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“Capitalism: A Love Story”

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I have a weakness for seeing movies in theaters; the home variety, even with the super large screens, is just not the same. And it has been so long since I have seen a movie that all the trailers looked good to me (well, I must confess I like trailers. The tacky soda and car ads are quite another matter).

Even after allowing for my movie-deprived state, I was impressed with Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story.” He argues the Simon Johnson “Silent Coup” thesis, of a takeover by the financial classes, in a way that is accessible and credible, which is no mean feat for a subject matter like finance.

Admittedly, Moore has crafted his own genre of picaresque-shambolic docu-polemic, so if you object to his sthick, you are going to be mundo unhappy. The ritual of Moore shuffling up to shiny corporate headquarters seeking confessions from corporate chieftans, camera crew in tow, only to be rebuffed by security guards, is a tad overdone.

But some of his staples have become more effective over time. For instance, his Flint/auto industry fixation as the poster child for what happened to what was once middle class America has become more powerful over time as once-proud Detroit has collapsed into third world squalor.

I grew up in small towns dominated by manufacturing plants, and I remember that they were prosperous, optimistic, and stable. People who had good jobs at the local mill were not the top of the social order; that was reserved for businessmen and successful professionals, like doctors and lawyers. But they could afford decent homes, creature comforts, vacations, and send their kids to college (not the fanciest, often a state school unless they got a scholarship, but their children could nevertheless hope to do better than their parents). But that had started fading by the 1970s as America’s economic dominance started to slip. Moore clearly is pained at the loss of the America that was (while pointing out it depended on the special circumstances of our post World War II political and manufacturing dominance) and our naivete in trusting in an economic model that has been been turned against the common man.

Movies are well suited to stories or arresting images; they are not the best medium for covering the terrain Moore staked out for his latest effort. He has to punt on some issues that most would concede to be true but it would have been nice for him to prove a bit (for instance, that the US trust in “capitalism” and “free enterprise” are the result of propaganda. That practice could conceivably have been warranted when the antipode was Communism, but they get the same near-religious treatment even after the Red Menace has faded). Similarly, some cynics would no doubt want to hear the histories of the families that Moore showed being evicted. The debate has become polarized; people who lose their homes are cast as either victims or greedy and irresponsible. One of the couples he shows may have been duped; the wife was working, the husband on disability, and the mortgage payments kept escalating. Moore avoids those detail to focus on horrid process of eviction.

While Moore brings some immediacy to the oft-recounted misdeeds of the last few years, he also catalogues faceless, under-the-radar indignities which are more disturbing. It’s bad enough that airline pilots need food stamps and/or second jobs to get by. Creepier is that companies routinely take out life insurance policies on employees, not the key-may type, but on the rank and file, seeing these so-called Dead Peasant policies as a profitable venture (Moore did not give the full details, but the two cases that paid out, one $5 million on a bank manager who had cancer, another $81,000 on an asthmatic Wal-Mart cake decorator, suggests that the companies are playing an information asymmetry game, betting they have a better reading on who is in poor health than the insurer. And their success makes life insurance more costly for those who really need it).

Readers will likely enjoy his treatment of the TARP and its aftermath. Moore provides evidence well known to finance blog readers, such as Goldman penetration of key policy positions, an obligatory Phil Gramm saying something heinous shot, and the role of financial services contributions (he managed to interview the fellow at Countrywide in charge of the “Friends of Angelo” cheap mortgage as bribe program, who sees nothing wrong in what he did). He also makes good use of Bill Black and Elizabeth Warren. Congressmen and women, agitated even now, describe how the process of getting the TARP through despite overwhelming popular opposition was masterfully orchestrated, carefully timed to prey on re-election fears “like an intelligence operation”. The clips are simply damning, and dispel any doubts of who is really in charge in DC.

The film closed with a call to action, more pointed than anything we are likely to get from Obama (the movie takes some pains to depict the hope at the time of his election yet reserves judgment on whether he will deliver). The audience applauded. But the protests Moore cheered as possible harbingers of things to come were small scale, nice symbolism, but thin on follow through. Will anyone really take up the cause?

PS (hat tip George Washington). Bill Moyers has picked up on the silent coup thesis, interviewing Simon Johnson and Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who was one of Moore’s most pointed sources.

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58 comments

  1. RebelEconomist

    Yves,

    I must say that the scepticism you express about the role of finance looks hypocritical when an advertisement for internet payday loans (www.paydaybank.co.uk), with the caption “NEED CASH NOW” and showing a smiling barefoot blonde lying in front of a laptop, appears at the bottom of your post (for UK readers at least). You appear to be benefiting from just the kind of dubious financial activity that you criticise.

    1. Richard Smith

      Hypocrisy is a pretty in-yer-face way of putting it. You are right about payday loans though. Annual interest on a UK payday loan can be north of 1000%. Sadly our anti-usury laws bit the dust in the 1850s.

      http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article4215193.ece

      All the ads seem to give us is a good squint at the seamy underbelly of a) finance and b) Angelina Jolie. Even the latter could pall eventually, I suppose.

      Is there any chance that the income from NC’s Google ads is so puny that we could get rid of it? Would we readers pay to keep NC clear of this stuff? Or, stretching, do we think it is useful material, illustrative of some of the commentary?

      1. Dan Duncan

        Naked Capitalism: A Love Story

        Yes, let us pay a small tax to be rid of the unseemly PayDay Ads.

        But of course, Google will then see that NC has plenty of posts on Global Warming…so it’ll replace the PayDay loans with ads from Exxon Mobil and BP. [Context matters little to the Google Ad Algorithms.]

        No doubt NC cannot countenance ads touting these villains of apocalyptic climate change…so they are summarily removed and another little tax is imposed….

        OK, so Google comes in and sees plenty of posts on currencies…and here come the “Win Big with Forex!” ads.
        Everybody (on this site) knows that the Forex industry is really just legalized gambling, so ads are deemed offensive and must be removed….

        Well, there are a lot of posts on Politics….And here comes Google with the Fox News ads. Enough said there. Remove and Tax.

        Since Yves is busy posting, she’ll have no time for all the maintenance. So, she’d have to set up her own little IRS (watch out for those scammy IRS Debt Reduction Ads!). A NC Ad Board, consisting of her most loyal readers, could seek and destroy “offensive” ads.

        Of course, before doing so, the NC IRS Board would have to establish what constitutes an “offensive” ad…and another Board would be established. It’ll be the Naked Cap Offensive Body.

        The Naked Cap Offensive Body will follow the well-established practice of liberal tolerance and dictate that “offensive” is purely subjective. If ANY (left-leaning) person finds an ad objectionable, then the ad shall be deemed “OFFENSIVE”; it will then be removed and the readers taxed. And “tax tax tax” replaces “tick tick tick” as the inexorable march of time plods forward…

        Then, there will be NC Euro, US, UK and Asian Divisions…all answering to the Bureaucratic Over-Lord: Sweedish Lex….who will promulgate 10,000 pages of an EU/IRS styled Naked Cap Union Code…

        And the lights fade while the curtain closes to a heavily accented narrator’s close:

        “And all was FINALLY regulated; and all lived in a mild state of Sweedish Depression… Happily ever after.”

          1. gatopeich

            Ads? Where?
            I may be missing some great opportunity here for the stupid belief that ad-blocking is a must-have.
            Now seriously, how anybody can stand the Web without it?

        1. DownSouth

          Dan Duncan’s comment is prima facie evidence of what I was speaking of when I said RebelEconomist’s comment is crafted to “trigger the construction of elaborate fantasies in the minds of those who already hold a prejudice against Yves’ message”.

          1. Richard Smith

            Well I think Dan was also a bit confused by my comment. However he has very kindly illustrated (at some length) how hard it would be to accommodate Rebel Economist’s strictures.

            Rather than get into all that, I’d rather just put up with the pretty mild hypocrisy of having these ads I think. You are more accurate than me about what’s up with RE’s comment. Like you I very much doubt whether the ad revenue is the motivation for the effort Yves puts into the blog.

            Nor do I think NC readers are signing up for payday loans in any numbers…

          2. DownSouth

            Richard,

            I have absolutely zero tolerance for the rhetorical strategies employed by the likes of RebelEconomist and Dan Duncan.

            What greatly helped to focus my mind and clarify my position is what I saw happen at the recent meeting of the G-20 in Pittsburgh. The brutal police oppression of the protesters, the nationwide blackout by the MSM of what happened and then the systematic campaign to demonize the protesters with the blanket indictment of “anarchist” signaled to me that the most corrupt of the financiers are now escalating their battle against the American people to a new level.

            As this most recent posting on the Pitt students’ webpage indicates, nobody buys into the horse shit being peddled by RebelEconomist and Dan Duncan any more. Those on the bottom rung of the social, cultural and economic ladder are certainly aware of what is happening:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-t3SdhnFtA

            In a comment the other day, I branded RebelEconomist and Dan Duncan neo-fascists. Before the Pittsburgh meeting of the G-20, I think that would have been inappropriate. But after what I saw happen in Pittsburgh—the violence the unholy matrimony of government and the corporate boardroom is prepared to unleash against the American people in order to preserve its privileged position–What else could one call the defenders of the status quo?

    2. DownSouth

      What’s wrong with this comment?

      After all, it does begin by pointing out something that is undeniably true, and that is that the payday loan add appearing at the bottom of the page does smack of hypocrisy.

      But then it immediately devolves into something quite different. For RebelEconomist concludes with this admonishment: “You appear to be benefiting from just the kind of dubious financial activity that you criticise.”

      “Benefiting” from “dubious financial activity”? This is where RebelEconomist’s comment takes a hard turn away from truth and degenerates into propaganda.

      The use of half-truths, carefully crafted to appeal to prejudice and therefore escape critical examination, was a favorite subject of Proust. In A la rechereche, Mme Verdurin’s campaign to socially destroy Baron de Charlus is a portrayal of one such incident.

      Like Oscar Wilde, the Baron de Charlus enjoys playing at social one-upmanship and as a result makes many enemies during his reign over high society. Mme Verdurin is one of the few characters whose ego and social pretensions rival those of the Baron. The rivalry escalates until Mme Verdurin unleashes her plan to discredit Charlus, and the plan works exactly as she hopes.

      The plan works because Mme Verdurin is able to wield with great dexterity the politics of homophobia. In order to turn the others against Charlus she invents all manner of falsehoods about him, falsehoods calculated to force him irretrievably into the stereotype of the criminally minded, socially subversive sexual pervert. “Let me tell you,” she tells Brichot:

      that I don’t feel at all safe with that kind of person in my house. I happen to know that he’s been involved in all sorts of filthy activities and that the police have him under surveillance… It appears that he’s done some time in prison. Yes, yes, I have it from very informed sources. I’ve also heard from someone who lives on his street that you couldn’t imagine the kinds of criminals he has going and coming at his house… Take my word for it… He’ll be murdered one of these days, as people of his ilk always are. Or maybe it won’t come to that, since he’s in the clutches of this Jupien…who is—I have it, you know, on excellent authority—an ex-convict. It seems that he holds Charlus in his power by means of some frightful letters. I heard it from someone who has seen the letters; he told me, “You would be sick if you saw what they were about.”

      Mme Verdurin’s remarks contain just enough truth to be verisimilar and just enough suggestive falsehood to trigger the construction of elaborate fantasies about Charlus. Charlus is, in fact, homosexually inclined; he is, in fact, being followed by blackmailers. But he is not, of course, an ex-convict, and neither is Jupien. Mme Verdurin cleverly bases her assertions about Charlus on precisely the sorts of stereotypes that will make them credible and frightening to the homophobic mind and to Charlus’ social enemies.

      And so RebelEconomist engages the same rhetorical strategy as Mme Verdurin. The part about the payday loan ad being hypocritical is indeed true. But the part about Yves benefiting from this blog is, of course, not. And it is the latter part that triggers the construction of elaborate fantasies in the minds of those who already hold a prejudice against Yves’ message. Yves’ work on Naked Capitalism becomes some sort of self-serving enterprise. There is nothing noble or benevolent in her motives. That is the subtext of RebelEconomist’s comment.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I do not control the ads that Google puts up, except in a negative fashion, as in I and do object to specific ads. Google will not let one block ads by category. Google then substitutes other ads. However, the small revenues that accrue are based on click-throughs, and here Richard is correct: for the most part, the obnoxious ads are also duds. and do not generate income, even meager, for the site. One could just as easily argue that the presence of these unproductive ads displaces ones that might be more effective. But this is all chump change, and goes to defray site overhead.

          1. Vinny G

            Great movie review — thank you very much.

            Regarding the Google ads, would it be possible to post specific ads, such as ads for readers’ bussinesses? This way the site could be reader-supported. I’d think many readers here have small bussinesses they might like to promote. For instance I have a dental tourism business (taking people from the US and Western Europe to Eastern Europe for affordable dental work), and I would certainly consider advertizing here.

            Vinny G.

  2. dearieme

    “companies routinely take out life insurance policies … on the rank and file, .. so-called Dead Peasant policies”: bloody hell, American enterprise continues, with its customary moral scruples. But presumably without a Carnegie-like philanthropy?

  3. Stonedog

    I went to see it yesterday. While I am not a Michael Moore fan and have steadfastly refused to see most of his other work, this is clearly an important work. There was little there that I didn’t know apart from the information about how little the pilots earn in compensation and the part about the dead peasants insurance.

    Though I disagree with Mr. Moore about much politically, I do agree with him on arguably the most important point of his movie: this is not the same country that I grew up in…

    1. K Ackermann

      You might want to see Bowling for Columbine. It’s much more social than political. One of the main themes he hit was the culture of fear in the US. He showed that there is no connection between gun ownership, and gun violence, and wants an explaination for:

      Gun Deaths (year unknown)
      United States – 11,127
      Germany – 381
      France – 255
      Canada – 165
      United Kingdom – 68
      Australia – 65
      Japan – 39

      All the countries allow satanic music, violent movies, violent video games, etc. Taking away all the cliche reasons for gun violence, there is a huge discrepency in gun homocides in the US, and he (and I) would love to know what causes it.

  4. Mary

    Just a thought: Had Michael Moore not joined into the “Al Gore is just like the rest of them” and childishly chosen Nader in 2000, thereby helping give America 8 years of George W. Bush, we might not be where we are now.

    Many of us understand, by reading you and Simon and others, the what and why of all these troubles, but we’ll pass on the Michael Moore over-simplifications in a movie, remembering that his naivete in 2000 helped create the environment in which it occurred.

    Just sayin, and respectfully.

    1. kevin de bruxelles

      This comment implies that there is some meaningful difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Surely you realize that this is false and the October bailout should have proven this to you. The only slight difference between parties is that Republicans tend to cater to Big Oil’s concerns whereas Democrats tend to service Wall Street interests. There will be no true political democracy in the United States to speak of until the one party Democratic/Republican stranglehold on power is broken. If you still are in doubt just wait and see what pathetic weakness the Democrats throw at you on health care.

      1. Steve2241

        I think that electing a black man as president of the United States was an attempt by the electorate to move to a “higher level”, a dream of sorts that that would somehow transcend or rise above the historic democrat/republican polarization afflicting the nation. It now seems apparent that a “racial chnge” was ineffective. I can’t but think that perhaps a woman in the White House might be just the ticket. Beyond that, I don’t know – Donald Duck?

    2. Lavrenti Beria

      “Had Michael Moore not joined into the “Al Gore is just like the rest of them” and childishly chosen Nader in 2000, thereby helping give America 8 years of George W. Bush, we might not be where we are now.”

      Now isn’t this the most absurd DNC, system-inspired drivel I’ve seen in some time? What in heavens name did Nader ever owe Al Gore? Al Gore IS George Bush, for God’s sake, and his crowd gave us the very people who initiated the deconstruction of our economy in the 1990s. We wouldn’t have had maggots like Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and Timothy Geither then, and they wouldn’t be back now if the bacteria supporting Gore’s 2000 candidacy were any different than those backing Bush and, today, Obama.

      How much time and how much history does it require for some to catch on? Headline: You’re in a one party state, dear, one that creates the insane illusion that its out-of-power element is something more than a blackhole into which public anger is funneled. And you’ve fallen for it. Maybe a couple of years unemployment, a dead son in Afghanistan or a foreclosure might bring you around. Something needs to.

      1. Truthseeker

        While some democrats may be willing to crumble to one party style rule, Al Gore, I have to say, is one of the few who definitely doesn’t want to play by those rules . . . which is why he has NOT continued to run. The man has too much integrity to get involved in it. He is NO George Bush. Not only does he have integrity, he also has IQ in the triple digits.

  5. carol

    1. “Movie..”

    Friends of mine also gave the documentary rave reviews.

    I like to call it a documentary instead of a movie or a film, especially after hearing an interview a couple of months ago with a former senior manager at a health insurance company. He described how the health insurance industry had made an attack plan against “Sicko”, a. o. consequently referring to Michael Moore as ‘that Hollywood movie maker’. Hollywood polls negatively with a lot of Americans (wild lifestyles, leftwing artists), and a movie is a movie (fantasy) and not a documentary. So, let’s call it like it is: a documentary.

    2. “Creepier is that companies routinely take out life insurance policies on employees,….”

    see e.g. http://www.abcnews.go.com/GMA/dead-peasant-life-insurance-policies-fair/story?id=8724327

    Please note that the insurance fee is tax deductable, whereas the money paid out is not taxed.
    The scheme is comparable to naked CDS: in both cases the company does not lose anything (no bonds gone to zero, or no loved one or family breadwinner died), but only profits from the misery of others (bankruptcy, death).

    3. “Will anyone really take up the cause?”

    * Every consumer pays off his(her) credit card debt, thereby NOT giving their hard earned money in the form of insane interest rates to the bailed-out bonus bankers (Yves, I am not refering to small businesses but to (over)consumers).

    * Every person with a savings account at one of the bailed-out banks takes their money AWAY from those banks, and instead opens a deposit at one of the good banks.

    Full disclosure: I have no credit card debt and have set-up a savings account at one of the banks with a sustainable banking award.

    http://www.ftconferences.com/sustainablebanking
    “Now in their fourth year, the awards recognise banks and other financial institutions that have shown leadership and innovation in integrating social, environmental and corporate governance considerations into their operations.”

    The latter refers to no insane bonus culture, and to transparency. In order for those banks to judge whether a potential investment is sustainable or not, they need to be able to analyse all their investments, i.e. these investments have to be transparent products. NO off balance sheet vehicles and special purpose conduits, and NO ABS, CDO, CDO-squared, MBS etc. on their books.

    As individuals we are powerless against the Wall Street giants, but collectively we the people are very powerful. How long would this huge wealth transfer from the many (middle class) to the few (bonus bankers) continue if those bonus banks lost say 10% of the deposit?!!
    If each and everyone of us take our money out of those banks to the few good ones, and convince at least two of our friends to do the same, we could get a nice pyramid.

    The coup succeeds, because we the people let those bonus bankers and their bought congressmen get away with it!!

    We do not need pitchforks, nor keyboard revolutionists, we need to take our money out of the bad banks and deposit it at good, transparent banks.

    1. danm

      We do not need pitchforks, nor keyboard revolutionists, we need to take our money out of the bad banks and deposit it at good, transparent banks.
      ———
      First of all, they are ALL full fo CREs.

      The Fed will just inject more capital into the dropped ones.

      If you want to beat Wall Street, you’ve got to cut your spending to the bare minimum. But one thing you must remember, the French might have gotten rid of royalty with the Revolution but it did not stop many of them from suffering for a while. There is no easy way out.

      1. carol

        “There is no easy way out.”

        Indeed, otherwise is wouldn’t be such a worldwide mess. But what are you suggesting? Not easy, so do nothing and watch Wall Street et al. continue?

        When the crisis started to unfold, many have explained that the right thing to do is: take the insolvent, too big to exist banks (bank holdings) over; the shareholders and unsecured bondholders are wiped out; secure bondholders take a hit; clean the balance sheets up; make them smaller.

        It has become absolutely clear that the government has been captured by bonus bankers: WashDC will not do the right thing.

        So let us force them to do the right thing!

        If enough people take their savings out of Citygroup, Bank of America, etc., then the FDIC will have to clean them up.

        Just an an example: From today’s link regarding Citygroup hiring Mr Lobbyist nr 1 (from S&L scandal): how do you think Citygroup pays his undoubtedly huge salary (they do not call him a lobbyist, hence his salary and bonus do not have to be disclosed; nice loophole WashDC): could it be from the profits they make of the deposits? EVERYONE who still has a savings account at the too big to exist or otherwise bad banks is coresponsible for the continuation of the mishandling of the crisis.

  6. Keenan

    “Dead peasant” insurance is a yet another government subsidized table game, limited to corporate players, in the casinoized american economy. Place your bets.

    1. Dave Raithel

      I wondered as much. Surely no business does it unless it can take an expense paying the premiums, unless the total return exceeds the premium and taxes paid (on the non-deductible expense)? Accounting-ese probably expresses it more clearly, but that has to be the general construct. So from there, one can quickly get to securitization of life insurance policies – which we’ve already read about the last few weeks. If a corporation had a buyer for the future payoffs on the policies it took out on its employees, wouldn’t that drive demand for insurance? This could lead to a rational choice catastrophe – do I pay for medical insurance on people I’ve insured for life when I need to assure my security purchasers that there’s money in my future dead employees? Where’s Niall Ferguson when I need him?

  7. bob

    The NYS AG office could be a good starting point. Getting a candidate who is above reproach and willing to piss a lot of people off is the first part.

    The second part would be for everyone to give him/her money to run against the inevitable bank candidate. NYS laws on campaign finance are very weak. Anyone anywhere can give money to them. How about 20 a person? $100? Take it out of a tarp bank if you wish, just get it to the right person.

    The subpoena power alone of the AG office in NYS could keep this new person busy for years. Use the NYS AG to get all the info and make it public record, then let others follow on in other states, Delaware and Nevada come to mind.

    Think ahead, and don’t make it any harder than it has to be. Placing reform candidates on a different level, and a moral high ground will not work. We need a person who flaunts his support from the people.

    How great would it be to see a pol get up and ask for more money in a press conference? Better still, ask for money outside of the state in which he is running. They do it, why can’t we? Putting a moral burden on a supposed reform cause does not help, it only serves the non-reformers.

  8. Steve2241

    Yves wrote:
    “People who had good jobs at the local mill were not the top of the social order; that was reserved for businessmen and successful professionals,”

    People who had good jobs at the local mill were at the top of THEIR social order. No one can be at the top of ALL social orders.

  9. Harold

    . He has to punt on some issues that most would concede to be true but it would have been nice for him to prove a bit (for instance, that the US trust in “capitalism” and “free enterprise” are the result of propaganda. That practice could conceivably have been warranted when the antipode was Communism, but they get the same near-religious treatment even after the Red Menace has faded)

    Yves, what has communism got to do with a rapacious ‘banker/corporate’ class that feeds itself by the means of capitalism and ‘free enterprise’? I think you present a straw man from the position of a fly caught in the amber of American self delusion. Many now are thinking of a better way that life can be lived than mindlessly in the shadow of the tenacious vampire squid. Think new reserve currency.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Moore gives a 50+ year sweep, going back to Roosevelt era, but focusing on post WWII. A fair bit of archival footage. People did believe in capitalism, that was cultivated as the opposite to communism. That banner had been taken up and used quite skillfully by big business as first “free enterprise” and increasingly “free markets”. Look at the debate over health care and financial services reform, the opponents overtly and subtly invoke interfering with
      “free markets” as one of the big reasons not to proceed. I am simply pointing out it would have been useful if he could have gone a bit more into this issue.

      1. Tao Jonesing

        Yves is 100% correct about the origins of today’s “free market” rhetoric as anti-communism propaganda.

        The Libertarian formulation of capitalism as most forcefully articulated by Milton Friedman in “Free to Choose” is and was intended to be the ideological opposite of and counter to communism.

        Thatcher and Reagan took Friedman’s message and ran with it (e.g., Thatcher’s “There is no society” speech), and the last thirty years of economic policy have been dominated by Friedman’s fiction that the primary actor in the economy is the individual human being when, in fact, it is the multinational corporation. It’s this disconnect between the rhetoric and reality that has led to the blindspots that have enabled the corruption we’re seeing to flourish.

      2. Vinny G

        I agree with your discussion of Communism vs. Capitalism.
        As one who grew up behind the Iron Curtain (this assumes the West was in front of it), I think the Communism vs. Capitalism idea was appropriate until the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, after that event American capitalism became redundant and it obviously degenerated into the current plutocracy. Yet, I trust that like all oppresive systems before it, it too shall fall one way or another.

        Regarding rural America being duped into maintaining the Communism vs. Capitalism line and even labeling Obama as a communist (when he’s just another run-of-the-mill fascist), perhaps Moore could have spent a few minutes in his otherwise great film educating these rural Americans about the simple fact that the stuff they buy at their local Super-Walmart comes from a Communist country.

        Vinny G.

  10. Mean Mister Mustard

    Yves, I appreciate your recommendation of the film. I will make a point of seeing it in a theater.

    But I have question, well away from that Proust analogy. You mention your small town upbringing and evoke those places as optimistic and stable. But my own sense, admittedly as a ‘costal elite’, is that much of political impetus that drove the U.S. toward its current mess came from those same small town/rural voters. I am speaking of the demagoguery around anti-Communism, the unchecked militarism, the demonization of the urban poor, the rent seeking of the agricultural industry, the boorish anti-education sentiment, the idea of tax cuts and deregulation curring all economic ills, etc. Do you concur? If not where do you see the attitudes and politics of those small town/rural voters is this mess?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think that view is broad brush and verges on prejudiced. In some of the towns I grew up in, particularly in the Upper Midwest, people were better read and better critical thinkers than many professionals I meet in Manhattan. “Rural” and “factory town with good blue collar jobs” are not the same thing, and rural America is also quite diverse (think Bible belt South versus Minnesota-Dakotas, which in the past had tough standards in their public schools).

    2. DownSouth

      Very astute observation.

      I don’t know how old Yves is, but the answer to your question might be that the transformation of rural and small-town America into its current state is a fairly recent phenomenon.

      If you haven’t already read it, I would highly recommend Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, especially Part II entitled “Too Many Preachers.”

      Other texts that are highly relevant are Andrew Bacevich’s The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, with special emphasis on the chapter entitled “Onward,” and Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop, especially the chapter “Bring it All Back Home: The Politics of the New Imperialism.”

      Between these three writers, what emerges is the story of how rural and small-town America was transformed into what you describe. And if they are to be believed, none of it happened by accident.

  11. Jo

    Haven’t seen the movie yet. If he is against capitalism, then maybe he should have allowed people to see his movie for free, or perhaps donated the money from ticket sales to charity. Miss an opportunity to drive home a point.

    1. Tao Jonesing

      Being against a particularly rapacious and corrupt form of capitalism does not make one against ALL forms of capitalism.

      I have not seen the movie yet, either, but what I’ve heard from Moore tells me that he wants a form of capitalism that promotes our republican form of democracy rather than defeats it.

    2. Vinny G

      On Michael Moore’s site he does say he gives his movie away free in fact. However, I did not see how I could download it.
      I too saw it in theater.

      Vinny G.

  12. ronald

    Moore attempts to educate via entertainment the medium most Americans receive their information and point of view. Kinda doubt it changed many points of view but its always fun to watch the countries economic polices portrayed beyond the MSM.

  13. susan

    It truly amazes me that we are still arguing about GOP vs. Democrat, how Nader was a spoiler, why small town America is staunchly Conservative.

    How useful to the Financial Overlords, how effectively it distracts us from noticing what’s happening, how completely it shuts down any dissent.

    Rather than debate how this happened, when it began and which voters or election propelled it forward, wouldn’t it be more effective to take a long, hard look at what’s happening now and, if you feel it is dangerous to the future of what we used to call our democratic system, speak out against it?

    Where can you find out more? Michael Moore’s one way. Jon Stewart, ironically, is another. But I recommend Bill Moyers, who seems to be the only broadcast journalist doing the heavy lifting, investigating what’s behind the fact that there will be no meaningful financial reform, who’s sitting behind the loudest voices against health care reform, and who’s on the other end of the phone when Washington’s policy makers pick up the phone.

    Start here but prepare to be outraged.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg7xhTyOtAk

    1. K Ackermann

      I hope more and more open their eyes to your view.

      I don’t watch TV anymore because the media are the main perpetrators of divisiveness. It is patently obvious that it is a strategy, and so many people fall for it.

  14. PeonInChief

    Dear Husband humored me and took me to see it in a local theater yesterday. I too thought that the foreclosure section needed more explication (which Moore has done in his interviews on the movie). In particular, he noted in his interview on Democracy Now that the mortgage brokers had begun their predations by foisting bad mortgages on people whose families had owned their houses for generations. It would have been more effective if he’d explained what the families owned, how they were enticed to take on the mortgage etc.

  15. Vinny G.

    Yves,

    What nobody here seems to mention is that the film also focused part of its attention to interviews with a few Catholic priests and a bishop, all of whom unanimously condemned capitalism to the point of calling it an evil that God shall destroy (Amen to that!).

    Nonetheless, my point here is that Michael Moore may be on to something more subtle than meets the eye. I am thinking he may be trying to reach the “evangelical mind” to which some of us may want to credit at least part of the fiascos of the past decade, including these senseless wars, an incompetent two-term president, the dumbing down of the education system, and our current lagging behind the rest of the world in critical scientific areas such as stem cell research. As such, I wonder, is Mr. Moore trying to open the mind’s eyes of the evangelical blind here? Does he think this call to revolution which he seems to embark upon toward the end of his movie cannot be successful unless we also enroll those overdosing on the “opium of the people”?

    Incidentally, I saw the movie with a friend who also happens to be an evangelical Christian (and his faith is very real). Although he and I don’t see eye to eye on many things, he did say the movie was an eye opener.

    And, by the way, I thought the scene with Jesus refusing to heal the quadriplegic because it was a “preexisting condition” was absolutely hilarious. A real classic! That scene alone was worth the price of the ticket.

    Vinny G.

  16. Bob Goodwin

    Come-on Yves!

    Michael Moore may make good points, but he is still a cartoon. Think Glenn Beck on the other side. Simon is the genuine article, and is not a mouthpiece for the hard left, but rather a skeptic of the current government.

    I can and do read Simon regularly without wincing, and am a solid capitalist. However I find it really hard to watch either Michael Moore or Glenn Beck without quickly feeling manipulated with cheap theatrics.

    You should not expect genuine anger about the malfeasance of those in power to morph into a left wing agenda.

    1. Vinny G.

      Yeah, but the “cheap theatrics” are also hilarious. I for one appreciate Michael Moore’s humor. One can only get so many people to pay attention with PBS-style dry documentaries.

      This is part art too, you know.

      Vinny G.

    2. Anonymous Jones

      It’s interesting that you compare Moore to Beck. I actually agree with this comparison in many ways, though I arrive at this conclusion from a diametrically opposed viewpoint.

      To me, Moore and Beck seem to genuinely believe in their causes. I am not sure on what evidence you have formed your belief that Moore is a “mouthpiece of the hard left.” To the contrary, there seems to be little hard ideology to either of Beck’s or Moore’s protestations. Many of their views seem populist and humanist to me as opposed to ideological. Just because their acts may be used by those with ideological leanings does not equate to either being a “mouthpiece.”

      To be sure, I disagree with Beck’s rantings more often than I think Moore crosses the line, but unlike with O’Reillys of the world, I don’t think their “acts” are cynical cash grabs.

      The main differences I see between the two are that (1) Moore makes a concerted effort to wrap his message in humor (regardless of whether any particular viewer finds it funny), (2) Beck seems to contradict himself more often (though I attribute this more to his willingness to show raw emotion than to any reduced intelligence), (3) Beck is supported in a direct financial sense by one of the financial oligarchs, and (4) Beck is part of a very efficient propaganda machine (well, at least one that seems far more efficient than Moore’s).

      I am not exactly sure what a “solid capitalist” is, but I think I probably am one by most’s definition. I definitely believe that it is impossible to stop the working of markets; so I think it is mostly futile to try. I’m for pragmatic shaping when possible. Those with capital depend upon a minimum amount of regulation just as much as those without (real and intellectual property protection, both domestically and abroad, being the most critical).

      I’m also not exactly sure what is meant by “left wing agenda,” but I don’t think you have to completely disregard Moore’s investigation into the facts because you don’t agree with all his proposed solutions.

  17. Francois T

    “Michael Moore may make good points, but he is still a cartoon.”

    Ah! Style versus substance!

    Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can be cartoons too, sometimes. That doesn’t subtract anything to the seriousness of their message…unless one allows him/herself to get distracted by the style.

  18. Francois T

    The Moyers’s interview with Rep. Kaptur was extremely revealing in one respect: the exchange with Jamie Dimon.

    The sheer arrogance displayed by Dimon, and subsequently by JP Morgan is the kind “you can’t just make this stuff up.”

    For me, it crystallized the obnoxious feeling I had about banksters that truly believe they own America.

    This whole thing will end up very badly for the country.

  19. moslof

    Thank you for this review. i had an inside source of information about the goings on inside the Augusta National and I can testify that the “Silent Coup” was underway in the early eighties as banks were gobbling anyone with any deposits to speak of and the chiefs would routinely gather in the corner of the clubhouse to fix lending rates while having a few drinks. I am convinced that one of the main reasons they started overpaying all their employees in the last ten years was to get an extra push in inflating the housing bubble.

  20. Vinny G.

    Can anybody say “Oscar”!?

    1. Best Director
    2. Best Documentary
    3. Best Picture
    4. Worst Acting
    5. Lowest Budget

    Wow! That’s five Oscars right there!

    Now how ’bout a Nobel Prize too, for good measure? :)

    Vinny G.

  21. Otto Maddox

    So what are we going to put in Capitalism’s place without taking away our freedoms? Government by college professors??

  22. psychohistorian

    Thanks for the posting on the movie, Yves and thanks to the commenters as well.

    I think Michael was right in attacking the religious backing to the corportists. The corportists are/have corrupted religions just like they have corrupted our government.

    It is too bad that the Catholic church has no moral high ground to stand on. They would be more effective without their own history of hypocrisy.

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