Capitalism: A Love Story

The corner of Wall Street and Broadway, showin...Image via Wikipedia

Look, the world needs people like Mike Moore, people to speak for the little guy, and against entrenched interests be they political, financial or corporate. That he exists to ply his trade is does not necessarily make for a healthy society maybe, but it's solid proof of a strong democracy.

I saw his latest film in preview last week, Capitalism: A Love Story. I went with Whisky, a good capitalist if ever there was one, after we spent the couple of hours before sitting in the sunshine and drinking good European ales on one of the prized balconies of Cookie. It was a lovely day for it, so much so that I briefly considered canning the movie altogether and ordering another round of drinks, but no…

Moore is as he always is, the happily unfashionable nerd, bearded, plump, and wearing his baseball cap – I don't think I've ever seen him out of it. As always he is a character in the drama, the shambling maverick poking his nose into other people's business and making a point – occasionally comical – about the inequities and evils of the world. This time he took aim at capitalism in general, and capitalist America and the fat cats on Wall Street in particular. That's a popular target and he loaded up and fired.

I like Mike Moore, I 'enjoyed' (if that's the word) Fahrenheit 911, and I think he's important. Given that he has about 2 hours to propose a theory, develop and 'prove' it, he has to stick to the headlines with a few colourful leads thrown in. There's information there, but it's presented simplistically and with an angle I'm guessing he has no apologies for. He's an entertainer at the end of the day. No-one wants to go to the cinema to be lectured to or be forced to wade through all manner of facts and figures. He joins the dots and paints the picture and lets you feel the outrage. He loads up but his approach is scattergun.

That may seem like a damning indictment, but it shouldn't necessarily be seen that way. I think it's sensible when going to watch shows of this sort to go in with an open, but critical, mind. I always ask myself what I'm not being told. Sure, there's generally plenty presented on one side of the argument – but where is the other side? Turn on a current affairs program tonight and you'll see what I mean – it's sensationalist, tabloid TV, designed to indoctrinate you to a particular view.

So is Mike Moore a tabloid journalist? I don't think so. For a start Mike Moore is a lot smarter than most tabloid journalists, and unlike most, is a true believer in what he does. He might share some attributes with them – the sensational claims, the odd sentimental manipulation, the occasional simplistic analysis, but generally it is better informed and more intelligently reasoned. Generally he has something important to say, something worth hearing – the counter-balance to 'conventional' opinion.

To an extent this explains some of my disappointment with this movie. I thought about half of it was great, but the other half was crap.

Lets start with the crap first, and the sweeping, tabloid-esque assertion that capitalism 'doesn't work'. I almost groaned eating my popcorn on hearing that grandiose claim. It begged the question, if capitalism isn't it, what is? A few times in the course of the film he touched upon socialism, but I don't think he was really suggesting that was the solution. Rather – and this is very much the way of the tabloid media – he was pointing out the problem by and large, without propounding a solution.

To say capitalism is wrong is plain stupid, no matter which side of the political fence you're on. It's such a broad, facile statement to make as to be meaningless. Right there and then some credibility was lost, for the problem is not capitalism as such – it is the way it is regulated and governed. That's the real story, and ultimately the story he told.

We have had a global financial crises not because of capitalism, but rather because of the absence of controls and appropriate regulations in the American market. Once upon a time they were there, some of them at least, but in the spirit of unfettered free market economics they were removed. Australia, a capitalist country, suffered not nearly as much as the States, and almost entirely because we have the governance they don't have in the shape of prudent fiscal and banking regulations, and sensible government policy.

Capitalism is built upon the profit motive, which gives the impetus to a system that in its purest form will benefit everyone working within it. In that ideal state it is a dynamic, living organism that needs none of the artificial stimuli that socialism and its ilk need to get going. There is no need to prod the beast into action because it is forever on the prowl searching for more, searching for better, because that is where the pay-off is. The beauty of capitalism is that it is self-perpetuating; the peril of it is that it should do so without any control.

There are hundreds of different economic philosophies and schools. By and large they measure and theorise about economic triggers and management. Many are at odds with each other and are perpetually evolving – economics is big business these days, even if it is an inexact science. A few would argue that rampant capitalism is a good thing, in much the same way that Gordon Gekko pronounced that greed is good. That's a hard argument to sustain in these economic times when it is greed and unfettered financial markets that have led to the mess Moore documents in his film.

In essence the difference in the two arguments is the difference between having an untamed tiger in your front yard and one toilet trained and taught not to eat the natives. What would you rather? Yet this is what has been allowed to happen. By removing the natural and proper constraints from the market the tiger is shitting in the laps of the big corporations and chewing on the natives – the poor punter in the suburbs.

The real issue is not capitalism then, but greed, and Moore knows it. Accordingly he takes aim at Wall Street and the fat cat banks and brokerages, and the insidious influence they have had on government policy – now that's a story worth exposing. He quite rightly comments on the obscene salaries and bonuses of senior management at a time when lowly workers are laid off without getting their full entitlement. And he exposes the absolute lack of government oversight on the billions of dollars paid to bail-out half these corporations. All in all the picture is bleak. It is a story of incompetence at best, and corruption at worst. It is an American story, and in some part at least Moore is right, there is something sick in Ame
rican society today that allows these things to occur. It's not capitalism though, it's greed and it's the decline of the social contract.

I trust people will be smart enough to overlook the more extreme elements of the movie and see them for what they are: pure sensationalism. Whether we want to or not we can't live without the financial markets, and without Wall Street everything would grind to a halt. The real story is how greed, mismanagement and rampant de-regulation led to a global disaster. And in a way it's all about the need to return to human values – something I think any intelligent person would applaud. In that Mike Moore is right – it's time.

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