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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Capitalism: A Love Story

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Michael Moore stands in front of the U.S. Capitol in a scene from the documentary "Capitalism: A Love Story."
Filmmaker Michael Moore, who first brought his idiosyncratic but effective style of cinematic advocacy to bear on economic questions in his 1989 directorial debut "Roger & Me"—focusing on the role of General Motors' management in the decline of his hometown of Flint, Mich.—takes on the American entrepreneurial system as a whole in the ironically titled "Capitalism: A Love Story" (Overture).

The result is a hard-hitting but at times overly simplistic documentary.

Moore is at his best in chronicling the effects of economic dysfunction on vulnerable individuals and families, as a large group of Chicago factory workers are summarily thrown into unemployment or a farming couple faces foreclosure. And he manages to uncover more unusual—and more outrageous—examples of corporate greed gone haywire.

It's disturbing to learn, for instance, that a number of airline pilots supplement their meager paychecks with food stamps or by selling their blood plasma, and that large corporations secretly take out life insurance policies on low-level employees, calculating that a certain percentage of them will end up as—to quote the callous and insulting phrase used in the companies' internal documents—"dead peasants."

But by far the most unsettling story Moore tells involves two corrupt Wilkes-Barre, Pa., judges who accepted bribes from a local for-profit juvenile detention facility in exchange for sentencing scores of young people to imprisonment there, often for the most trivial offenses.

Moore is on shakier ground, though, when he examines economic history. He idealizes the days when top U.S. earners paid 90 percent income tax, claiming that this made possible not only the maintenance of the national infrastructure but the generous contracts under which unionized employees enjoyed numerous benefits, including free health and dental care.

He also blames the disappearance of American heavy industry entirely on the policies of President Ronald Reagan and his first treasury secretary, Donald Regan.

Ultimately, Moore calls for an economic revolution that would uproot capitalism completely. In its stead, he seems to favor not the extreme socialism of the old Soviet system, but a cooperative model of democracy in the workplace, with each employee and manager an equal shareholder. Where the initial investment to establish new workplaces is to be found he fails to mention.

For a spiritual perspective, Moore—who speaks with great warmth of his Catholic childhood, of the kindly nuns who educated him and of his admiration for the clergy— interviews two Catholic priests who are family friends and retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit. The three are unanimous in condemning capitalism as inherently sinful.

Yet this is not the teaching of the full magisterium, which instead takes a more moderate stance, recognizing both the efficiencies of the free market system and its need to be prudently regulated, while upholding the human dignity of workers, particularly their right to unionize.

The film contains at least three uses of the F-word and a couple of crude terms. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted; under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

***
 Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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