Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Now Showing
Paramount Vantage

When the media was enthralled by the Global Financial Crisis (or GFC as it has affectionately been dubbed) and crying doom and gloom, I honestly could care less. Economics and finance have always been a mystery to me. I studied Economics for my HSC but couldn’t tell a Keynesian from a Kenyan; I pay no attention to the Stock Market; I don’t have a mortgage so have no interest in interest rates; I have a HECS debt from my university studies but couldn’t tell you how much it was originally or how much I still owe – and I really don’t care! I do not have a credit card – never have, hopefully never will – and live by the principle of trying to spend less than what I earn. So far, so good.

But I know there are people who are deeply concerned by the GFC and the workings of the economy generally; some of my friends even work in related fields. I’m not sure how they would feel about Michael Moore’s latest documentary which basically points the finger at the big end of town as being responsible for fucking up the United States (in the first instance) and the rest of the world as a by-product.

Moore’s basic treatise here is that capitalism is an intrinsically evil system, guaranteed only to benefit those who have money to begin with: the top 1% of the population who have the combined wealth of the lower 95%, and continue to grow wealthier. ‘The rich get rich and the poor get children’ to cite a song quoted in The Great Gatsby. Or, ‘let them eat cake’ as one French monarch once giggled before the commoners replied by chopping off her head. Touche!

And a revolution is what Moore is inciting in Capitalism: A Love Story. Much like in Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 or Sicko, Moore has taken issue with a facet of American culture (lax gun control in Columbine, the Bush administration in Fahrenheit, and the state of US health care in Sicko) that he sees as unseemly and, well, un-American. And while those who oppose Moore and his “left wing, bleeding heart views”, would have you believe that Moore himself is un-American, possibly even a communist, it is that he loves his country so much that Moore puts its foibles under the microscope and ‘the big boys’ to the blow torch. “I refuse to live in a country like this – and I’m not leaving” he says towards the end of Capitalism. He’s as mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more – and neither should we.

I’ll admit, I’m a Michael Moore fan. I’m pretty much inclined to agree with his take on the world; his support of the common man and his disgust if not hatred for the powerful and elite, be they government or corporate, if indeed you can tell the two apart. And sure he’s not above a cheap stunt to get his point across, although it must be noted that Moore appears on camera less in Capitalism than in any of his previous films, preferring his wry narration to confirm what we already believed and to use real peoples’ experiences to shock us even more.

One such case is what is repulsively known in the corporate world as the ‘dead peasant’ policy. Basically, banks and blue chip corporations take out life insurance policies on their employees and cash in when they die. Of course, the employees and their families aren’t made aware of this. Moore introduces us to a woman whose husband was insured – twice – by citigroup which collected some $5million when he died of cancer. His widow and children did not receive a cent.

A more positive story is that of a group of employees who held a sit-in when their factory was shut down and the Bank of America refused to pay them their entitlements. Coming so soon after the US Senate’s Wall Street bail-out, of which Bank of America was a beneficiary, the public mood was very much against the banks. After almost a week of small protests outside Bank of America offices across the country and, even more persuasive, unfavourable media coverage, the Bank agreed to all of the factory workers’ demands. Yes, people power does work, although it was politely ignored when the Senate voted (the second time) to pass the Wall Street bail-out despite millions of calls by the public not to.

Yes, there’s a lot to think about and be angered by in Capitalism: A Love Story, just as there is in any Michael Moore film. The unfortunate thing is that he is mostly preaching to the converted; those who oppose Moore’s views are unlikely to go and see the film. Perhaps one day they will make this film a part of the Economics curriculum for the HSC, providing a generation with a better understanding of capitalism as a system and not a religion, teaching that while there’s nothing wrong with making money, screwing over your fellow man to do so isn’t really worth it. We’re better than that.

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