With phony radicals like Michael Moore around, the ruling elite has nothing to worry about.
The filmmaker likes to pose as a radical critic of the status quo, but he isn’t. All the evidence you need is in his latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. Sure, he rails against home foreclosures, bank bailouts, low wages, other real and imagined problems, but his solution would not disturb the sleep of any big banker, corporate bigwig, or political big shot.
The tipoff comes right at the beginning of the movie. He paints an idyllic picture of life in America in the 1950s. His father worked for a big auto company, through which the family got free medical and dental care. All was well. He realizes that a major reason things were so good was that the U.S. military had destroyed Japan’s and Germany’s competitive industrial bases in World War II. But the dominance was great while it lasted. It was a time when an alliance of big government, big business, and big labor ruled the roost. The military-industrial complex was thriving.
That seems fine with Moore, which puts him in the camp of the corporatists of Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust, who thought free markets and competition among independent firms were passé. The new world required big monolithic entities that sat down together and worked things out nicely. The spirit of Mussolini hovered over all of it.
Of course, Moore blasts Wall Street because it got all that taxpayer bailout money and is not being held accountable for it. That is worth getting mad about. But how would he feel if the money had been given with lots of conditions and regulations? He might have liked that.
He certainly doesn’t mind that the government had the taxpayers’ money to give away in the first place. He never once suggests that the people should keep their own money because the political elite has no right to it. He also never indicts the Federal Reserve for its legal counterfeiting. That would be the true radical position. Moore sides with the politicians. He even complains that the top income-tax rate was lowered from 90 percent some years ago! Conveniently, he gets the history wrong. He says Republican Ronald Reagan cut the 90 percent rate, but it was really Democrat Lyndon Johnson who did it, following through on John Kennedy’s proposal. (Reagan presided over a cut from 70 to 50 and then to 28 percent.) At any rate, he is perfectly comfortable with government’s taking 90 percent of people’s earnings. He seems indifferent about whether the money is made through honest trade or political privilege.
Favoring a high top rate may not win him favors from some in the establishment, but for generations there has been a wing of that establishment that understood that high marginal rates were the price of the lucrative corporate state. So Moore may not be the pariah among the ruling elite that he makes himself out to be.
Moore’s movie contains much else to make us doubt his radical bona fides. He blusters about Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and their relationship to the current financial problems. Rubin, a Wall Street hotshot, and Summers were Treasury secretaries under President Bill Clinton. Geithner ran the New York Federal Reserve Bank from late 2003 to 2009, overseeing the Wall Street bailouts. In Moore’s eyes, they are the rogues who, along with former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, gave us the meltdown of 2008.
So far so good. But when he gets to the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 he declares, “This is not what Wall Street wanted.” Yeah? Then why are Moore’s bêtes noires Rubin and Summers close Obama economic advisors, and why is Geithner secretary of the Treasury?
A true radical would not have given Obama a pass. Moore says he’s for socialism, but all he means by that is that workers have some say in their companies. Nothing very radical about that.
If Moore were truly a radical critic of capitalism as he conceives it, he’d be for its true opposite: the radical separation of business and State — that is, the free market.