Capitalism: A Review Story

Yes, I know I'm a few weeks late to this ballgame, but I finally got around to seeing Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. You can consider anything below this line a spoiler, so if you are interested in going in fresh, you might want to skip this post (you can still watch the trailer, of course).

My overall impression is that this movie is a mess.

I think Moore's goal is to track the historical movement of capital and wealth in America, connect it to the current economic crisis, and argue that the majority non-wealthy should overthrow the minority capitalists. I like to believe that I'm fairly educated on the crisis, and two hours with Moore left me feeling less confident about that than when I walked in.

Moore uses words like 'exploitation' and 'revolution' a lot - words similar to the ones Karl Marx uses in The Communist Manifesto. There is no explicit mention of Marx in the film; but there are a few examples of workers getting upset and fighting back against management and of evicted tenants fighting back against the banks that evicted them. Regardless, I think the self-selected clips are less mainstream than Moore might want you to believe.

If capitalism is undergoing a period of demise, I happen to think it looks much less like what Marx predicted, and more like what Joseph Schumpeter predicted. Here's a nice summary, from Wikipedia:
Schumpeter's theory is that the success of capitalism will lead to a form of corporatism and a fostering of values hostile to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. The intellectual and social climate needed to allow entrepreneurship to thrive will not exist in advanced capitalism; it will be replaced by socialism in some form. There will not be a revolution, but merely a trend in parliaments to elect social democratic parties of one stripe or another. He argued that capitalism's collapse from within will come about as democratic majorities vote for the creation of a welfare state and place restrictions upon entrepreneurship that will burden and destroy the capitalist structure.
If Moore understands these subtleties, then he doesn't do a particularly good job explaining them to the audience. There is reason to believe he just doesn't get it, which is one takeaway from this Q&A he did at GWU.

Lastly, there are a few buzzwords that get tossed around during the film: capitalism, socialism and democracy. The problem is that there's very little discussion about what these words actually mean and whether they are mutually exclusive. Moore shows clips of people at a John McCain rally, for example, claiming that Obama would invoke socialism which would crush democracy. At the end of the film, after Moore puts crime scene tape all over Lower Manhattan, he says that the ultimate solution to capitalism is democracy. What?!

There were a few hilarious scenes, like when Michael Moore goes to the General Motors headquarters in Detroit and nonchalantly tells the security guard "hi I'm Michael Moore I'm here to see in chief executive." Or the scene where Michael Moore is trying to talk to some guys having a smoke break outside the New York Stock Exchange and he asks "does anyone have any investment advice for me?" and one Wall Street guy shouts back "yeah, stop making movies." There is also a pretty comical clip from a Ronald Reagen movie where the former-president slaps a woman across the face.

This was a movie that I wanted to be good - I was rooting for it to be good. But I walked out of the theater disappointed. It wasn't very good.