Capitalism: A Muddled Hatchet Job

Love him or hate him, there's never been any question about where Michael Moore stands ideologically. In some ways Moore's newest film, "Capitalism: A Love Story," muddies the water, but in the end all it really shows is that Michael Moore doesn't actually know what capitalism is.

Apparently, he thinks it's a system where the government bails out and controls the financial sector, or one where a few rich people dominate the entire structure and keep everyone else poor. Both are caricatures with nothing in common with what capitalism really is, as described by its first and best exponent, Adam Smith.

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So Moore's film needs a new title. Perhaps something like, "Corporatism: What the Left Thinks Capitalism Is."

Watching Moore rail against corporate bailouts in the early scenes, a free marketeer might wonder if perhaps the filmmaker has inadvertently blundered into the truth. Among other things he rips apart the notion that government and big business partnering up is good for the little guy.  About half-way through the movie, I actually caught myself thinking: Do Michael Moore and the Mackinac Center actually agree? (It's few and far between, but it does happen).

Eventually the film drifts leftward, criticizing "excesses" such as high foreclosure rates, individuals hurt by (downward) stock market swings, problems with a privatized jail and, of course, the fact that rich people are, well, rich (ironic coming from a guy worth millions). Moore also makes a faux-religious argument, asking some priests, "What would Jesus do?"

Many on the left similarly cite such "excesses of capitalism" as their reasons for opposing a free-market system. The reality of course is that most of these have nothing to do with capitalism. Indeed, things like high foreclosure rates are the result of government policies that subsidized and virtually forced banks to give mortgage loans to people who couldn't afford the home. The financial and stock market crashes of a year ago were byproducts of the inevitable collapse of that house of cards.

But alas, excesses and villains are what sell movie tickets. Perhaps Moore will expand on the theme with films about the excesses of non-capitalist systems: The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (2 million murdered), the Soviet Union (65 million dead), Communist China (70 million dead), and so on.

Moore incoherently argues that we need to replace "capitalism" with a true American system:  "Democracy."

A true capitalist system is the best and most pure system of the democratic ideal — individual consumers and producers engaging in purely voluntary and mutually beneficial exchanges. This could not be more different from government and politics, the hallmarks of which are coercion and dishonesty.

Here's how economist Walter Williams defines capitalism and the proper role of government in such a system:

"Capitalism is an economic system characterized by private ownership and control over the means of production. The distribution of goods and services and their prices are mainly determined by competition in a free market. Under such a system the primary job of government is to protect private property, enforce contracts and ensure rule of law."

Capitalism is a system that has pulled millions upon millions out of poverty, but Michael Moore is profoundly ignorant about any of that. When pressed in an interview he said he "doesn't want to get caught up in titles." Or in truth either, apparently. But condemning a system without understanding its basic principles sells movie tickets and earns the praise of others who share Moore's worldview.

Before the film was released Moore wrote, "The time has arrived for, as Time magazine called it, my 'magnum opus.' I only had a year of Latin when I was in high school, so I'm not quite sure what that means, but I think it's good."

Michael Moore may have only had one year of Latin, but he either skipped or flunked Econ 101.


Jarrett Skorup is a 2009 graduate of Grove City College with a dual major in history and political science. He is a research intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.