Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story": This Time, It's The System Itself

Having already taken on General Motors and the health insurance industry, Michael Moore steps it up a notch with "Capitalism: A Love Story." Instead of casting a critical view at a major industry, Moore focuses on the economic system itself, capitalism.

Moore revisits his hometown, Flint, Michigan, recalling his earlier "Roger and Me." The good life that he knew in the postwar boom was followed by plant closings. He surveys the growing desperation of the lower and middle classes and the mounting profits of the economic elite. Reagan's sunny disposition covered up tax cuts for the wealthy, growing deficits, and the decline in unions coupled with stagnating workers' wages. The deregulation of the past eight years under Bush closed with the collapse of the financial and housing industries, with ramifications that continue.

Moore employs his shtick of attempting to enter corporate headquarters to confront executives shielded by security guards. It's pointed and amusing, but somewhat familiar. More affecting are his dialogues with the exploited, such as those who are victimized by "dead peasant insurance," a practice whereby companies take out life insurance policies on employees and cash in when they die.

What is Moore's solution? He highlights two companies run as cooperatives, in which all make an investment and contribute their talents. While workers will most likely feel more of a stake in such a company, how can that be applied on a mass scale? Multinational firms, for example, are not about to convert into cooperatives. Moore also visits the workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, whose sit-in over severance and vacation pay ended in victory. Such an action, while giving the workers what they deserved, will not overturn the economic system. Moore also sees hope in the election of Barack Obama, though he is chagrined by the corporate interests that invested in his campaign and by Wall Street CEOs being bailed out at taxpayer expense while awarding themselves generous bonuses.

Are reforms of the system, such as deregulating the financial industry and campaigning for labor rights, the solution? In pronouncing, "Capitalism is an evil," it would seem that for Moore, the economic system is so rotten that nothing short of doing away with it is enough. If so, why vote?

Moore shows President Franklin Roosevelt speaking about a "Second Bill of Rights" which would encompass a decent home, adequate medical care, a good education and gainful employment. "Capitalism: A Love Story" shows how far we are from such ideals and accounts for the ways in which deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, jobs shipped overseas and privatized health care have not benefited the majority. While the solutions offered are hazy, the film powerfully exposes the injustices that desperately call for dialogue and reform.

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