Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

Tonight I saw the latest Michael Moore documentary Capitalism: A Love Story.

The man is nothing if not entertaining.

True to form, the film is laced with "stunts" that are almost funnier in the trailer (trying to make a citizen's arrest on the execs on Wall Street; arriving in an armored truck at banks to take America's money back). What's better are his sincere interviews with experts in the economic field and stories of individuals who were affected by the collapse.

One family had their farm house mortgage go from a manageable $1700 to an impossible $2700 per month, and surrendered the home to foreclosure. Aside from losing their physical living space, they were sacrificing some of their history, said the wife, who had the farm in her family for decades. She is seen fiercely chopping flowers from a bush in her yard to perhaps preserve something of the original land as the eviction staff simultaneously collects house keys from her husband. They were paid a whopping $1000 to prepare the property for the next owners.

Another family, with a Mom and Dad who worked for Wal-Mart, were shocked to find that Wal-Mart collected the life insurance money when Mom passed away suddenly from a severe asthma problem. Though Dad had over $100,000 in medical bills to pay after her death, and a $6,000 funeral, Wal-Mart offered nothing to help with the expenses. And he'd been a loyal employee of theirs most of his adult life who still had three kids to support.

Perhaps the most unsettling stories were those of our commercial airline pilots—some who are forced to collect food stamps because their pay is so low ($17,000 was one quoted salary). Others take on second jobs, which obviously could exhaust them physically and hinder their ability to do their day job, which is keeping us flying customers in the air. How can we pay fast food managers more than we pay our skilled pilots?

Moore blames capitalism for all of these woes, but I have to disagree and blame it on corporate greed (and yes, there is a difference).

He shows an example of a completely productive co-op bread-making company in California, where the assembly line workers make the same salaries (an impressive $65,000) as the CEO. Granted, the model is very socialist in its principles, but at the end of the day, they are functioning as tax-paying capitalists. The more bread they sell, the higher their paychecks.

I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, if there was a branch of the bread-baking company in Seattle, I'd probably apply to be a baker. Or a packager. Or any other job where I could punch in, do my thing in a pleasant environment and go home without worry of being laid off or the need to take on freelance writing gigs to fund my rare vacations. The argument is in a backward way in favor of capitalism: make a good product, create demand for it and reap the benefits.

At the heart of the economic collapse in our country was greed. Greed mixed with big government mixed with deregulation.

I wanted to stand up and cheer when I learned our President recently supported a group of workers in Chicago that refused to leave the plant they were fired from without sufficient severance packages. They went about their protest in a peaceful way and got exactly what they demanded from the notorious Bank of America. Kudos to them, and kudos to President Obama for sticking to his principles despite election contributions he received from the bankers in question. I'm happy his values can't be bought, and I'm happy I voted for him.

America is finally moving in the right direction by putting votes toward those who inspire real change (kudos to the female rep. from Ohio who is featured fighting for what's right), and for that I can say Moore's unpopular film tactics still serve a purpose.

Though I don't agree that capitalism is inherently evil, or that it can't work, I do support his motivation to bring power to the people.

If we don't act on these human injustices, who will?


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