“Capitalism: A Love Story” (2009)

Watching Michael Moore’s latest effort, Capitalism: A Love Story, at least two things occurred to me, at two different points in the narrative.

First, while watching Moore ask the question, “Is capitalism evil?” of successively higher officials in the Catholic Church gave me a strong sense of disorientation. Really, Michael? You’re basing part of your argument against the excesses of capitalism on the opinion of one of the most staggeringly wealthy institutions on the planet?

The Age of Enlightenment caused a shift in power and money from the church, particularly the church allied with government in the form of inherited rule. Capitalism was one of the economic ideas that grew out of the elevation of reason and intellect that was the Enlightenment, so it could be argued that capitalism reduced the Catholic Church’s power and shifted it to business and government.

And yet the Catholic Church is still vastly wealthy; after several Google searches I can’t find a decent estimate of the total wealth hoarded by the Pope and all his minions across the globe. Surely the many fabulous palaces and works of art in Vatican City alone are priceless heirlooms of human history. Would members of such a institution, which has stockpiled uncounted riches for century upon century in spite of its founders’ admonishments to give away all wealth, view capitalism and its ideal of hard work making one wealthy, as evil? Probably so. No shit, Sherlock, as they say.

And for Mr. Moore to use Catholic priests as mouthpieces for his movie to label as evil the economic system that dethroned the Church just invites consideration of what, exactly, on a moral scale, the Church would be. The Church uses its vast wealth to protect it’s clergy from taxes as well as from legal justice (which is the least satisfying form of justice) against accusations of pedophilia and abuse of authority. Oh, and sure, to a degree, the Church does some good work, too, though I’m far too lazy a blogger to go looking for examples. I think the millennia of greed, warfare and injustice would wipe out any good works they may have done.

My laughter at the parade of clergy on the screen was surely not what Mr. Moore intended. To be fair, I was already in agreement with the filmmaker on the morality of capitalism as it has been practiced for the last 100 years or so; I just thought his method of arguing the point was tone-deaf.

Speaking of justice brings me to my second point, where social justice – which is the best kind of justice – makes its appearance in the movie. Moore mentions that our country’s Constitution does not specify capitalism as an economic system, and that leads him to an observation that I have found to be true: for all the love of democracy we have in this country, there is damned little democracy in our workplaces. The standard business is run as a dictatorship. Where workers and employees have any power at all, they have it amongst themselves in the form of electing representatives to negotiate with the exalted rulers known as Management.

But Moore goes one step further, and shows examples of businesses in America that are run democratically: co-ops. He shows a bakery in California whose name I am far too lazy to search for that is set up where every employee is a part owner, and everyone, from the CEO on down, has one full vote in the operation of the business. And Moore claims that this bakery makes money, and lots of it, to stark contrast with titans of industry like Enron, Worldcomm, General Motors, Lehman Brothers, the list goes on and on.

The employees at this business can vote out the management if they wish. In a flash, as soon as they’d mentioned that, I realized just how differently a business would be run if management had to submit to a vote of their subordinates.

And in a second flash, I knew what was wrong with government.

What reason can anyone give for not running government agencies and bureaus like a democracy? If Democracy is held to such a high ideal in our country, and the topic of many many beautiful speeches by impassioned elected officials and unelected business tycoons alike, then why are we not running our government agencies like a freakin’ democracy?

Businesses can be run any way the owners want, so I’ll leave them out of the question for now. There are still folk who would prefer to just follow a king and not have any personal responsibility or power. But government? Why isn’t the City of Portland, or Multnomah County, or the State of Oregon, or even the Federal Government itself, staffed and organized on the principle of “One person, one vote”?

If it’s good enough for the country as a whole, why isn’t it good enough for everything?

I’d really like to know. And now, finally, I have a life goal to work towards.