Michael Moore Kills Capitalism with Kool-Aid

A friend recently invited me to a private screening of Michael Moore’s
new film Capitalism: A Love Story. The September 16th invite not
surprisingly leaned a certain direction:

“[Michael] Moore takes us into the homes of ordinary people whose lives
have been turned upside down; and he goes looking for explanations in
Washington, DC and elsewhere. What he finds are the all-too-familiar
symptoms of a love affair gone astray: lies, abuse, betrayal and 14,000
jobs being lost every day. Capitalism: A Love Story…is Michael
Moore’s ultimate quest to answer the question he’s posed throughout his
illustrious filmmaking career: Who are we and why do we behave the way
that we do?”

Considering Moore was going to be there for a Q&A after (moderated by
Arianna Huffington), I quickly signed on. Now before painting a picture
of Moore’s new film let me be honest: my belief set is essentially
libertarian (‘Government out of my bedroom and my pocketbook’). Not
only do government solutions not excite me, they scare the living blank
out of me. Remember when George Bush declared, “I’ve abandoned free-
market principles to save the free-market system…to make sure the
economy doesn’t collapse”? He might as well of said, “Hide your money,
kids – ’cause I’m coming to take it!”

Oh sure, in theory I would like to see everyone with their own
homestead, money in their pocket for regular shopping frenzies and no
health worries despite eating at Burger King 24/7, but arriving at
those goals is not exactly doable unless government robs Peter to pay
Paul and or starts up the printing press.

And that view of course puts me in opposition to Moore since he has no
problem with government as his and our father figure. That is his
utopia. He truly believes warehouses of Washington, DC-based federal
workers remotely running our lives is the optimal plan. He is an
unapologetic socialist who really doesn’t care why the poor are poor or
the rich are rich, he just wants it fixed. So not surprisingly, and
with some generalization as I proffer this, Democrats like Moore and
Republicans don’t.

However, I was excited to see a ‘mainstream’ film that was backed by
big Hollywood bucks conclude capitalism as ‘evil.’ Arguably the most
successful documentarian ever, a man who has made untold millions of
dollars, was going to legitimately make the case that there was an
alternative to capitalism. I sat down in a packed Mann’s Bruin Theater
in Westwood, CA eager to see how his vision could possibly flesh out.

Moore is a rather simple guy. He is likable. He sees the world as good
guys (people with no money) and bad guys (people with money). His
Flint, Michigan union worker upbringing is his worldview. If you did
not have that upbringing or if your life started less severe than his
you are an evil capitalist. If on the other hand you were a laid off
factory worker with a sixth grade education you are the true hero. I
don’t care one way or the other that he has that view and I am not
knocking union workers, but Moore sees the world through a class
warfare lens resulting in a certain agenda: force wealth to be spread
amongst everyone regardless of effort. Within minutes it was clear
where Capitalism: A Love Story was headed. The ‘highlights’ included:

  • We listen to heartbreaking stories of foreclosed families across
    America, but we don’t learn why the foreclosures happened. Did these
    people treat their homes as piggy banks? Were there refis on top of
    refis just to keep buying mall trinkets and other goodies with no
    respect to risk or logic? We don’t find out.

  • We meet one family who was just foreclosed on so desperate for money
    that they were willing to accept $1,000 for cleaning out the house that
    they were just evicted from. Was it sad? Yes. But, should we end
    capitalism due to this one family in Peoria, IL?

  • We are introduced to a guy whose company is called ‘Condo Vultures’
    buying and selling foreclosed properties. Since he acted like a used
    car salesman, the implication was that he was an evil capitalist.
    However, Moore doesn’t tell us if his buyers were ‘working class’
    people making smart buying decisions after prices had dropped.

  • We listen to Catholic priests who denounce capitalism as an evil to
    be eradicated. What they would put in its place and how would the new
    system work? The priests don’t tell us.

  • We learn that Wal-Mart bought life insurance policies on many
    workers. We are then told to feel outrage when Wal-Mart receives a
    large payout from an employee death while the families still struggle
    with bills. I saw where Moore was heading here, but this was a reason
    to end capitalism?

  • We hear a story from a commercial pilot so low on money that he has
    to use food stamps. Moore points out that many pilots are making less
    than Taco Bell managers and then attributes a recent plane crash in
    Buffalo to underpaid pilots. This one crash is extrapolated out as yet
    another reason to end capitalism.
  • I was pleasantly surprised at Moore’s attempt at balance. For example,
    he included:

  • A carpenter, while ply-wooding up a foreclosed home, says, “If people
    pay their bills, they don’t get thrown out.”

  • A dressing down of Senator Chris Dodd (D) by name. Moore calling out
    a top Democrat? He sure did. He nailed him.
  • A lengthy dissertation on the evils of Goldman Sachs. He rips Robert
    Rubin and Hank Paulson big time and I agree with him. In fact, I said
    to myself, “Moore you should have done your whole film on Goldman

Throughout the various stories and interviews he also weaves a
conspiracy (all Moore films do this). The plot goes something like
this: America won World War II and quickly dominated due to no
competition (Germany and Japan were destroyed). We had great post-war
success where everyone lived in union-like equality. Jobs were
plentiful and families were happy. However, things start to go bad in
the 1970s, and Moore uses a snippet of President Carter preaching about
greed. This clip was predictably building to Moore’s big reason for all
problems today: the Reagan revolution.

Moore sees Reagan entering the scene as a shill for corporate banking
interests. However, everyone is happy as the good times roll all the
way through into Clinton times. Moore does take subtle shots at
President Clinton, but nails his right hand economic man Larry Summers
directly as a primary reason for the banking collapse. So, while Moore
sees Japan and Germany today as socialistic winners where corporations
benefit workers more than shareholders, he sees America sinking fast.

So is that it? That was the proof that capitalism is an evil to
eliminate? Essentially, yes, that’s Moore’s proof. What is his
solution? Tugging on your idealistic heartstrings of course! Moore ends
his film with recently uncovered video of FDR talking to America on
January 11, 1944. Looking into the camera a weary FDR proposed what he
called a second Bill of Rights – an economic Bill of Rights for all
regardless of station, race, or creed that included:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops
    or farms or mines of the nation.
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return
    which will give him and his family a decent living.
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an
    atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by
    monopolies at home or abroad.
  • The right of every family to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and
    enjoy good health.
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age,
    sickness, accident, and unemployment.
  • The right to a good education.
  • As FDR concluded and the film ended, I was shocked at the reaction. The
    theater of 400+ stood and cheered wildly at FDR’s 1944 proposal. The
    questions running through my head were immediate: How does one
    legislate words like “useful”, “enough”, “recreation”, “adequate”,
    “decent”, and “good”? Who decides all of this and to what degree? At
    past points in history to voice an opposition opinion in the middle of
    such a single-minded herd would have certainly been my physical demise!
    Interestingly, during the Q&A Huffington and Moore discussed bank
    failure fears during the fall of 2008. They asked for a show of hands
    of how many people moved money around or attempted to protect against a
    bank failure. I had the only hand that went up.

    FDR’s plan hauled out by Moore six decades after it was forgotten
    reminded me of another interchange – this one from the 1970s. Then talk
    show master, the Oprah of his day, Phil Donahue was interviewing free
    market economist Milton Friedman and wanted to know if Friedman had
    ever had a moment of doubt about “capitalism and whether greed’s a good
    idea to run on?”

    Friedman was quick in response, “…is there some society you know that
    doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think
    China doesn’t run on greed? The world runs on individuals pursuing
    their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have
    not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory
    under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the
    automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses
    have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about,
    the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism
    and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst
    off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So
    that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear: that there is
    no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the
    ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities
    that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”

    Donahue (and the video of this on YouTube is classic) then countered
    saying that capitalism rewards the ability to manipulate the system and
    not virtue. Friedman was having none of it, “And what does reward
    virtue? You think the communist commissar rewards virtue? …Do you
    think American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their
    appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the
    basis of their political clout? Is it really true that political self-
    interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? …Just tell me
    where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize
    society for us?”

    Friedman’s logic was what I was remembering as a theater full of people
    cheered wildly for a second Bill of Rights. How did this film crowd
    actually think FDR’s 1944 vision could be executed? Frankly, it was
    clear to me at that moment capitalism was on shaky ground. Starting
    with Bush ‘abandoning’ capitalism to bailouts for everyone to Obama
    gifting away the future – we seriously might be past the point of no
    return toward a socialization of America.

    Figuring someone else must see the problems with this film, I started
    poking around the net for other views. One critic declared that the
    value of Capitalism: A Love Story was not in the moviemaking, but in
    its message that hits you in the gut and makes you angry. This film did
    not make me angry, but it did punch me in the gut. The people in that
    theater with me were not bad people, including Moore. They just seem to
    all have consumed a lethal dose of Kool-Aid! And at the end of his Q&A
    Moore pushed the audience to understand that while they don’t have the
    money, they do have the vote. He implored them to use their vote to
    take money from one group to give it another group. Did he really say
    that openly with no ambiguity? Yes, sadly.

    Michael Covel

    for Markets and Money

    Michael Covel

    Michael Covel

    Michael Covel

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    15 Comments on "Michael Moore Kills Capitalism with Kool-Aid"

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    I’ve regarded Michael Moore as a bit of a shill. By dumbing down issues he makes people stop looking for answers, leaving them instead with a bunch of useless pseudofacts.

    I agree Moore seems likable enough. So far, his new-found wealth appears not to have corrupted his character. When someone like FDR, or anyone, for that matter, intones a belief that it is a “right” to have a job with “adequate income”, one must ask: sure, but who confers such a right? It cannot be a legal right, either to be given a job or have your job protected (with due deference to public servants). A couple of billion people in the third world would be pleased to learn from Michael Moore how they can have their rights to an… Read more »

    I agree Dan, although without Michael Moore a lot of people wouldn’t know anything of those issues (in part due to a biased/irresponsible media).

    Also we need to remember the audience he is trying to cater for ;)

    But I do agree that people might think he is telling the whole story and that is all there is to it. I guess it is just propaganda, except that perhaps he is just trying to balance the media a bit.

    8020 Financial

    Good review, but truly scary stuff. The centre-left has won.
    Time for Atlas to shrug methinks.

    Chris, you bring up a very good point. There are no such things as ‘rights’, except in law. The United Nations would have you believe there are inalienable ‘rights’, but they don’t exist, except by consensus. There is no religion that espouses rights, and atheism is, well, atheism. So rights are arbitrary and artificial. It’s a big jump for many but if you think about it you will get my drift. Moore is a closet communist – that much I have worked out for myself. Your point brings up the biggest lie of Socialism. What people have is duties and… Read more »
    Vestan Pance

    A perceptive review, though I’m confused why you’re opposed to Moore’s view of taking money from one group and giving to another. Capitalism, at least as currently implemented and which you seem to support, his indeed been doing just that; taking from the poor and giving to the rich.
    I appreciate that this is a simplistic view, but seems fitting given that Moore’s film offers the same depth of insight.

    Greg Atkinson
    I think Michael Moore is pretty annoying and tends to complicate things, twits facts to keep his audience happy. But he is right about the U.S. getting a head start after WW2 as I wrote a while back in: http://www.shareswatch.com.au/blog/opinion/the-us-auto-industry-bailout-and-some-inconvenient-truths/ But the overall the U.S. is dealing with the same problem that has dogged civilisations & nations from ancient history which is: what do we do now we are number one? After you reach the top the only place to go is down and worse still, everyone with any ambition wants to take your position. If you realise this you… Read more »
    The bottom 95% are not obliged to support the top 1% and their sidekicks the 4% in the name of a new Religion invented in the 16th Century. The wonder is that this deception – luckily confined to just one country -has lasted so long! It was not Moore but Henry Ford the First who reasoned that he needed to pay his workers a decent wage so that they could buy the cars they made: and he was widely criticised for this revolutionary thought ! That at bottom is all that Moore is telling us. Man is a Social Animal… Read more »
    Sorry but I was not impressed by the logic of your argument. You make some valid points, which give your case the sembelence of reasonableness. But then you connect our current implementation of capitalism with these points as though it is the only valid solution. The fact is that hard-work and return on effort are not what is rewarded, in many cases, in our current implementation of capitalism. There are many other problems which you ignore or gloss over that are well established by prominant and knowledgeable people, such as Galbraith, Moore, Keen and others which demonstrate the current system… Read more »

    he really doesn’t care why the poor are poor or the rich are rich, he just wants it fixed.
    Well since the are poor are poor mostly because their parents were poor, fixing the problem seems a great start to me.


    I suppose it’s similar to expecting the likes of A Current Affair, or Today Tonight to actually inform you and allow you to make an informed judgement on a subject. Never gonna happen really is it ?
    And I take issue with ‘Arguably the most successful documentarian ever’ really does depend on what yard stick you use, is he more successful than Sir David Attenborough ? I wouldn’t say so. If revenue from produced material is your yard stick, I would again dispute it.

    Documentaries: Older people will believe anything that has lots of grainy black and white photos, old people giving vague recollections of distant memories, fast-motion black and white goose stepping soldiers and other random stuff, darkened school photos with white circles around the face of some unhappy looking kid, ominous music (especially with cellos) and an English accent. Better still, in a foreign language with subtitles, or with English accent dubbing. Younger people will go for a quirky, nerdy, (and ideally ugly & fat with a slight wheeze) guy who chases guilty looking people around, asks them impossible questions, puts words… Read more »
    Charles  Norville

    Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ was good too. The capitalist values are shot to pieces – its finished, God bless America because no one else will.

    Brian Ash
    A free market economy would be a fine thing but that’s not what we have. A few corporations and a few more individuals control most of the wealth in the world. Informed debate would be a fine thing too but we don’t have much of that either. Most people with money don’t want the general population to be informed. If you want to see propaganda open almost any newspaper around the world. It makes no difference which they are all owned by a handful of people and they all shriek with indignation when somebody has the affront to put an… Read more »
    Greg Atkinson

    Let’s see if Michael Moore will focus next time on the obscene money made by Hollywood actors even if their movie flops. Or how about looking the huge salaries NBL stars earn? For sure some CEO’s are overpaid, but let’s not pretend they are the only ones.

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