By Roger Moore
With “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Michael Moore brings it all back to “Roger & Me” (1989), the essay/documentary that started it all.
That cautionary Jeremiad about the export of American jobs overseas and the export of power and money from “We the People” to Wall Street is the warning at the beginning and the exclamation point at the end of “Capitalism.” And Moore being Moore, he can’t quite resist a bit of “I told you so” in the process.
“I tried to warn GM that this day was coming,” he says of the bankrupt automaker.
It’s too much for one movie. Prize-winning newspaper series and books have been written about “America: What Went Wrong.” The unholy alliance between Big Bankers and the Treasury Department, the politics of shifting the tax burden away from the rich and screaming “socialism” at those who challenge it, the loss of jobs and rights from individuals to corporations — Moore tries to get at all these currents in American unease in “Capitalism.”
Moore’s camera watches evictions in North Carolina, Illinois and Michigan, and follows a predatory “Condo Vulture” showing clients foreclosed properties in Miami. We see people re-occupy their foreclosed homes in South Florida and demand their promised payoff from a shuttered factory in Chicago.
There is weeping over lost careers and shattered lives, over the widespread practice of companies taking out secret insurance policies on their employees so that they literally profit by your death. Wal-Mart loves these “dead peasant” policies, the movie says.
There’s a lot of depressing and readily available information in this “Love Story” about the depths of corporate wrongdoing and the lengths the villains have gone to in re-distributing wealth and power to a handful of people at a handful of Wall Street firms.
Priests decry the “immoral” and “radically evil” ethos of capitalism. Secret memos from Citibank celebrate the new American “plutocracy,” set up for and governed by the rich.
Moore pulls a few stunts — trying to stage citizen’s arrests at Goldman Sachs and AIG. He rents an armored truck and demands repayment of government bailout money. He names the usual suspects as villains — former presidents Reagan, Bush, but also former President Clinton’s treasury secretaries and President Barack Obama’s Timothy Geithner.
Moore has homeowners, workers and members of Congress plead for “fairness.” He lets a Fed who investigated the vast savings and loan scandal of the ’80s condemn “the greatest wave of white-collar crime in history.”
And then Moore calls for the pitchforks.
“Capitalism” is alternately moving and disheartening, energizing and enervating. Moore fan or foe, if you’ve been paying attention, you have to admit much of this information has passed before your eyes already unless you were too busy weeping with Glenn Beck to notice. Even if you don’t wholly buy Moore’s self-proclaimed prophet status, the evidence on display in “Capitalism: A Love Story” may convince you that the semantics game that turned this “market” system into an American religion isn’t working, and simply labeling alternatives “socialism” no longer ends that argument.