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).

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