I haven`t seen Michael Moore`s latest film, "Capitalism: A Love Story" - it premiered in New York last week, but who knows when it will make it to Tokyo? - but I`ve been reading some of his interviews and reviews of his film.
While Moore is confused in identifying the existing U.S. statist corporate system that he criticizes with "capitalism", it seems to me that much of his criticisms of the U.S. political-economic system are consistent with libertarian views (even if Moore doesn`t understand the libertarian criticisms).
Accordingly, while Moore may be off on both his diagnosis of what`s wrong with America and his proposed prescriptions, his film - which appears to be resonating across the political spectrum - presents not merely a challenge to libertarians, but an teaching opportunity. I hope that libertarians will take advantage of the opportunity to engage Moore`s concerns constructively.
I note below excerpts from media coverage (in no particular order), with a few comments of my own:
Fortune interview, September 22:
- The film covers .... "a privately run juvenile prison that paid off judges to give convicts
longer sentences, and last year's $700 billion bailout of the banking
- ”I started out wanting to explore the premise of capitalism being
anti-American, and anti-Jesus, meaning it's not a Democratic economy.
And it's not run with a moral or ethical code. But when the crash
happened, it added a third plot line: not only is capitalism
anti-American and anti-Jesus, it doesn't work.”
[The weakened moral code Moore complains of is clearly visible in political corruption (the sale of government favors to businesses and investors), which is tied to the regulatory spiral fueled by the state grant of corporate status, shifting or risks to the public and eliciting efforts from citizens groups to rein in increasingly powerful corporations. I have explored this on many posts, some directly relating to the state grant of limited liability to shareholders. I note that it is apparent from Jon Stewart`s recent interview of Ron Paul regarding Paul`s new "End the Fed" book that both Stewart and Paul share Moore`s concern about the entwining of the corporation and government (h/t Bob Murphy).]
- ”this crash exposed our economic system as a corrupt scam".
- "instead of initially giving bailout money to a General Motors that was
never going to change or to banks so they can cover losses from crazy
betting schemes, this money should be going to helping to create jobs
in places like Detroit. People need to work."
[Okay, but the best way to "create" jobs is for government to leave tax dollars with taxpayers, and to undo counterproductive government regulation (such as grants of monopoly powers to utilities, and the "war on drugs" and on inner cities) that benefit insiders at the collective expense of the common weal.]
- "You tried to get Hank Paulson on the phone in the film, but
weren't successful. If you got him on the phone today, what would you
"If I had a chance to talk to him, I'd want him to come
clean and tell me the truth about how he rigged this whole thing. Tell
us what happened because we don't know the details. How did so many
Goldman people end up in the administration? How is it that Goldman- 's
chief competitors are left to die -- not bailing out Lehman Bros., Bear
Stearns falls apart, Merrill Lynch is absorbed into Bank of America --
and look who's left standing: the company that's got all their boys
inside the administration."
- "Capitalism is not only an economic system that legalizes greed, it also
has at its foundation a political system of capitalism that is, "We
have to buy the political system because we don't have enough votes."
Fortune article, September 4 (Richard Corliss, a senior writer for TIME):
- "To Moore, it's the bureaucratic-industrial complex -- the combined might of the West Wing, Wall street and Wal-Mart -- that's evil. That view was never clearer than in his broadly entertaining,
ceaselessly provocative, wildly ambitious new film. Not satisfied with
outlining and condemning the housing and banking crises of the past
year, it expands the story of the financial collapse into an epic of
malfeasance: capital crimes on a national scale."
- "The movie seems to be setting up the disappointment many on the Left
have felt over the awarding of more billions to giant banks and
corporations, among other things, since Jan. 20. And Moore does note
that Goldman Sachs gave more than $1 million to Obama's campaign."
- "But he doesn't go after this Democratic President as he surely would
have if John McCain had been elected. Instead, he argues for
participatory democracy: do-it-yourself do-gooding, through community activism and union organizing. That's an optimistic and evasive answer to the financial problem.
what spun out of control because of government indulgence and indolence
needs to be repaired by government regulation and ingenuity.... In "Capitalism:
A Love Story," Moore has cogently and passionately diagnosed the
disease. But for a cure, instead of emergency surgery, he prescribes
The Nation, describing Moore`s appearance on "The Jay Leno Show”, September 16 (John Nichols):
- "Americans who didn't witness filmmaker Michael Moore's appearance Tuesday night on NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" missed one of those rare moments when the vast wasteland gives way to an oasis of realism.
Rarely since the days when author Gore Vidal regularly appeared on the
"Tonight" show with Johnny Carson has a popular television program on a
commercial broadcast channel provided such extended and respectful
treatment to a scathing critique of the corrupt status quo.
Leno hailed Moore's new movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story," as "the best film he's done."
The talk-show host described "Capitalism: A Love Story" as
"completely nonpartisan" -- and he's right: Moore goes after sold-out
Democrats and sold-out Republicans -- before declaring: "I was stunned
by it, and I think it is the most fair film."
- "Even more meaningful than Leno's review of a movie he had obviously watched and considered seriously was this exchange:
LENO: Now it's one year since Lehman Brothers
collapsed. We've had all, OK, we've handed out... Is Wall Street any
better? Have they learned anything?
MOORE: No, not at all. It's, it's probably worse. They're still
doing these exotic derivatives. They're now trying to do it with life
insurance. They've got all these crazy schemes. I mean, that's what I'm
saying about capitalism, it's like a beast. And no matter how many
strings or ropes you try and tie it down with that beast just wants
more and more money. And it will go anywhere. It will try to gobble up
as much as it can. The word 'enough' is the dirtiest word in
capitalism, 'cuz there's no such thing as enough with these guys. And
we haven't stopped them. We haven't passed the regulations that
President Obama has suggested. I mean, I think he's really on top of
this. And he said yesterday, he told Wall Street, 'That's it, boys. No
more free ATM machine at the U.S. Department of Treasury.' And I think
that's something we all support, right?
"The audience responded with enthusiastic and sustained applause."
[When Moore criticizes "capitalism" he seems to be focussing on the political influence by which taxpayers end up holding the bag for irresponsible risk-taking in the private sector. But his suggestion that Obama`s "really on top of
this" is wishful thinking that ignores both the influence of money on Obama and misses Austrian/public choice understandings of how rent-seeking, bureaucratic incentives and the information problem continue to contribute to a cycle of regulation and manipulation.]
- "The applause rose again when Moore explained that: "I'm actually
suggesting go back to our roots of this country, democracy. What if we
had an economy that you and I had a say in? Right now, we all don't
have much of a say in this economy. What if we applied our democratic
principles and said, 'We, the people, have a right to determine how
this economy is run.' I think we'd be in much better shape than what
we're going through right now."
Bloomberg interview, September 15 (Rick Warner):
- "Warner: Several clergymen in the film say capitalism is
anti-Christian and that Jesus would have deplored such a dog-
eat-dog system. Yet you hear from the right that capitalism and
Christianity go hand in hand. Are they reading different Bibles?"
"Moore: The number one thing in the Bible is redemption. The
number two thing is how we treat the poor. All the great
religions talk about this. The right wing hijacked Jesus 30
years ago. It was all a big ruse, but people fell for it. I
don’t think people are falling for it so easily now."
- "Warner: You’re not the most beloved person on Wall Street.
When you went down there with your Brink’s truck and empty bag
to collect money for the American taxpayer, were you concerned
about your safety?"
"Moore: Yes. When I started wrapping the New York Stock
Exchange with crime-scene tape, I thought for sure this was when
the police were going to jump me and haul me off to the Tombs
(prison). And it didn’t happen. One cop says to me, “Don’t
worry Mike, we’ve lost a billion dollars in our pension fund.”
They were like, “Go get ‘em.”
USA Today, September 23 (Claudia Puig):
- "No matter what side of the political fence you're on or what you think
of Moore as an activist and provocateur, a film that explores the
economic meltdown and its historical roots is something most of us can
get our heads around."
- "Capitalism is as entertaining as Roger & Me, and its critique skewers both major political parties, calling into question the economic policies of Bill Clinton as well as Ronald Reagan.
This is quintessential Moore, with a clear-cut
agenda: Capitalism has superseded democracy, encouraged corruption and
greed, and failed our nation. Political bigwigs and wealthy executives
may love it, but it's not working for the majority of Americans."
- "His rallying cry is simple: The country needs to return to its democratic roots."
- "The recurring theme: The rich have gotten richer, and everyone else has suffered."
- "Moore has the rare ability to present economics and history in an
engaging and comprehensive fashion. Consequently, his movies draw large
audiences and spur debate. And films that inspire contemplation and
elicit discussion are welcome relief in a medium increasingly dominated
by formulaic and mindless diversion."
Variety, September 16 (Ted Johnson, managing editor):
- "His latest movie tries to tap into populist outrage from the left, at a
time when that anger has been channeled much more visibly by the right.
The outrage that we have seen, the town halls and the tea parties and
the birthers, have been over the fear of big government, not that there
won't be a safety net. "They are very good at it," he told me, adding
that conservatives' ability to "own the bailout" is for "entirely
different reasons from me." It is also one of the reasons he was so
anxious to get his movie out."
- "this movie has a much larger scope, taking on the notion that
capitalism was never enshrined in the Constitution, but was sold to us
as the best possible system. In making his point he turns not just to
workers who've been left behind, but to Catholic priests and bishops,
who preach of capitalism as no less than evil.
"There's ample fodder: ... Citigroup draws up a
memo for select investors, proclaiming a world "plutonomy" that can be
foiled by that pesky thing called the right to vote.
"Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush all take their lumps,
which is to be expected, but so do House and Senate Democrats and even
President Obama, as Moore treats his election as a turning point yet
notes Goldman Sachs and Wall Street showered him with contributions,
resulting in Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. Special mention is
reserved for Chris Dodd, who is hammered for accepting VIP treatment
from Countrywide in the form of better terms on home interest rates,
"On the other hand, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is treated as a hero for
speaking out against the bailout bill, and footage is shown of her
impassioned plea, before it passed Congress. "This was almost like an
intelligence operation," she says of the timing of the bailout so close
to the 2008 election."
BBC Interview, September 7 (Kelly Oakes); "Michael Moore takes aim at money men":
- "I had been wanting to do a movie about capitalism and about a year
and a half ago, I finally started," he says. "I saw a lot of things
happening in terms of people losing their jobs and foreclosures.
"So I decided to get going on this film because I thought we had an economy built on sand, a house of cards."
- "I think that we must change the fundamental things about how our
economy is run and how it works or we are going to continue to have
problems and it is going to get worse."
- Capitalism: A Love
Story takes a look at the government's multi-billion dollar bank
bail-out, and compares it with how workers in small companies found
themselves out of jobs without severance pay.
- "Moore is adamant that capitalism is not the way forward, but
struggles to offer a real alternative for how the economy could be run,
or a way to convince people they do not need so much money to buy
He does advocate shared ownership of companies in the
form of co-operatives, showing a handful of businesses where this has
been a success.
So with so much information thrown at the
audience in the film, and giving only his side of the argument, what
does Moore hope people will take away from the movie?
the people will start to wake up a bit and see that they are
participating in something that is causing them a lot of harm."
Politico, September 28 (Michael Calderone):
- "While Michael Moore remains a scourge of the right, the filmmaker says he's gaining some conservative fans.
“Our own testing has shown that Republicans are interested in coming
to this film more than my other films,” Moore told POLITICO by phone
this afternoon. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore said, “you see for the first time Republicans inviting me into their homes asking for help.”
It's actually not too surprising, given that the government's
taxpayer funded bailout of the banks has attracted critics on the left
and right. And along with Washington and Wall Street, Moore also
targets the media, which he describes as “major enablers” of the
financial crisis and part of the “ruling elite.”
“They have celebrated this culture of making money off money, as
opposed to making money by making things,” Moore said. “That has been
detrimental for everyone, for society, bad for the economic system.”
- "The difference is that the other side of the political fence is
trying to take advantage of people hurting now,” Moore said. “They work
to manipulate them and get them afraid. And they’re blaming all the
For instance, Moore considers Fox's Glenn Beck -- who once said on the air he'd like to kill the filmmaker -- to be "a sick puppy." ...
Still, Moore said he doesn’t disparage the right for flocking to town
halls this summer, and thinks liberals should be getting out there
“I admire those Republicans who even though they’re in a small
minority now, they do not give up,” Moore said. “They have the courage
of their convictions."
TIME interview, September 26 (Bill Saporito)
- "You've called the TARP program part of a financial coup d'etat. But if we
get our money back, with interest, and the banking system reverts to doing
what it should do, haven't the citizens won?"
"If you give me $700 billion per year, hey I have some good ideas. I can make
some money with that, for me and for you. I'm going to have my best quarter
if you gave me that money. I wonder how many people in the inner cities
would love a little bailout money to get out the hole they are in and have
one of their best years ever. This wasn't a gift; it was a theft. They stole
the people's money by gambling with it. They took the pension funds of
working people and gambled away their money, and went back to the same
working people and asked for $700 billion more of their money."
- "But aren't you really a model capitalist? You raise money. You hire people.
You create a product and sell it to the public, bearing the risk and gaining
the rewards that goes along with it."
"Capitalism would have never let me be a filmmaker, living in Flint, Michigan
with a high school education. I was going to have to make that happen
myself. My last movie, I gave it away for free on the Internet: Slacker
Uprising. If I were a capitalist I would not give my employees health
insurance with no deductible, which I do, including dental, and paid
pregnancy leave. That's not called capitalism, that's called being a
Christian and someone who believes in democracy, so that everyone should get
a fair slice of the pie."
[Moore doesn`t understand what "capitalism" really is.]
The Nation, September 23 (Naomi Klein):
CNN interview, September 21
New York Times interview, September 23 (Cyrus Sanati, DealBook)
- "In “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which had its New York premiere
this week, Mr. Moore contends that capitalism has failed to create the
kind of just society the country’s founders envisioned, and that the
big banks have essentially co-opted the government."
- "In your film you point out the deficiencies of capitalism. What economic system do you think is best and why?
"Well, we haven’t invented it yet. Here’s what I don’t think works:
An economic system that was founded in the 16th century and another
that was founded in the 19th century. I’m tired of this discussion of
capitalism and socialism; we live in the 21st century, we need an
economic system that has democracy as its underpinnings and an ethical
[Sounds like he could be talking about a more libertarian society - somebody get ahold of Moore and start talking with him!]
-"There is a scene in the film where you mention that Goldman
Sachs employees were a big source of President Obama’s contributions
during the last election cycle. Do you believe the President was wrong
to take that money?"
I really see an audience of one for that scene (President Obama). I
want him to know that we know that Goldman was his single-largest
contributor and what he does with that is his choice – he can choose to
side with them or with us.
- "It seems that a lot of the anger over the bailout and the
crisis has eased as the markets have recovered. Are you concerned that
the government will not step up and reform the financial system?
First, the market recovery is a bit of an illusion because the
other shoes haven’t dropped yet like the massive credit card debt that
can never be repaid and the commercial real-estate bubble.
Of course they are not going to revamp the system. The banking
industry and these financial institutions have been lobbying and
spending millions of dollars in the last year to guarantee that no new
regulations have been put in place.
Real change will only happen when the people demand it and the
people are going to have to demand more than a few new rules at this
- "So how can the people ‘rise up’ in your view?"
By electing representatives that have this one piece in their
platform: The removal of money from our political system. You literally
have to take money out and publicly finance elections like other
western democracies. When we remove money, our political leaders will
listen to us and not Wall Street.
- "You mention in the film that the United States may have experienced a financial coup d’etat. What did you mean?"
Wall Street, the banks, and corporate America, has been able to call
the shots here. They control our members of Congress and they get what
they want. I mean, 75 percent of this country wants universal health
care, but it looks like we aren’t going to get it again — how does that
happen? Well it happens when the health care industry spends a million
dollars a day on lobbyists. That’s how it happens.
So until we get the money out of politics, the coup d’etat that has
taken place by those with the money are really running the democracy.
New York Times, September 23 (Manohla Dargis, movie review):
- "America, in other words, is headed straight down the historical toilet, along with Nero and his fiddle (or rather Dick Cheney,
who’s anointed with a throwaway reference to the “emperor”), a thesis
that Mr. Moore continues to advance if not refine with another hour and
a half or so"
- "In the end, what is to be done? After watching “Capitalism,” it
beats me. Mr. Moore doesn’t have any real answers, either, which tends
to be true of most socially minded directors in the commercial
mainstream and speaks more to the limits of such filmmaking than to
anything else. Like most of his movies, “Capitalism” is a tragedy
disguised as a comedy; it’s also an entertainment. This isn’t the story
of capitalism as conceived by Karl Marx or Naomi Klein,
and it certainly isn’t the story of contemporary American capitalism,
which extends across the globe and far beyond Mr. Moore’s sightlines.
is it an effective call to action: Mr. Moore would like us to vote,
which suggests a startling faith in the possibilities of social change
in the current political system. That faith appears to be due in some
part to the election of President Obama.
"As it happens, the most galvanizing words in the movie come not from
the current president but from Roosevelt, who in 1944 called for a
“second bill of rights,” asserting that “true individual freedom cannot
exist without economic security and independence.” The image of this
visibly frail president, who died the next year, appealing to our
collective conscience — and mapping out an American future that remains
elusive — is moving beyond words. And chilling: “People who are hungry
and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”