Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story is director Michael Moore’s call-to-arms against the robber barons that have brought America to its knees, a mix of comedy, outrage, economic theory and shock tactics fashioned into an effective, and entertaining, documentary about how the American Dream went sour.

Moore’s thesis is that democracy was corrupted to allow capitalism to prosper. It started with Ronald Regan dismantling the American unions, undermining the workers to increase profits. It continued with the deregulation of the financial services sector, which allowed sub-prime mortgages to evolve, massive debts incurred by people who could never hope to repay them. According to Moore, the simple dreams of the post-war generation – a house, a car, an education – have been perverted by greed, corruption and aspirant popular entertainment into demands for mansions, limousines and easy celebrity. “Capitalism is evil”, he declaims, “and you cannot regulate evil”.

Moore’s populist, rabble-rousing persona is one he adopts in order to make topical issues entertaining to Cineplex audiences. His films are all made up of the same elements: snippets of news-reel and old cartoons, startling statistics and, as always, an embarrassing stunt where Mike takes to the streets to embarrass some pompous jobsworth in a suit. This time, he attempts to make citizen’s arrests on the board of wobbling insurance giant AIG while draping yellow “crime-scene” tape on the granite edifices of Wall St brokerages.

The animations, cut-ups and montages are all very amusing, but as before, it’s Moore’s new reportage that works best. He interviews families in mortgage arrears as the banks foreclose, his camera watching as the police arrive at the door to carry out an eviction. Later, he meets with community groups and union leaders who are forcibly re-housing homeless families to save their neighbourhoods, or staging sit-ins in order to receive their rightful redundancy payments. Moore knows that the human face of any story is the most effective.

The director is outraged that the American banks, with the support of the police, can throw people out of their homes or their jobs without negotiation. Moore returns to his home town of Flint, Michigan, which has deteriorated even further since he made his first film, Roger & Me, there twenty years ago. The place is a ghost town now, filled with empty spaces where there used to be a city. In the film’s most touching moment, Moore accompanies his elderly father on a visit to the site of the factory he used to work at, a flattened wasteland of concrete rubble and twisted steel where a massive industrial plant once stood. The film isn’t an attack on corruption, stupidity, greed and bad governance, but an attempt to discredit capitalism as a social system. According to Moore, Westerners are blinded by the notion that capitalism is the same as democracy. That making money is God’s work and good work, that progress is the nature of things, that we must make new stuff to replace old stuff in a constant flux of consumption.

But what Moore fails to realise, or come to terms with, the fact that American capitalism is no longer about massive industrial plant, armies of workers and manufacturing for export. The complications of the modern money systems are beyond him (as they are beyond me), so all he can offer is a baffled shrug at the complexities of a mutated system. Moore is a fine pathologist, but he can’t offer any prognosis. He can identify what is sick about the American economy, but cannot say what will cure it.

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