Sometimes capitalism is evil. That’s the conclusion that documentary filmmaker Michael Moore comes to in his latest film “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which opens nationally on Friday.
But how evil exactly? Well, Moore suggests, you could start by asking the hardworking American people who are being pushed out of their homes in record numbers as a direct result of corporate greed.
“I realize that to some people this is going to seem like blasphemy. To speak against capitalism means you’re speaking against America,” Moore told IrishCentral’s sister publication the Irish Voice during an interview on Monday.
“But my view is that capitalism now is against America. Capitalism is against the things that we say we believe in -- democracy, freedom of choice, fairness. It’s not about any of those things now. It’s about protecting the wealthy and legalizing greed.”
But what, Moore’s critics demand, are the alternatives -- socialism, communism, anarchy? For Moore the answer is simple. The alternative is democracy, including a new bill of rights that would give the working people a fairer shake than the gamed system that they’re buckling under now.
“The option is to create an economic order that has two major underpinnings -- democracy and a moral and ethical code,” says Moore. “No decisions should ever be made without asking the question, is this for the common good?”
To illustrate just how far modern capitalism has strayed from the common good, Moore’s film examines so-called dead peasant insurance policies. Did you know, he asks, that blue chip employers like Wal-Mart, AT&T, Proctor & Gamble, Winn Dixie, Dow Chemicals and even Walt Disney take out what they call dead peasant insurance policies on their employees?
The name, Moore says, is as insulting as the practice. Companies here can legally take out life insurance policies on their employees (after one year). Should the employee die the company can cash in and give nothing to the surviving family – not one thin dime.
If you die, corporations here can profit in the millions, and frankly, Moore says, in many cases you are worth much more to them dead than alive. A whopping 25 percent of all life insurance policies in the U.S. are so-called dead peasant policies. The name itself should tip you off to what the big corporations think of you, Moore says.
Warming to his capitalism is exploitation theme, Moore also follows a day in the life the Florida real estate tycoon Peter Zalewski, head of an operation called Condo Vultures, a man who openly admits he profits off the misery of others -- every day he matches foreclosed properties with buyers, who then resell them for a profit. It’s capitalism eating itself, ethics and the common good be damned.
Because his films are vigorously researched, for years now Moore’s critics have sought to make him their target, rather than his films. He’s aware of this tactic and has developed a strategy to counter it.
“My critics are afraid of the films,” says Moore. “They’re afraid to debate me on the issues in the film. The films point out things they would rather probably not know about or discuss, so if they can distract people and put the focus on me instead of the issues that’s usually their method.”
But making things personal, an approach Moore has avoided in the past, has suddenly appeared to him to be a strength. In “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Moore has made his most personally revealing film ever, even going so far as to interview his father, a former General Motors worker, on camera.
“I thought maybe I’ve done a disservice to myself and the things I believe in by not sharing with people who I am and what my background is, you know, and why I believe the things I believe,” says Moore.
“This film is the sum total of everything I’ve been talking about over the last 20 years. I have never put any of my family into my films before for all the obvious reasons -- privacy issues -- and I’ve never discussed religion before because I think that’s a very personal matter and you shouldn’t discuss it, and I’m not a proselytizer. But I got tired of the Fox News Channel and Rush Limbaugh defining to the public -- or their public at least -- who I am.”
Moore acknowledges that for months now Fox News anchors have been lamenting “the direction of the nation.” Some of that is a cynical political power play, he says, but some of that is genuine.
Are many conservatives worried about the objectives of the Obama administration? “Oh yeah, they’re alarmed and I think they’re stoking a lot of hatred. There’s a reason why ammo sales are at an all time high,” he feels.
One of the most important parts of Moore’s background is his Irish American heritage, which he explores in the film.
“My Irish American background has a lot to do with my work, both in terms of the values that I was raised with -- that we’ll be judged by how we treat the least among us -- and that the rich man is basically up to no good,” he says.
“I think that we as Irish Americans have a fairly dark view of the world in general and that accounts for a dark sense of humor, and in fact it accounts for the need for a sense of humor because we sense that the human condition in all of its manifestations and that rotten core that exists in so much of what we have to go through necessitates a good sense of humor, or another pint, or both.”
In time for the 20-year anniversary of his groundbreaking documentary “Roger & Me,” Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” returns to the issue that he’s been examining throughout his career -- the impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans (and by default, on the rest of the world).
In scene after scene Moore poses the same simple question that has remained taboo in America for decades -- what is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism?
To find an answer, Moore also takes us into the homes of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down. He travels to Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.
And in the film’s hilarious climatic scenes he even attempts to make a citizens arrest of the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and several other Wall Street titans who received our bailout money with no plan to pay it back. In the process he criticizes both Republicans and Democrats for the abuses he sees around him.
“All of our political parties are bought and paid for by corporate America, Wall Street, and the wealthy interests,” says Moore. “The Republican Party more so, but the Democrats take their share of the loot too. I’ve always been about exposing those who are making decisions that are not in the best interests of the people, and it doesn’t matter to me what party they belong to.”
Moore says that most media commentators in America do not come from the working class and they get very nervous around people like himself who do.
“I take much of the attacks and the criticism toward me as being very class-based, but as Americans we don’t like to acknowledge that reality,” Moore says.
Capitalism, the film concludes, is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil.
Says Moore, “You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people, and that something is democracy.”