Sunday, October 4, 2009

Michael Moore on Capitalism

Michael Moore


Michael Moore posted a poignant blog today, which is a cogent pithy analysis of American Capitalism's dilemma: a society where the self-proclaimed religious behave without compassion and the self-proclaimed atheists proselytizing for less religion. Meanwhile, the poor gets poorer, while the rich and powerful gets more rich and powerful, with less regulation and fewer restrictions.

His indictment of capitalism highlights exactly the root of all evil - selfishness. Capitalism by all definition is the glorification of self-interests. It was clear to the founders who framed the American Constitution that ambition must be checked and balanced by ambition. When the fervor for deregulation went unopposed, and unobserved, accountability and transparency went out the window. Selfishness may be the root of all evil, but obfuscation and opacity are the tools that the selfish at the top used to acquire more of the same for themselves.

Human institutions require those in power to look after their own self-interests, and by doing so, they walk the fine line that separates good and evil. Human institutions are inherently potentially evil. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago, each of us is capable of both good and evil:
"Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: they struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. "
We cannot do away with human institutions (organized religion or capitalism) but we can regulate and supervise them. Democracy, when it is working, institutes a system of accountability and transparency that is the antidote of evil. Instead of denouncing organized religion, or capitalism without qualification (as Michael Moore is doing, but he is making a movie, so I forgive his poetic license), I think it is more productive to suggest changes which enforce and institutionalize accountability and transparency, so nobody can get away with what was perpetrated in the past couple decades, no matter how rich or powerful or well-connected or smart or shrewd or whatever.



I'd like to have a word with those of you who call yourselves Christians (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bill Maherists, etc. can read along, too, as much of what I have to say, I'm sure, can be applied to your own spiritual/ethical values).

In my new film I speak for the first time in one of my movies about my own spiritual beliefs. I have always believed that one's religious leanings are deeply personal and should be kept private. After all, we've heard enough yammerin' in the past three decades about how one should "behave," and I have to say I'm pretty burned out on pieties and platitudes considering we are a violent nation who invades other countries and punishes our own for having the audacity to fall on hard times.

I'm also against any proselytizing; I certainly don't want you to join anything I belong to. Also, as a Catholic, I have much to say about the Church as an institution, but I'll leave that for another day (or movie).

Amidst all the Wall Street bad guys and corrupt members of Congress exposed in "Capitalism: A Love Story," I pose a simple question in the movie: "Is capitalism a sin?" I go on to ask, "Would Jesus be a capitalist?" Would he belong to a hedge fund? Would he sell short? Would he approve of a system that has allowed the richest 1% to have more financial wealth than the 95% under them combined?

I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what's left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother's and sister's keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you'd have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.

I guess that's bad news for us Americans. Here's how we define "Blessed Are the Poor": We now have the highest unemployment rate since 1983. There's a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds. 14,000 people every day lose their health insurance.

At the same time, Wall Street bankers ("Blessed Are the Wealthy"?) are amassing more and more loot -- and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs' tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn't seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian -- because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line. That's called "immoral" -- and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others.

When you are in church this morning, please think about this. I am asking you to allow your "better angels" to come forward. And if you are among the millions of Americans who are struggling to make it from week to week, please know that I promise to do what I can to stop this evil -- and I hope you'll join me in not giving up until everyone has a seat at the table.

Thanks for listening. I'm off to Mass in a few hours. I'll be sure to ask the priest if he thinks J.C. deals in derivatives or credit default swaps. I mean, after all, he must've been good at math. How else did he divide up two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish equally amongst 5,000 people? Either he was the first socialist or his disciples were really bad at packing lunch. Or both.

Michael Moore

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