In what has become his trademark incorrigible style in documentaries, filmmaker Michael Moore is standing outside the tall glass façade, with a red megaphone in hand, screaming, “This is Michael Moore, and I am here to make a citizen’s arrest of the Board of Directors of AIG”. When he is unable to get through the gates, he runs a “Crime Scene – Do Not Cross” tape around the entire block of buildings, making his point quite clear – that men who occupy high posts on the Wall Street are nothing less than criminals.
What really is the price America is paying for its love of capitalism? It’s this question that Moore explores–and captures very vividly–by attempting to understand the country’s economic system and why governments allow banks so many powers like deregulating financial laws, ability to get loans with cheaper interest rates, pay–offs to many government personnel, etc. In his opinion, economic terms are purposely jargonized. He backs up this point by going to Wall Street and asking all the employees to explain the meanings of the terms, which some of them are unable to do.
Moore declares that in the ‘land of opportunity’ – as America is often referred, because of its open capitalist system, which allows freedom of enterprise, where all were treated equally and all had equal opportunity before the law – there was a sense of propriety in the way businesses were earlier run. However, in the 1930s and 40s, when the Great Depression and the Second World War hit the industrialized countries, industries suffered a serious setback, many factories were shut down which meant that large numbers of people were out of jobs. Yet in all this, the richest ones were getting richer, as the CEOs ended up making a lot of money from the buyouts.
In what is a far-fetched, but compelling argument Moore puts together a little history lesson about the economic workings of the Unites States of America. Governments from Ronald Reagan’s to George Bush’s were filled with advisors, all of whom were affiliated with the Wall Street. The Treasury Department headed by the head of Merrill Lynch, also an advisor to George Bush was run like ‘an arm of Wall Street’. There was an orchestrated dismantling of the entire industrial infrastructure upon which the country was built, ostensibly for the short-term profits of the corporations. Policies and regulations were changed to suit the big guns, and many politicians retired from the Government, and went right back to these large companies on Wall Street.
Another vicious cycle entrapped in the money game is the hype built around the Ivy League Schools. Students build up large debts to study in these schools and have to take up 'destructive’ jobs in the Wall Street in order to pay it off and because the lure of the capitalist economy is too great to resist.
Capitalism unabashedly concentrates riches in the hands of a few, a fact proved in an internal memo from Citibank to its investors. The memo drafted in 2009, stated that in the United States 1 percent of the ‘richest’ have more wealth than the bottom 95 percent of all households. The
memo states that this would ‘cause unrest if this 95 percent wants a more equitable share of the wealth.’
Another topnotch businessperson, Alan Greenspan, was celebrated as an economic genius when he talked Americans into “tapping their home equity”. What did Mr. Greenspan mean? According to Prof. Elizabeth Warren of Harvard University, this meant that a homeowner could be encouraged to borrow money against his home (as collateral), and if he failed to repay the loan, the house would be taken away.
‘Capitalism – A Love Story’ demystifies capitalism, its hallowed symbols like Wall Street, and its inadequacies and failure as a fair system. It is as much the impact of corporate dominance as well as what the power of money does to individuals and businesses alike. It is a plea to not let ourselves become enamored by terms like Free Market or Free Enterprise because many people are paying for this free market with their jobs, livelihoods and their homes.
Why a Love Story? In my opinion, it is because of a sense of helplessness and inevitability with which we hold our relationship with capitalism. For someone who is in awe of the system, the movie has compelling examples to scratch the surface a bit deeper and examine – what is the true cost of capitalism?
Sinduja Krishnan is an ecologist and a keen student of yoga who enjoys music, dance and running.