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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Capitalism: A Love Story

March 6th, 2010

Capitalism: A Love Story - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The latest documentary from Michael Moore is the ironically-named Capitalism: A Love Story. It's rare for a documentary to crack $10 million at the box office, but Michael Moore has done so four times in a row now. After tackling the gun culture, the Bush presidency, and the healthcare system, he goes after capitalism itself.

Capitalism is obviously a huge target, but the film starts with a much more personal look at the effects. Namely, we see a family being thrown out of their house by the sheriff, who decided he needed to bring seven cop cars along to do the job. That seems excessive. But excess seems to be the theme of the day. As Michael Moore contends, the system went wrong when greed became the overwhelming force. Instead of corporations trying to ensure their long-term strength so they could make a profit, they instead started sacrificing the long-term for the short term. They were able to do this by buying out politicians (something whih became a lot easier thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling about corporate free speech). We see what happens when financial industries are deregulated, when unions are crushed, when the middle class is under attack, when short-term profits are valued above long-term strength. We are shown this in the macro sense (the collapse on Wall Street) and the micro sense (people being thrown out of their homes). We also get to see some success stories that don't use the modern capitalist mindset, including a factory that is run by a democracy where every worker gets the same voice in making decisions for the company. And thank goodness we do see some hopeful signs, otherwise this movie would be just too damn depressing.

On the other hand, the weakest part of the film were the theatrics that Michael Moore has become famous for. For instance, in Sicko he orchestrated a funeral march in front of an insurance company. That was powerful. None of his bits here were half as strong. The most disappointing part of the film is his prediction that populous anger will somehow help reform the system. When he was making the movie that might have been possible, but sadly this populous anger was co-opped by the same corporate forces that it was initially directed at. However, you can't blame Michael Moore or his film for that.

As a side note, here's a brief explanation of derivatives: If a bank makes a loan, it also buys insurance on that loan as a hedge just in case it goes bad. It's like betting the loan goes bad to mitigate the bank's loses if it does go bad. That's normal. By lowering the risk, it encourages the bank to loan money, which in turn helps the economy. Derivatives would be like another bank going in and betting on whether or not that insurance will have to be paid out. It's a bet on a bet. It has zero benefit to the economy. It is merely a tool to make money. Then there are bets on the bets on the bets of the initial loan that are made leveraged 100 to 1 so that if just 1% of the bets go wrong, the entire system collapses. Since the derivatives market is worth trillions and trillions (and trillions) of dollars, if it collapses, the governments of the world have to step in and bail out the banks responsible. In essence, they've privatized the profits and socialized the losses. It's the worst of both worlds. Right now there are some that want to ban derivatives (I am one of them). Many simply want to regulate them and others merely want more transparency. It appears that in the United States you will get none of this, because the banks own the politicians. In Canada, we already have much strong regulations, and as a result, we have the strongest financial industry in the world.

Extras on the DVD are essentially limited to deleted scenes. There are ten "scenes" of various length, starting with Sorry, House-Flippers.... This five-and-a-half minute long featurette about how the city of Flint, Michigan can take abandoned homes, using emminent domain to reclaim them for the city. They then tear down these houses so they are not dragging down home values. Sometimes they even let the other residents in the neighborhood use the land to grow a community garden. This program has been an amazing success and this extra is one of my favorites. There's a seven-minute interview with Congressman Cummings, who is willing to sit down with Michael Moore, something a lot of politician are willing to do. Chris Hedges sits down for a nine-minute interview on "unfetted capitalism" and how it destroys itself (people in charge assume they will be able to get their money out of the system before it collapses). The Rich Don't Go To Heaven is the other interview, this time with a priest about the conflict between the Abrahamic religions and Capitalism. Next up is the complete 18-minute Jimmy Carter address to the nation from July 15th, 1979. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a six-minute interview about the conflict between food and capitalism and the rise of more sustainable sources of food. Commie Taxi Drivers is a six-minute look at the Union Cab company, a workers co-operative, which is one of the success stories for a more socialist business structure. How to Run the Place Where You Work is 11-minute look at capitalism vs. democracy. Next is a five-minute look at a socialist bank that can be found it... North Dakota. North Dakota is not a bastion of socialism, but this bank has been a major success, not just in terms of helping its customers survive hard times but also in terms of making money. If only more states did the same thing. Finally, there is The Bank Kicks Them Out, Max Kicks Them Back It, which is a look at Max, a community organizer and activist who helps people get back into homes that have been foreclosed. As he points out, it actually makes more financial sense for a bank to let someone live in an foreclosed house for free than to leave it empty. In total, it's nearly an hour and a half of additional footage.

I don't have the Blu-ray, but it comes with an additional "deleted scene" plus a digital copy of the movie. It is not a film that needs to be seen in High Definition, so its value depends heavily on how much you like digital copies.

The Verdict

Having profit as a motive is not bad; after all, the co-ops Michael Moore talks about in the movie do just that. However, having profit be the motive is disastrous, as we've seen over and over again since the 1980s. Capitalism: A Love Story isn't Moore's best film, but despite some flaws it is still worth checking out, while the extras on the DVD and Blu-ray lift it to a solid purchase.


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Filed under: Video Review, Capitalism: A Love Story