or ethical code. But when the crash happened, it added a third plot line: not only is capitalism anti-American and anti-Jesus, it doesn't work.”

[The weakened moral code Moore complains of is clearly visible in political corruption (the sale of government favors to businesses and investors), which is tied to the regulatory spiral fueled by the state grant of corporate status, shifting or risks to the public and eliciting efforts from citizens groups to rein in increasingly powerful corporations. I have explored this on many posts, some directly relating to the state grant of limited liability to shareholders. I note that it is apparent from Jon Stewart`s recent interview of Ron Paul regarding Paul`s new "End the Fed" book that both Stewart and Paul share Moore`s concern about the entwining of the corporation and government (h/t Bob Murphy).]

- ”this crash exposed our economic system as a corrupt scam".

- "instead of initially giving bailout money to a General Motors that was never going to change or to banks so they can cover losses from crazy betting schemes, this money should be going to helping to create jobs in places like Detroit. People need to work."

[Okay, but the best way to "create" jobs is for government to leave tax dollars with taxpayers, and to undo counterproductive government regulation (such as grants of monopoly powers to utilities, and the "war on drugs" and on inner cities) that benefit insiders at the collective expense of the common weal.]

- "You tried to get Hank Paulson on the phone in the film, but weren't successful. If you got him on the phone today, what would you ask?"

"If I had a chance to talk to him, I'd want him to come clean and tell me the truth about how he rigged this whole thing. Tell us what happened because we don't know the details. How did so many Goldman people end up in the administration? How is it that Goldman- 's chief competitors are left to die -- not bailing out Lehman Bros., Bear Stearns falls apart, Merrill Lynch is absorbed into Bank of America -- and look who's left standing: the company that's got all their boys inside the administration."

- "Capitalism is not only an economic system that legalizes greed, it also has at its foundation a political system of capitalism that is, "We have to buy the political system because we don't have enough votes."

Fortune article, September 4 (Richard Corliss, a senior writer for TIME):

- "To Moore, it's the bureaucratic-industrial complex -- the combined might of the West Wing, Wall street and Wal-Mart -- that's evil. That view was never clearer than in his broadly entertaining, ceaselessly provocative, wildly ambitious new film. Not satisfied with outlining and condemning the housing and banking crises of the past year, it expands the story of the financial collapse into an epic of malfeasance: capital crimes on a national scale."

- "The movie seems to be setting up the disappointment many on the Left have felt over the awarding of more billions to giant banks and corporations, among other things, since Jan. 20. And Moore does note that Goldman Sachs gave more than $1 million to Obama's campaign."

- "But he doesn't go after this Democratic President as he surely would have if John McCain had been elected. Instead, he argues for participatory democracy: do-it-yourself do-gooding, through community activism and union organizing. That's an optimistic and evasive answer to the financial problem.

"Surely what spun out of control because of government indulgence and indolence needs to be repaired by government regulation and ingenuity.... In "Capitalism: A Love Story," Moore has cogently and passionately diagnosed the disease. But for a cure, instead of emergency surgery, he prescribes Happy Meals."

The Nation, describing Moore`s appearance on "The Jay Leno Show”, September 16 (John Nichols):

- "Americans who didn't witness filmmaker Michael Moore's appearance Tuesday night on NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" missed one of those rare moments when the vast wasteland gives way to an oasis of realism.

Rarely since the days when author Gore Vidal regularly appeared on the "Tonight" show with Johnny Carson has a popular television program on a commercial broadcast channel provided such extended and respectful treatment to a scathing critique of the corrupt status quo.

Leno hailed Moore's new movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story," as "the best film he's done."

The talk-show host described "Capitalism: A Love Story" as "completely nonpartisan" -- and he's right: Moore goes after sold-out Democrats and sold-out Republicans -- before declaring: "I was stunned by it, and I think it is the most fair film."

- "Even more meaningful than Leno's review of a movie he had obviously watched and considered seriously was this exchange:

LENO: Now it's one year since Lehman Brothers collapsed. We've had all, OK, we've handed out... Is Wall Street any better? Have they learned anything?

MOORE: No, not at all. It's, it's probably worse. They're still doing these exotic derivatives. They're now trying to do it with life insurance. They've got all these crazy schemes. I mean, that's what I'm saying about capitalism, it's like a beast. And no matter how many strings or ropes you try and tie it down with that beast just wants more and more money. And it will go anywhere. It will try to gobble up as much as it can. The word 'enough' is the dirtiest word in capitalism, 'cuz there's no such thing as enough with these guys. And we haven't stopped them. We haven't passed the regulations that President Obama has suggested. I mean, I think he's really on top of this. And he said yesterday, he told Wall Street, 'That's it, boys. No more free ATM machine at the U.S. Department of Treasury.' And I think that's something we all support, right?

"The audience responded with enthusiastic and sustained applause."

[When Moore criticizes "capitalism" he seems to be focussing on the political influence by which taxpayers end up holding the bag for irresponsible risk-taking in the private sector. But his suggestion that Obama`s "really on top of this" is wishful thinking that ignores both the influence of money on Obama and misses Austrian/public choice understandings of how rent-seeking, bureaucratic incentives and the information problem continue to contribute to a cycle of regulation and manipulation.]

- "The applause rose again when Moore explained that: "I'm actually suggesting go back to our roots of this country, democracy. What if we had an economy that you and I had a say in? Right now, we all don't have much of a say in this economy. What if we applied our democratic principles and said, 'We, the people, have a right to determine how this economy is run.' I think we'd be in much better shape than what we're going through right now."

Bloomberg interview, September 15 (Rick Warner):

- "Warner: Several clergymen in the film say capitalism is anti-Christian and that Jesus would have deplored such a dog- eat-dog system. Yet you hear from the right that capitalism and Christianity go hand in hand. Are they reading different Bibles?"

"Moore: The number one thing in the Bible is redemption. The number two thing is how we treat the poor. All the great religions talk about this. The right wing hijacked Jesus 30 years ago. It was all a big ruse, but people fell for it. I don’t think people are falling for it so easily now."

- "Warner: You’re not the most beloved person on Wall Street. When you went down there with your Brink’s truck and empty bag to collect money for the American taxpayer, were you concerned about your safety?"

"Moore: Yes. When I started wrapping the New York Stock Exchange with crime-scene tape, I thought for sure this was when the police were going to jump me and haul me off to the Tombs (prison). And it didn’t happen. One cop says to me, “Don’t worry Mike, we’ve lost a billion dollars in our pension fund.” They were like, “Go get ‘em.”

USA Today, September 23 (Claudia Puig):

- "No matter what side of the political fence you're on or what you think of Moore as an activist and provocateur, a film that explores the economic meltdown and its historical roots is something most of us can get our heads around."

- "Capitalism is as entertaining as Roger & Me, and its critique skewers both major political parties, calling into question the economic policies of Bill Clinton as well as Ronald Reagan. This is quintessential Moore, with a clear-cut agenda: Capitalism has superseded democracy, encouraged corruption and greed, and failed our nation. Political bigwigs and wealthy executives may love it, but it's not working for the majority of Americans."

- "His rallying cry is simple: The country needs to return to its democratic roots."

- "The recurring theme: The rich have gotten richer, and everyone else has suffered."

- "Moore has the rare ability to present economics and history in an engaging and comprehensive fashion. Consequently, his movies draw large audiences and spur debate. And films that inspire contemplation and elicit discussion are welcome relief in a medium increasingly dominated by formulaic and mindless diversion."

Variety, September 16 (Ted Johnson, managing editor):

- "His latest movie tries to tap into populist outrage from the left, at a time when that anger has been channeled much more visibly by the right. The outrage that we have seen, the town halls and the tea parties and the birthers, have been over the fear of big government, not that there won't be a safety net. "They are very good at it," he told me, adding that conservatives' ability to "own the bailout" is for "entirely different reasons from me." It is also one of the reasons he was so anxious to get his movie out."

- "this movie has a much larger scope, taking on the notion that capitalism was never enshrined in the Constitution, but was sold to us as the best possible system. In making his point he turns not just to workers who've been left behind, but to Catholic priests and bishops, who preach of capitalism as no less than evil.

"There's ample fodder:  ... Citigroup draws up a memo for select investors, proclaiming a world "plutonomy" that can be foiled by that pesky thing called the right to vote.

"Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush all take their lumps, which is to be expected, but so do House and Senate Democrats and even President Obama, as Moore treats his election as a turning point yet notes Goldman Sachs and Wall Street showered him with contributions, resulting in Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. Special mention is reserved for Chris Dodd, who is hammered for accepting VIP treatment from Countrywide in the form of better terms on home interest rates, reaping $1,175,133.

"On the other hand, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is treated as a hero for speaking out against the bailout bill, and footage is shown of her impassioned plea, before it passed Congress. "This was almost like an intelligence operation," she says of the timing of the bailout so close to the 2008 election."

BBC Interview, September 7 (Kelly Oakes); "Michael Moore takes aim at money men":

- "I had been wanting to do a movie about capitalism and about a year and a half ago, I finally started," he says. "I saw a lot of things happening in terms of people losing their jobs and foreclosures.

"So I decided to get going on this film because I thought we had an economy built on sand, a house of cards."

- "I think that we must change the fundamental things about how our economy is run and how it works or we are going to continue to have problems and it is going to get worse."

- Capitalism: A Love Story takes a look at the government's multi-billion dollar bank bail-out, and compares it with how workers in small companies found themselves out of jobs without severance pay.

- "Moore is adamant that capitalism is not the way forward, but struggles to offer a real alternative for how the economy could be run, or a way to convince people they do not need so much money to buy "stuff".

He does advocate shared ownership of companies in the form of co-operatives, showing a handful of businesses where this has been a success.

So with so much information thrown at the audience in the film, and giving only his side of the argument, what does Moore hope people will take away from the movie?

"I hope the people will start to wake up a bit and see that they are participating in something that is causing them a lot of harm."

Politico, September 28 (Michael Calderone):

- "While Michael Moore remains a scourge of the right, the filmmaker says he's gaining some conservative fans.

“Our own testing has shown that Republicans are interested in coming to this film more than my other films,” Moore told POLITICO by phone this afternoon. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore said, “you see for the first time Republicans inviting me into their homes asking for help.”

It's actually not too surprising, given that the government's taxpayer funded bailout of the banks has attracted critics on the left and right. And along with Washington and Wall Street, Moore also targets the media, which he describes as “major enablers” of the financial crisis and part of the “ruling elite.”

“They have celebrated this culture of making money off money, as opposed to making money by making things,” Moore said. “That has been detrimental for everyone, for society, bad for the economic system.”

- "The difference is that the other side of the political fence is trying to take advantage of people hurting now,” Moore said. “They work to manipulate them and get them afraid. And they’re blaming all the wrong people.”

For instance, Moore considers Fox's Glenn Beck -- who once said on the air he'd like to kill the filmmaker --  to be "a sick puppy." ...

Still, Moore said he doesn’t disparage the right for flocking to town halls this summer, and thinks liberals should be getting out there more. 

“I admire those Republicans who even though they’re in a small minority now, they do not give up,” Moore said. “They have the courage of their convictions."

TIME interview, September 26 (Bill Saporito)

- "You've called the TARP program part of a financial coup d'etat. But if we get our money back, with interest, and the banking system reverts to doing what it should do, haven't the citizens won?"

"If you give me $700 billion per year, hey I have some good ideas. I can make some money with that, for me and for you. I'm going to have my best quarter if you gave me that money. I wonder how many people in the inner cities would love a little bailout money to get out the hole they are in and have one of their best years ever. This wasn't a gift; it was a theft. They stole the people's money by gambling with it. They took the pension funds of working people and gambled away their money, and went back to the same working people and asked for $700 billion more of their money."

- "But aren't you really a model capitalist? You raise money. You hire people. You create a product and sell it to the public, bearing the risk and gaining the rewards that goes along with it."

"Capitalism would have never let me be a filmmaker, living in Flint, Michigan with a high school education. I was going to have to make that happen myself. My last movie, I gave it away for free on the Internet: Slacker Uprising. If I were a capitalist I would not give my employees health insurance with no deductible, which I do, including dental, and paid pregnancy leave. That's not called capitalism, that's called being a Christian and someone who believes in democracy, so that everyone should get a fair slice of the pie."

[Moore doesn`t understand what "capitalism" really is.]

The Nation, September 23 (Naomi Klein):

CNN interview, September 21

New York Times interview, September 23 (Cyrus Sanati, DealBook)

- "In “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which had its New York premiere this week, Mr. Moore contends that capitalism has failed to create the kind of just society the country’s founders envisioned, and that the big banks have essentially co-opted the government."

- "In your film you point out the deficiencies of capitalism. What economic system do you think is best and why?

"Well, we haven’t invented it yet. Here’s what I don’t think works: An economic system that was founded in the 16th century and another that was founded in the 19th century. I’m tired of this discussion of capitalism and socialism; we live in the 21st century, we need an economic system that has democracy as its underpinnings and an ethical code."

[Sounds like he could be talking about a more libertarian society - somebody get ahold of Moore and start talking with him!]

-"There is a scene in the film where you mention that Goldman Sachs employees were a big source of President Obama’s contributions during the last election cycle. Do you believe the President was wrong to take that money?"

I really see an audience of one for that scene (President Obama). I want him to know that we know that Goldman was his single-largest contributor and what he does with that is his choice – he can choose to side with them or with us.

- "It seems that a lot of the anger over the bailout and the crisis has eased as the markets have recovered. Are you concerned that the government will not step up and reform the financial system?

First, the market recovery is a bit of an illusion because the other shoes haven’t dropped yet like the massive credit card debt that can never be repaid and the commercial real-estate bubble.

Of course they are not going to revamp the system. The banking industry and these financial institutions have been lobbying and spending millions of dollars in the last year to guarantee that no new regulations have been put in place.

Real change will only happen when the people demand it and the people are going to have to demand more than a few new rules at this point.

- "So how can the people ‘rise up’ in your view?"

By electing representatives that have this one piece in their platform: The removal of money from our political system. You literally have to take money out and publicly finance elections like other western democracies. When we remove money, our political leaders will listen to us and not Wall Street.

- "You mention in the film that the United States may have experienced a financial coup d’etat. What did you mean?"

Wall Street, the banks, and corporate America, has been able to call the shots here. They control our members of Congress and they get what they want. I mean, 75 percent of this country wants universal health care, but it looks like we aren’t going to get it again — how does that happen? Well it happens when the health care industry spends a million dollars a day on lobbyists. That’s how it happens.

So until we get the money out of politics, the coup d’etat that has taken place by those with the money are really running the democracy.

New York Times, September 23 (Manohla Dargis, movie review):

- "America, in other words, is headed straight down the historical toilet, along with Nero and his fiddle (or rather Dick Cheney, who’s anointed with a throwaway reference to the “emperor”), a thesis that Mr. Moore continues to advance if not refine with another hour and a half or so"

- "In the end, what is to be done? After watching “Capitalism,” it beats me. Mr. Moore doesn’t have any real answers, either, which tends to be true of most socially minded directors in the commercial mainstream and speaks more to the limits of such filmmaking than to anything else. Like most of his movies, “Capitalism” is a tragedy disguised as a comedy; it’s also an entertainment. This isn’t the story of capitalism as conceived by Karl Marx or Naomi Klein, and it certainly isn’t the story of contemporary American capitalism, which extends across the globe and far beyond Mr. Moore’s sightlines.

"Neither is it an effective call to action: Mr. Moore would like us to vote, which suggests a startling faith in the possibilities of social change in the current political system. That faith appears to be due in some part to the election of President Obama.

"As it happens, the most galvanizing words in the movie come not from the current president but from Roosevelt, who in 1944 called for a “second bill of rights,” asserting that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” The image of this visibly frail president, who died the next year, appealing to our collective conscience — and mapping out an American future that remains elusive — is moving beyond words. And chilling: “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

Comments

# re: Rot at the Core: Michael Moore says "Capitalism is evil", but rightly points to statist corporations and institutionalized theft via government

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 1:34 PM by Faithkills

People can compete with their competition  to provide the best products and service at the best price or people can compete for government influence to give them an unfair advantage over their competition.

There's really no other option.

The larger government gets the more the latter is beneficial, and eventually required. We're almost there now.

# re: Rot at the Core: Michael Moore says "Capitalism is evil", but rightly points to statist corporations and institutionalized theft via government

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 9:08 PM by TokyoTom

Well said. It seems to me that the best way to influence this is to start forming a consumer-supported coalition of principled, non-rent-seeking firms.