Michael Moore’s new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story explores the current economic crisis in the United States, and presents his view on how capitalist greed has brought us to this point. We see stories of people evicted from their homes, laborers laid off from their jobs, and politicians expressing their frustration with the choices thrust upon them.
I have mixed feelings about the movie.
I tend to enjoy Moore’s films. Bowling for Columbine was fascinating, and Fahrenheit 9/11 succeeded at getting me good ‘n riled up. Sicko was full-on horrifying. For some reason, though, while I enjoyed many parts of Capitalism, I also took umbrage at a few parts.
We see two middle-class working families being evicted from their homes, and of course we’re meant to be outraged over the treatment they receive. We know they stopped making their mortgage payments and are thrown out by the bank, but we don’t find out how they got to that point.
Did they an ARM mortgage with a low interest rate, and then find themselves a couple of years later with a jacked-up interest rate and a payment they can’t afford? Then shame on the homeowner for not taking the time to research and understand what he/she is signing. If you don’t understand, find out before you sign your life away.
On the other hand, let’s be honest and accept that they may have been tricked into it by a smooth-talking salesperson. Shame on the mortgage loan officer who may not have done a good job explaining the risks. Shame on the bank that approved the mortgage based on the low ARM payment, not the eventually higher payment. There’s the potential for a lot of blame to pass around here, and legitimately so.
There’s also a whole segment on the Republic Doors and Windows situation, where the company couldn’t make its payroll and wanted a loan from their bank. The bank, seeing that the company was in financial trouble, refused to loan them money that they might not be able to pay back. So when the company didn’t pay its employees, the bank was blamed. Well, as a customer (and an employee!) of the bank in question, I’m glad that the bank didn’t want to loan my deposits (and my future paycheck) to a company that wasn’t likely to be able to pay it back.
Yes, I’m a bank employee, and I’m biased. But seriously, this movie seems to suggest that homeowners who can’t pay their mortgage should be allowed to keep their home anyway, and that companies who can’t pay their bills should still be entitled to a loan from the bank despite being unable to pay it back. So essentially, people who can’t pay bills should have the banks pay them anyway, which means all of the other bank customers should have to shoulder the burden.
Don’t get me wrong: these are heartbreaking stories of personal loss, and I genuinely feel bad for the people who lose their homes or their jobs due to circumstances outside their control. I just think we’d be better served understanding how they got there, not focusing on the financial system that expects people to be held accountable to their obligations. After awhile there needs to be an element of personal responsibility, and we shouldn’t feel entitled to a free house or a loan that we don’t have to pay back.
There are great scenes in the movie talking about the vehement push from the White House — in both the Bush and Obama administrations — to take drastic actions in response to the burgeoning crisis. Hearing some of the politicians lamenting about the pressure to vote in favor of the “bailout” bills, with no time to really understand what they were voting on, was fascinating.
And this isn’t just “buyer’s remorse” with politicians backing off of their previous stances, as we got to see actual footage of their speeches on the house floor saying that we shouldn’t do this. It was nice to see some of the historical debate.
Frankly, I wish more of the movie was like those scenes. The parts that were less “tugging at the heart strings” and more “here is what happened” were compelling, and that’s the story that needs to be told. The film works best when it’s an actual documentary, educating the public and helping tell the story of what we need to do differently.
If you’re interested in the debate about rich versus poor, personal responsibility versus guaranteed rights, capitalism versus “socialism” and so on, go see this film. Even if you don’t agree with the stances that Michael Moore takes on issues, it’s still thought-provoking and great material for impassioned discussions.
Just promise to keep an open mind and consider all sides of the debate, regardless of your personal leanings… M’kay?