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A Georgist Review of Michael Moore's “Capitalism: A Love Story”

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Moore is at his muckraking best again in "Capitalism: A Love Story," a series of selective (to be fair, there's a lot to select from) jabs at what he calls Capitalism. This time, however, his target is so big -- bigger than even the health care industry in his last, and better-focused opus, "Sicko" -- that he misses the target at times .

Unfortunately, although Moore does distinguish quite clearly between Capitalism as it was when he was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, and the rapacious winner-take-all Capitalism of our times, he is as locked as his opponents on Wall Street and in the Power Rooms of Washington are, into the false dichotomy of left vs. right/Socialism vs. Capitalism. When he talks glowingly about middle class life during the Eisenhower years, when the top tax rate was 90%(!), he completely ignores what Henry George called Value from Production vs. Value from Obligation. The former, of course, is beneficial because it contributes to society by, for example, building a better mousetrap, or a better power plant, or a car whose battery can be charged in five minutes and run for 300 miles. The latter, profiting from the Casino of Wall Street or the monopolization of natural resources, is where the really obscene wealth comes from -- it cannot come from production, as Georgists know, since market competition won't allow it.

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Moore attacks the Casino mentality of modern capitalism -- especially in his bemusing segment where he is trying to understand the basis for derivatives. He clearly shows, while ironically using a derivative formula that is anything but clear - how this market is designed from the get-go to confuse even its deepest participants rather than illuminate them. Even here, however, he fails to state the danger due to the sheer immensity of this market, or how this reality sent even the power brokers quaking in their fine Russian Calf Shoes to Washington for a Socialist rescue. Would mentioning a single number have taken too much movie time, and wouldn't it have been worth saying it is $600 Trillion worldwide -- and growing? We could have used a few less irrelevant culture-bashing outtakes of cats flushing toilets and a few more hard facts. Moore does allow a TV economist and a (rare) cooperative V.P. on Wall Street trip over their own explanations of what a derivative is. Amusing, or terrifying, depending on your point-of-view, but does this solve anything? Does it illuminate the audience in order to help end the 1,000-year long 18-year cycle of booms and busts that Mason Gaffney talks about in "The Great Crash of 2008?"

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More on Moore's solution to the evils of Capitalism later - but not much, because there isn't much.

Moore is at his best when he can reduce corporate greed to the personal level -- the families getting evicted from their homes, mostly, we are led to believe, because of adjustable rate mortgages which only adjust upward, until they become unaffordable. To squash any possibility that the audience might think these home-losers might have brought about their own problems, Moore mentions that the FBI -- though squashed and sidelined by having its white-collar crime unit reallocated to terrorism work post 9/11, and despite warning as early as 2004 of monstrous housing scams apparent even then -- believes 80% of the housing fraud was initiated by the banks and other loan-makers. But those who sought to Flip-their-house to wealth are never singled out for rebuke. It's as if we are getting half the story. Even worse, we may be getting a story from only one book, and that book is not "Progress and Poverty" or anything that speaks to the fundamental problem in treating land as if it was just another item to be bought and sold, like the house on top of it, or the old car in the driveway.

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But, perhaps one could be forgiven for forgetting George and his teachings while watching Moore demonstrate how Juvenile (mostly non-)delinquents were systematically rounded up and sent to a privately run detention center in Pennsylvania, for the personal enrichment of the share-holding judge who sent them there. Surely, George's teachings have little to say to this kind of corruption except that it is (the judge was eventually caught and prosecuted, but not before many years of many young people's lives and dreams were robbed). George would agree that this was egregious corruption, but would have little more to say about this"or would he?

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Scott Baker is a Managing Editor & The Economics Editor at Opednews, and a blogger for Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Global Economic Intersection.

His anthology of updated Opednews articles "America is Not Broke" was published by Tayen Lane Publishing (March, 2015) and may be found here:

Scott is a former President of Common Ground-NYC (http://commongroundnyc.org/), a Geoist/Georgist activist group. He has written dozens of articles for (more...)

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