Daily Archives: October 30, 2010

Film reviews – Capitalism: a love story

You don’t go to see a Michael  Moore documentary for impartial reporting and “Capitalism:  A Love Story” is as ideologically one-eyed as his previous offerings, although he seems to have dropped for the moment at least  his habit  of outright lying.

 There is the usual parade of cartoon villains – in this case  bankers,  mortgage sellers and politicians  who allowed the sub-prime bubble to run uninterrupted -, a large serving of Moore’s  faux surprise and naivety  and the trademark laboured  stunts such as running a crime scene ribbon the length of Wall Street and arriving with a bank security van outside US taxpayer  bailed-out institutions  and demanding the taxpayers’ money back. Taken at that level the film is no more than a crude piece of propaganda .

And yet and yet…. as with  “Fahrenheit 911” and “Sicko“,  in amongst the self-satisfied posturing and intellectual dishonesty Moore has a tale to tell worth anyone’s time. That story is the facts themselves,  such things as the grotesque rewards gained both before and after the crash by those who controlled the banking and allied sectors,  the  gross inflation  over the past thirty years of the ratio between the pay of CEOs and rank-and-file workers, the depression of  the wages of the ordinary working man, the  poignant testimony of those who have lost out in this economic calamity, often through no fault of their own, and  the stark  scenes of wholesale desolate abandonment of property, not in hick towns but  major cities such as Boston and Detroit, scenes which I have never seen the like of in modern Britain.

 But Moore goes beyond showing the untrammelled greed and the dire consequences of the sub-prime madness. Simply by delineating the movement of financiers and senior figures from large corporations    to positions of power and influence within governments over decades – the number of Goldman Sachs employees who have achieved such positions is truly extraordinary – he raises the question of exactly who has been  controlling the US economy for the past thirty years  and in whose interest? 

The relaxation of legal restraints such as the Glass-Steagle Act – which divided retail banking from investment banking in the US – the ever more negligent enforcement of  regulatory controls over banks and their ilk since Reagan was elected in 1980 and the amazing willingness of America’s politicians to pump vast amounts of taxpayers’ money into the banks since Lehman Bros went down in 2008 strongly suggests that the interest being followed was not the national one.

Moore turned up  is one particularly chilling piece of newsreel of a Reagan speech when a banker-turned-Treasury-official  moves close to Reagan and says “speed it up!” in a peremptory manner to which Reagan responds “Oh!” and then proceeds to do precisely as he was told.   This was clearly a servant (Reagan) responding to his master.

The dishonesty which lies at the heart of the film is the failure to ask of those who have fallen by the economic wayside the obvious questions about personal  responsibility: “Why did you  borrow that which simple arithmetic told you was impossible to repay?”, “ Why did you lie about your financial circumstances to get a mortgage?”,  “Why did you pay no heed to the future?” 

This is a serious deficiency because a significant  proportion of those caught up in debt must have had the wit to know that they were taking a tremendous risk. Yet there are serious pleas of mitigation for those who came a cropper, even for those who knew they were taking a risk and willingly took it.  The first is the  simple human need to have a secure home,  because without that it is impossible to raise a family  and plan for the future .  The housing bubble inflated not only house prices but rents. For many the only realistic hope they had of obtaining a home they could raise a family in was by buying and hoping for the best. This very natural desire was incontinently fed by politicians and the mortgage providers whose message was not only “You can afford it” but “”You deserve it ”.

This behaviour raises the question of what is the responsibility of politicians. It may be a comfortable political message, especially in America, to pretend that everyone is a responsible individual capable of making rational decisions but a pretence it is. Take just one stark fact, around ten per cent of the population in the US and Britain have IQs  of 80 or less.  (That means there are around 30 million people in the US and 6 million in Britain with IQs  of 80 or less). An IQ of 80 is the point where most psychologists working in the field of psychometrics think an individual begins to struggle to live an independent life in an advanced industrial society.   These will be people who are ill-equipped to make such a major decision as buying a house . Add in the educational deficiencies of a large part of those with IQs of 80+  and the number who are  poorly equipped to make decisions about running into large scale debt  swells considerably. Politicians need to take the capacity of all sections of those they govern into account when they make policy decisions. Manifestly they calamitously failed to do this over the past thirty  years.

The consequences of  political failure have been dire for much of  the populations of the US and Britain. The big lie both sets of political elites have propounded is that laissez faire economics, both at home and abroad,  is the surest way to national wealth.  That is becoming an ever worse joke for large numbers in both the US and Britain, as unemployment rises, wages stagnate and housing is pulled ever further from   the reach of the ordinary man and woman.

The natural end of laissez faire economics  is a plutocracy which is a de facto authoritarian regime because as one of  my old history masters never tired of saying “money is power“.  The natural end of  laissez faire plus political connivance in illegitimately promoting the interests of business in particular and the advantage of those with wealth and power generally, is not only an authoritarian regime  but one in which those outside the elite have little chance in joining the elite. Over two centuries ago Tom Paine complained that the English elite had “made poverty hereditary” by an ever more selfish political elite. .That is what is happening now in both the US and Britain. . 

Despite its faults the film is is persuasive. It is a pity that Moore has yet to learn that  letting the facts tell the story is the most effective form of polemic and that his thrusting of himself into the action with lame stunts merely distracts from what he is trying to say. 

Recommended films

The last Station –  Depiction of  the last months of Tolstoy’s life. worth seeing only for Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Tolstoy’s wife.  Christopher Plummer is a decent Tolstoy but the tiresome old hypocrite, who claimed to despise property but somehow managed to remain in possession of his inherited property to his death  – had very little of interest to say at that point of his life  and was nothing more than a weary old man. 

Don’t bother

Nine – This was a film inspired by Fellini’s  8.5 and is centred around an Italian director making a film.  I went to see it simply because it has the man whom I believe is the most charismatic  film actor presently working, Daniel Day-Lewis.  It would have  been a decent film except for one thing, for some bizarre reason  they decided to turn it into a very odd musical with people who were not accomplished singers doing the singing. .

Let the right one in – hopelessly over-hyped. Not a bad film, but something much more ignominious, a mediocre one.

A Prophet  –  also hopelessly over-hyped.  The French frequently  don’t do gangsters well, all too often trying to mimic American gangster films and failing dismally by not understanding that violence has to be linked the plot not be an end in itself. The violence is also unrealistic more often than not because it has a stage-like over-emphatic quality of gesture about it.  In this film there is also the wearisome, for the non-French audience at least, of a running Corsican  Separatist theme (in the words of Captain Queeg, I kid you not).

Terrorists or traitors?

What should we call the liberal internationalists? Are they terrorists because of the damage they do?  That is a difficult label because the proponents of the ideology have not come power through force. Instead, they have got their hands on the levers of power though a long process of  infiltrating the elite until they became the elite and their ideology became the elite ideology.

Traitor is a much more promising term. An ideology which asks for  loyalty to something other than  the nation state, which has as one of its ends the  transfer of sovereign power from the nation state to foreign authority,  which  requires its adherents to removes democratic control from the population which they are meant to serves definition treasonous.  Liberal internationalism does all that and more, for it permits mass immigration,  which is a form of conquest, and pursues  economic policies which both disadvantage its own people and leaves the country dangerously exposed to changes in economic conditions and political circumstances. 

Why are the  liberal internationalists not called what they objectively are, traitors?  The answer lies in is Sir John Harrington’s seventeenth century words:

Treason doth never prosper; what’s the reason?

For if  it prosper, none dare call it treason.

The best way of judging the purpose of any political ideology is to ask cui bono? (who benefits?) The obvious answer in the case of  “free markets”  and “free trade”   are those who believe (with good reason) that they  nor  their dependants will never be amongst those who will suffer the  ill-effects of laissez faire.   These people are and will continue to be overwhelmingly drawn from the middle and upper classes for the same reasons that  such classes  have  always maintained their superiority,  namely  that  such people  will have inherited wealth,  social connections  and   superior opportunities for education which are denied to the majority.

Both the traditional Left and  Right have been duped by globalisation. The Left initially welcomed  globalisation as  a dissolver of  national sovereignty, but  they  are discovering by the day just how restrictive international treaties and membership of supra national groups can  be.

As things stand,  through our membership of the EU and the World  Trade Organisation  treaties,  no  British  government  could  introduce  new socialist  or nationalist measures because they cannot nationalise companies,  protect their  own commerce and industry or  even ensure that taxpayers’  money is spent in Britain with British firms.  A British government can  have any economic system they like provided it is largely  free trade,  free enterprise.

The Right are suffering the same sickness with different symptoms. They find  that  they are no longer masters in their own house  and   cannot meaningfully appeal to traditional national interests because  treaties make that impossible.

But  there is a significant difference between the position of the  two sides.   The traditional Right have simply been usurped by neo-Liberals in  blue  clothes:  the  traditional Left  have   been  betrayed  by  a confusion  in  their ideology which has allowed  their  main  political vehicles to be surreptitiously by the likes of Blair.

The  left have  historically objected to “free-trade”  on  the  grounds that it destroys jobs and reduces wages.  But what they (and especially the British Left) have rarely if ever  done is walk upon  the other two necessary  planks in the anti-“free trade”  platform:  the  maintenance of (1) national sovereignty and (2) a sense of national cohesion.   The consequence  is that the  Left has been and are still  struggling  with two  competing and mutually exclusive ends:  internationalism  and  the material improvement of the mass of the people.

The  new international elite  is neither left nor right.  Its  ideology is  simply   designed  to promote the interests of the  elite.  It  has aspects  of  right and left,  but  they are merely the  policies  which allow  the  elite to both disguise their true intention and to  give  a pseudo-moral   camouflage   to  their  ends.    They  speak   of    the internationalist   equivalent  of  “motherhood  and  apple  pie”   with exhortations  to  “end  world poverty”  and fund  a   “war  on  disease worldwide”.  If I had to find a term to describe  this elite I think  I would  settle for neo-Fascist because  so much of what is  proposed  is reminiscent of fascism.

Opposition to globalisation with its underpinning creed of laissez faire should not be a Left or Right issue.   The socialist and the Conservative should both resist it because it removes the  ability  of the electorate to control those with  power  and   the power of their  political movements to realise their ends.

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