“I think capitalism in general is responsible for a lot of the misery in America and around the world – but maybe it’s on steroids in America,” Michael Moore told a group of journalists this morning at the Toronto International Film Festival where his film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” had its North American premiere. “I’ve been thinking about the issues in this movie for a very long time,” said the director – who’s previous docs “Roger & Me,” “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko” have explored particular societal issues ranging from the working poor to guns, democracy and health care. “The issue of capitalism [itself] is the core of what is really the problem in our country…”
In the film, Moore taps into his personality and sense of humor to explore what he sees as capitalism’s inherent destructiveness for the majority as it enriches and protects a privileged minority. And, the wildly successful documentary filmmaker appears to have good timing. Moore said he decided to take on capitalism six months before last year’s financial meltdown and subsequent bailouts, which provides great material for the film. He also concentrates on the rampant foreclosures that are forcing people out of their homes in the wake of the meltdown, saying in Toronto that reactions from foreclosure victims is a contrast today from those he spotlighted in Flint, Michigan for his debut doc “Roger & Me” twenty years ago.
In the new film, some twenty years later, Moore returns to Flint and to the doorstep of GM’s headquarters, to try to make sense of the economy and its impact on working class Americans.
“I think there’s a real anger out there,” said Moore. “I saw people being thrown out of their homes while [making this movie]. These weren’t people who were docile and just accepting that they have to leave their foreclosed homes like twenty years ago.” He added that with the top one per cent of Americans owning 95% of the wealth – which he said “is not democracy” – it will be very difficult to change the system with such concentrated power in the hands of a relative few, but added, “It won’t be easy. These people have such money and power… It will simply have to be taken from them, but in a non-violent and legal way. I just think we can do better. Aren’t we smart enough in a new century to come up with something better?”
As he does in the film, Moore railed against capitalism this morning, likening it to a giant Ponzi scheme “where the very few are making huge amounts of money and everyone else is doing their bidding.” Moore, however, seems to soften a bit on one aspect of what is traditionally associated with capitalism – profit – though he does do so with qualification.
“I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to open a business and try to do well for themselves and then continue to work hard and make more money… [but] greed has been with us forever. It’s the dark side in all of us, so we need a moral code to keep that greed in check. Capitalism is not that moral code – it encourages it.” He went on to harken back to his previous film, “Sicko” and used the example of health insurance companies eliminating policyholders from their ranks in order to cut their costs and maximize profit.
“I laugh when I see these commercials on TV in the U.S. paid for by insurance companies right now trying to portray Canada as this backward third world country with its universal health care system and all these supposedly big lines of sick people running around in places like Toronto with cancer or other diseases and all these people must wait years to see a doctor,” cracked Moore to a burst of laughter in the room. “I mean, even if there were these lines here, at least everyone is allowed to get in the line. In America, you have 47 million people who aren’t even allowed to get in the line in the first place.”
Continuing on health care, Moore said he felt bad for Obama and the challenge to his attempts to reform health care in the U.S. but added, “He is trying to bring help to millions of people, but where are the tens of millions of people who voted for him? Why don’t they have his back? Maybe it’s because it’s a series of half measures, and people don’t get excited about half measures. But I will still give him credit.”
When asked if there was a specific country with a system he most agreed with, he said he didn’t have one and admitted to not having the answer for what is a more preferable economic system, but reiterated that the current American system only helps the few at the expense of the many and that society should be able to come up with something better.
“Capitalism is a beast and it has an insatiable desire to grab more. You can put ropes around it, but it will break through. The worst word in capitalism is ‘enough.'” And as he started to leave the room, Moore added off the cuff, “The true believers of socialism in America are the Wall Street executives. They use taxpayer money as a social safety net for themselves.”