Michael Moore throws down the gauntlet in Capitalism: A Love Story. His excoriating look at the failing American financial system, not only condemns banks and bailouts, but denounces capitalism itself as a cruel and inhuman business plan that should have no place in a free democracy. Combining historical context with scenes of appalling financial skullduggery, Moore charts the metamorphosis of the United States government into a run-for-profit corporation, and concludes, “You can’t regulate evil. You have to eliminate it.”
Yowza? You can already hear Rush and Glenn yelping “Socialism!” But Moore’s argument seems more rational than ever, his demeanor more sober and less clownish. OK, he does waste time tying a giant yellow “Crime Scene” tape around a couple of bank headquarters buildings on Wall Street, trying to locate the American taxpayers’ stolen bailout money. But Moore mostly treats the corporate takeover of America with the seriousness it deserves.
For one thing, he discovers that neither capitalism, nor the concept of the free market are mentioned, much less guaranteed in the United States Constitution. What is enshrined there is the notion of democracy. Indeed, quotes from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin cited in the closing credits warn against the concentration of too much money and power in the hands of the few. Yet, Moore digs up an in-house Citibank memo gloating that the U.S. has become a “plutocracy,” run for the benefit of the top 1 percent of its wealthiest citizens.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE Hoping to shed light on the financial industry, Michael Moore boldy stands in front of the U.S. gravy train in his new endeavor.
How did 99 percent of the American public fall off the gravy train? Moore flashes back to the post-war era, when the middle-class American Dream was still possible, jobs were plentiful, and everyone could afford a home and a car. People paid higher taxes, and the money went into building roads, bridges and schools. But Moore cites the beginning of the end as 1980, when powerful business interests hired TV pitchman Ronald Reagan to sell its corporate agenda to the American people. (Reagan’s Treasury Secretary, Donald Regan, was the CEO at Merrill-Lynch.) During the Reagan ’80s, banking practices were deregulated, taxes for the wealthy were cut in half, and government was run in pursuit of the short-term profit. Citizens bought into the scam, going into debt for things they couldn’t afford, until the entire bubble collapsed in the financial meltdown of 2008.
The abuses of all this capitalist profiteering are many. In Wilkes-Barre, Pa., a for-profit juvenile detention center pays off local judges to sentence teens to months of incarceration for minor infractions. With airlines cutting back on their flights, commercial pilots responsible for hundreds of lives earn “less than a manager at Taco Bell,” and are forced into second jobs. And Moore unearths evidence of the so-called “Dead Peasant” policy, by which a corporation (like Wal-Mart) can take out a secret life insurance policy on an employee, naming itself the beneficiary—making, as Moore notes, some employees “more valuable (to the company) dead than alive.”
Some of the victims of these shady practices are more compelling than others. (When an Illinois farm couple is foreclosed off their land, Moore doesn’t give us the details of how or why they went into debt—or how culpable they might be—or why their mortgage rates suddenly increased.) But when a Miami family breaks back into their boarded-up house, the community rallies around them in heroic solidarity. Another heroine of the film is Rep. Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat who not only argues passionately against the $700 billion bank bailout, but also exhorts foreclosure victims not to leave their homes.
While one interviewee calls the Bush Administration “the greatest wave of white-collar crime in history,” Moore is equally happy to lambaste Democrats like Sen. Chris Dodd, who accepted payoffs and perks from the banks he was entrusted to oversee. But Moore closes with a moving wartime speech by President Franklin Roosevelt, calling for a “Second Bill of Rights,” to guarantee every American the right to a home, a job, medical care, economic security, and education. This plan was left unimplemented at FDR’s death. But, ironically, it became the basis for post-war recovery in Europe and Japan, whose industry, health care and security now vastly outstrip our own.
Socialism, you say? I say, bring it on.
CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY
Written and directed by Michael Moore. An Overture Films release. Rated R. 127 minutes.
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