17 Jul 2010


' I first heard the term ‘sub-prime’ in the summer of 2006 from a taxi driver. We spent some time talking about CDOs, how they were risk managed and the diffusion of complexity across the financial system that would inevitably lead to cascading failure. Neither of us put our money where our mouths were. But it goes to show that many people were lying later on when they said the failures were all a huge surprise. If a taxi driver and IT bod can see what’s happening then anybody can. I met a hedge fund manager the other day who said that he was swapping out traders for industry experts (e.g. people who understood the fundamentals of a business rather than just the numbers) – I suggested that he might hire some taxi drivers.' From Chris Swann's review of Capitalism: A love story.

In Capitalism: A Love Story Michael Moore explains that the current economic system is making most Americans poorer and is enriching a tiny elite of the super rich. Its a good examination of how the USA has become a much less equal society and Moore does a good job of explaining the basics of the banking crisis. It is entertaining to watch and explains a number of issues that would other wise be quite abstract. The message that there is a democratic alternative to capitalism needs to be made. There are also some good examples of workers organising to protect their rights. From an interview with Bernie Sanders the one US socialist Senator from Vermont to film of a workers cooperative Moore shows that the alternative to capitalism need not be a life long trip to North Korea.

However its pretty over the top in places. It is not structural but very much a conspiracy theory view. Without doubt the super rich in the US and elsewhere have been conspiring to make their lives better and ours worse. Yet capitalism is not simply a matter of bad people doing bad things, its a system where however 'good' or 'bad' an individual capitalist is, they are driven to maximise profit so as to survive.

This is well explained by John Bellamy Foster who argues that we are all part of a treadmil of production:

First, built into this global system, and constituting its central rationale, is the increasing accumulation of wealth by a relatively small section of the population at the top of the social pyramid. Second, there is a long-term movement of workers away from self-employment and into wage jobs that are contingent on the continual expansion of production. Third, the competitive struggle between businesses necessitates on pain of extinction of the allocation of accumulated wealth to new, revolutionary technologies that serve to expand production. Fourth, wants are manufactured in a manner that creates an insatiable hunger for more. Fifth, government becomes increasingly responsible for promoting national economic development, while ensuring some degree of "social security" for a least a portion of its citizens. Sixth, the dominant means of communication and education are part of the treadmill, serving to reinforce its priorities and values.3

4. A defining trait of the system is that it is a kind of giant squirrel cage. Everyone, or nearly everyone, is part of this treadmill and is unable or unwilling to get off. Investors and managers are driven by the need to accumulate wealth and to expand the scale of their operations in order to prosper within a globally competitive milieu. For the vast majority the commitment to the treadmill is more limited and indirect: they simply need to obtain jobs at livable wages. But to retain those jobs and to maintain a given standard of living in these circumstances it is necessary, like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, to run faster and faster in order to stay in the same place

The indigenous don't get a look in in the film, American wealth was fuelled by stealing other peoples land and lives. Equally the ecological consequences of capitalism are ignored by Moore.

It's very big on the Catholic Church, some people say he should be Catholic of the year. Now while I am hostile to the Pope and his homphobic works, many of my family are Catholics, liberation theology has been a massive force for good and the social teachings of the Church have been critical of capitalism. However I am not sure how convincing having priests popping up all the time, will be to much of Moore's audience.

There are also some over the top straw man examples, the stuff on prisons which is horrifying, with children being imprisoned by a judge secretly paid by a private jail company to put them away, seems to be more about a few corrupt individuals than the normal suffering built into our economic system.

It would have been nice to have seen Elinor Ostrom on to explain how with the right kind of structures based on commonal property rights, a fair and ecological system based on human freedom could potentially be created.

(Quick plug, Elinor, bless her, is taking part in this amazing conference where she will be meeting with indigenous comrades to plan a global roll out of their stuff....like to see you make a film about this Mr Moore!)

So its a good film, worth watching but you have to put the work in on this stuff, convinced ideologist that I am I feel that a careful study of Marx and Ostrom is necessary to really get to grips with this problem.

I think I would agree with this over all assessement from Variety, the "target is less capitalism qua capitalism than the banking industry, which Moore skewers ruthlessly, explaining last year's economic meltdown in terms a sixth-grader could understand. That said, there's still plenty here to annoy right-wingers, as well as those who, however much they agree with Moore's politics, just can't stomach his oversimplification, on-the-nose sentimentality and goofball japery."


Long but thoughtful review here from Movie Magg.

Right wing reviewer claims Moore's priests were fake.

The Economist article, which alas is behind their subscribers wall notes, 'He likes small, co-operatively run firms, but how that model could be made to work for multinationals is far from clear. In the end, Mr Moore fails to produce a convincing riposte to the argument that capitalism, though prone to the occasional spectacular bust, is the economic system best able to correct its own excesses.'

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