Sunday, February 7, 2010

Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story": A Review

Finally, I managed to watch Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. Living in Southern Illinois since before the film came out made this task very hard. This is, obviously, not an area where Michael Moore's documentaries run to sold out theatres. People prefer the blessed forgetfulness offered to them by the typical Hollywood swill.

First of all, I have to say that whatever you feel about his ideology Michael Moore knows how to make good documentaries. Every frame offers a perfect conjunction of text and accompanying image. The documentary is as engaging as a good mystery film. This is simply very high-quality film-making.

Most of the things Moore narrates are sadly familiar to all of us: foreclosures, businesses failing, unemployment, economically devastated areas that look worse than anything you can find in many third-world countries, the useless and horribly unfair bailouts, the back room deals by Paulson, Geithner, Bush and Co, Obama getting bought out by the same crowd of vile criminals the second he gets close to presidency. We have seen all this unfold, and it's impossible not to recognize that everything Moore shows is true. Many instances in the movie are touching and sad, while many others are hilarious (For example, Moore says after rereading the US Constitution: "The Constitution doesn't mention capitalism. But it does talk about 'welfare' and 'union'. Wait, welfare and union? That sound like a very different -ism!")

Now, after all I have said in praise of Capitalism: A Love Story, I have to say that I disagree with Moore's central premise, which is capitalism is bad and it should be substituted by something better, namely democracy. I'm sure Moore understands extremely well that you can't substitute one with another since democracy is a political system and capitalism is an economic one. He uses the word "democracy" in order to avoid saying the word that scares the regular movie-going people, namely "socialism."

To support his view that socialism is better, Moore tells a story of a business owned by all its workers together. Every decision is made jointly by the workers in a democratic-style voting process. I'm glad this system works for the company Moore describes in the movie. However, this could never work on a larger scale. If anything, a smooth running of his business is a huge exception. I, for one, do not want to run my place of work. It's not my job and I don't want it to be my job. Some people are good at being managers, organizers, and the leaders of people. Other people are not. Working collectively on a shared project is an impossible burden for some people. There is no doubt in my mind that not having one actual owner will bankrupt an absolute majority of businesses very soon.

The reality that Moore doesn't address is that the current economic system in the US is not really capitalist. In many ways, it is eerily similar to the Soviet economy. In the Soviet Union, huge amounts of government money would go to bail out companies that could not survive on their own. If there were a real capitalism in the US, Goldman Sachs would have gone bankrupt a long time ago. The way capitalism works is that if you are inept enough to bankrupt your company, you are pushed off the market by more capable competitors. Goldman Sachs has long been completely incapable of an honest win over anybody else. They are kept in place by a complex system of Soviet-style handouts. This is as contrary to capitalism as anything can possibly be.

As a living system that exists in an ever-changing society, capitalism constantly transforms in order to adapt itself to a different set of conditions. The "wild" capitalism of the XIX and the early XX centuries did not really work. As a result, a system of checks and balances (e.g. the Glass-Steagall Act in the US) arose to help it work better. The repeal of Glass-Steagall was a profoundly anti-capitalist act aimed at allowing a small group of people an unfair and 100% manufactured advantage over their competitors.

I was born in the Soviet Union and I know for a fact that collective ownership of anything does not work. In the society where I grew up, there was an insurmountable distance between the rich and the poor. A small group of people had everything they could possibly want, while the rest was struggling to survive. And the worst part was that there was no hope for anybody from the poor category to move into the rich category. The membership in the rich category was determined by one's birth to a certain set of circumstances and by the number of indignities one was prepared to commit. Within the group of the rich people, it did not matter how bad a job they did at running their workplaces because there was also the government to bail them out with the money ripped off from the poor in the form of taxes.

Does this remind you of anything? Exactly.

So it makes no sense to discuss whether capitalism is goo for the United States. Simply because there is no real capitalism here. All we have is some weird, unhealthy hybrid of the remains of capitalism and some of the characteristics of the Soviet economy.

Does anybody really wonder why this doesn't work?

The film, however, is lots of fun. I highly recommend.


Anonymous said...

There's a reason why Southern Illinois was called "Greater Appalachia" for years. I don't know if you're familiar with the White County area, but this is exactly what I'm talking about.

Your "reminder" is a good point.

Anonymous said...

Socialism and Soviet Union are not synonyms, but your authority in that field is greater than mine. There are other forms of socialism burgeoning now, in Bolivia for instance.

I also felt weird to hear that "democracy" could substitute "capitalism," because socialism is so evil. In my view, this shows that we are still struggling to find alternative models of development, beyond capitalism and Porto Davos.


Clarissa said...

My buddy is back!! Yay!!!

Welcome back to the blog, my dear friend. We have missed you a lot.

Joost said...

"because socialism is so evil."

Why do you say that? In my eyes there has never been a country in which real socialism was introduced. Russia or China for instance where both run by dictators rather then the people.

Clarissa said...

"The people", my friend, do not exist. Just like "men", "women". "Americans" or "Russians" do not exist. These are meaningless artificial constructs.

As for dictatorship being an integral part of any attempt to create a communist state, it was first mentioned by Marx. He realized that any such attempt will only lead to a dictatorship. So it did. So it always will.