Even though surrounding the New York Stock Exchange building with crime scene tape was classic, Michael Moore’s latest release, “Capitalism: a Love Story,” was not one of his best. However, to attack Michael Moore’s critique of capitalism by calling him a socialist is a tired, old Republican name-calling game. His argument for bringing a new economic system that fits the needs of the 21st Century, as oppose to 19th century capitalism and 16th Century socialism, is actually quite reasonable.
Capitalism is not just an economic system. It is instead the totality of a social, political and legal system in which the principles of the free market, private ownership, unrestricted trade and limited government dominates. But, for Michael Moore, this theory has evolved into a “ponzi scheme” system of governance in the United States. Business leaders have tapped into the government to manipulate regulation and maintain an oligarchy of a few ultra-rich and powerful exploiting an oppressed majority.
This argument is nothing new. If we look back at history, it seems like all the economic theories have been exploitative one way or another. All capitalism did was to announce that individuals are entitled to rights and ownerships.
Prior to Capitalism, feudalism, the form of economics dominated by hereditary landowners, exploited the masses by demanding their labor in return for renting out the land. Mercantilism, another historical model, also thrived on the economic oppression of the working class. Most scholars agree that this system consisted of “rent seeking” merchants and governments developing and enforcing policies for maximizing the productivity of laborers to increase production and export in a zero-sum game.
Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, criticized Mercantilism as a conspiracy against consumers and for its lack of advocacy for the commonwealth. Now, in Michael Moore’s film, we are exposed to the same exact argument, this time deployed against capitalism.
In his film, Moore makes the counterintuitive claim that in today’s capitalist system, the opposite of “laissez-faire,” or hands off government economics policy, has taken place in this country. Instead of the state trying to control the economy and the free market pushing back in defense of the right to function freely, now it seems like the owners of this so-called free market are co-opting the state by buying off its officials and intervening in its affairs so that Wall Street can continue its operations. In other words, Wall Street is running this country.
Moore points the finger at officials in the Treasury Department, some of whom he claims have conflicts of interests with Wall Street hot shots. These officials include those at the very top, such as Tim Geithner, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, who Moore calls “the Harvard feminist”.
Yet, the film was somewhat narrowly based. The range of people interviewed was limited. In Congress, the people who actually passed the $700 billion bailout, he only spoke with a couple of members of Congress. The film also kept going back to one family who was evicted from their home as a result of the mortgage-crisis. Of course, films are victims of the limit of time, but he could have been representative of greater number of voices in greater number of places.
The biggest irony of this film, however, is that it was produced by two American capitalist corporations, Paramount Vantage and Overture Films! These two companies are also handling distributions and the purchase of commercial spots during prime-time television shows in order to promote the box-office receipts of the film. Isn’t this capitalism? Isn’t this mass consumption? How could Michael Moore reach out to millions if it wasn’t for capitalism’s capital and the tools it provides to get products to the masses?
Some of Michael arguments in the film are fair, but his actions in the way he has made his film, in the way he himself relies on and benefits from the capitalist system, undermine those arguments.
Micheal Moore calls Capitalism “evil”, but he is not against capitalism in its entirety. He is against the financial institutions that use capitalism to gobble up the rest of the society for profits, a phenomenon seen in the healthcare, banking and housing industry, but his actions demonstrate that he is not against capitalism in movie-making. Of course, it is the protections afforded by democracy that allows his kind to blatantly criticize the system, but the reach of his film benefits from a film industry that has thrived exponentially as a result of capitalism. After all, which famous artist was it that said art thrived because of capitalism?
Nilofar Saraj is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.