14 November 2009 | seaview1
CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY and the Politics of Fear
Controversial documentarian Michael Moore has taken on some important news topics over the past two decades but perhaps none has affected every American more than the financial meltdown of Wall Street in 2008 as depicted in Capitalism: A Love Story. Done in his customary style of news clips, interviews, and enactments, he has fashioned a convincing indictment of greedy bank executives while being engaging and at times enlightening.
He points out a startling fact: We used to be one income family, Wall Street and corporate profits were guided by sound principles, and our country had no business competition. It's a kind of history lesson courtesy of Moore as he also notes parallels between the demise of Wall Street and that of the Roman Empire, a comparison not without merit. His thesis is that since President Ronald Reagan came into office, the influence of Wall Street has increased to the point that, while Congress and the U.S. Treasury have promoted financial deregulation, many of them have direct links to financial giants such as Goldman Sachs. It would seem on surface to be a major conflict of interest, and that is the point. A handful of CEO's have benefited from running the country as a corporation and costing millions of jobs and livelihoods.
Moore ties news stories to an increasing pattern of corporate greed. There is a juvenile facility in Pennsylvania financed by taxpayer money and corrupt public officials. There are college students beholden to banks with student loans, and we witness news reports of a recent plane crash in Buffalo, New York, for what appears to be the lack of funds for safety issues. Then there is the surprising practice of businesses like Wal-Mart that take out life insurance policies on its employees and collecting on the benefits. By contrast, he does show examples of companies owned by workers that operate efficiently and at a profit. His point is there can be win-win situations.
As Wall Street sold 'derivatives', a risky form of corporate gambling, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan suggested that Americans tap the equity in their homes, and thus came the refinance boom for banks and a new found wealth for the masses-or was it? Using a home like a bank was a formula for financial disaster as the housing industry collapsed with foreclosures and the banking industry fell too. Moore makes his point with footage of actual foreclosures as sheriffs evict homeowners, and the cruelty is not only losing a home but in the cottage industry that has taken advantage of this agonizing process. Added to this is the preferential treatment that CEO's gave to each other and many lawmakers regarding mortgage approvals. The question that keeps being asked by Moore and others is 'where were the regulators' in all this?
As Congress debated on how to repair the economy with a bailout of as much as $700 billion of taxpayer money, Wall Street used media abetted fear to manipulate lawmakers. It was a politics of fear. But not everyone was buying into the fear. Some members of Congress were brave enough to tell a sobering tale of a lack of oversight versus corporate bonuses being fed by the bailout.
Moore shows that some people are fighting back. A new President (Obama) ushers in the potential for change. People are fighting foreclosures and forcing banks to prove chain of title. The laid off workers at Republic Doors refused to exit the factory, and with media coverage and a supportive President, Bank of America caves in and agrees to pay the workers what is owed to them. This event is not without precedent as Moore points out in 1936, workers at a GM Flint, Michigan plant also fought back. In an ironic, fascinating piece of history of what might have been, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed but never lived to see a second Bill of Rights which would address virtually every important concern for Americans including health care, education, and financial security.
Then Moore makes this observation based on a private corporate memo that says 1% of the population in this country has 95% of the wealth but that the other 99% have an equal vote and the power to make changes (yet still hope to be part of the rich). It is this equal vote that scares the corporate powers. His conclusion is that the only hope for this country is for democracy to work.
Some things don't come off well in the film; Moore appears to be grandstanding when he rents an armored car to make a citizen's arrest of the CEOs of Wall Street and get back the public's money. He even takes crime scene tape to cordon off bank doors. Also, an interview with actor Wallace Shawn seems a bit out of place. Wouldn't an interview with an industry insider have worked better? You may not agree with everything Moore espouses, but some of the information should cause anyone to research the facts and draw their own conclusions. If you are a fan of his previous films Sicko or Fahrenheit 9/11, then you will appreciate Capitalism: A Love Story.