Thursday, September 17, 2009

Michael Moore Brings A New 4-Letter Word Into Mass Consciousness: "Plutonomy"


Yesterday I started my day with a hike in the hills above Los Feliz and my neighbor Cynthia asked why wouldn't just one of the health insurance industry CEOs cut back on their immense compensation packages and set a new course in being serving the public instead of using corporate policies to deny people health care. I told her about commonly used-- albeit bogus-- excuse: the legal ramifications of fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits and likened this class of person to an American aristocracy, as unlikely to give up their fabulous wealth and power as were the French aristocracy in the spring of 1789.

I ended my day with John Amato and Digby at a screening of Michael Moore's phenomenal new film, Capitalism: A Love Story in Westwood, with Moore hammering home the chilling statistic that the richest 1 percent of Americans now have more financial wealth than the "bottom" 95 percent combined. Before we got to see the film, Michael came sauntering down the aisle and told us that the person who was supposed to introduce him hadn't arrived yet and asked if anyone else would like to. A thousand hands went up. Michael picked the wrong one. Oh, the guy was a definite admirer of Michael and his work but, alas, had internalized the expensive and effective propaganda spin that has been deployed to trivialize Moore's incredible work. In the glowing, obviously off the cuff, introduction the speaker referred to the completely bogus CNN and Fox slurs that Moore plays fast and loose with the facts. In fact, he doesn't. As he pointed out, he's still got the $10,000 cash reward he's offered to anyone who could point to an example of a misstatement of fact, something that is woven into the conventional wisdom high priced PR firms have successfully and quite purposefully-- as we have found out from ex-Insurance Industry PR honcho Wendell Potter-- instilled in corporate media talking heads incapable of critical thinking.

Capitalism: A Love Story is certainly Michael's most radical work yet-- and probably his best (Jay Leno thinks so). With heroes like Marcy Kaptur and Jesus Christ and villains like Reagan, Bush, Cheney and many of those surrounding our still revered Little Father he never lets the viewer lose sight of the fact that the real enemy is, and has always been, a system that oppresses everyday working families by putting greed and avarice on a pedestal (or alter).

Moore has no trouble vilifying-- and justifiably so-- Wall Street vultures and working family enemies like Obama lieutenants Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, but he isn't ready to make the leap that the guy whose name on the ballot last year caused him to weep in joy is also nothing more than another handmaiden of the class enemies Moore is so perceptive in identifying and reviling. He did promise us, after the film during a Q&A session, that when if Obama betrays us and chooses Wall Street over the American people-- as though he hadn't already done that by staffing decisions starting with Wall Street gangster Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff)-- his film critiquing Obama would make his analysis of Bush look like a Disney flic. He hopes that day never comes and reminded us that "Obama's all we've got."

On of the most chilling mechanisms he used in the film included memos from Cigna-- about dead peasants insurance policies big corporations take out on their employees-- and CitiGroup, celebrating how the U.S. is now effectively ruled by a "plutonomy," but warning of the dangers of democracy in which mere voters could prevent the plutocrats from getting their way (meaning, essentially, enslaving the rest of us).

Economist Michael Weisbrot penned a glowing OpEd for the Guardian a few days ago, extolling Moore's effective analysis of a system that is broken and needs to be discarded. As he points out, the film doesn't just take cheap shots at the seamy side of the American economy; "he is questioning whether the whole incentive structure, moral values and political economy of American capitalism is fit for human beings."
As an economist who operates in the think-tank world, I have to appreciate this work. He gets the economic story right. How is it that Michael Moore's father could buy a house and raise a family on the income of one auto worker, and still have a pension for his retirement? And yet this is not possible in the vastly more productive economy of today? The answer is not complicated: in the first half of the post-War era, employees shared in the gains from productivity growth; since 1973, most of them have hardly done so at all. (Productivity growth has also slowed.) Moore also explains the structural changes, such as Ronald Reagan's rollback of union and labour relations to the 19th century, that helped bring about the most massive upward redistribution of income in US history. (Moore even includes graphs and charts to back up the main points with data.)

Michael closed his movie with Merle Haggard's awesome cover of the Woody Guthrie classic, "Jesus Christ" (1940). I couldn't find a copy but this original version by Woody comes a lot closer to what Michael was getting at than the more recent version by U2

UPDATE" Moore's Movie Will Tank Dodd's Re-election Chances

This morning CQPolitics reports that Chris Dodd's standing among independent voters is starting to improve. Dodd must also have been buoyed by the turmoil inside the GOP, where the nomination fight has been heating up and Rob Simmons is no longer guaranteed the easy slog the NRSC had promised him. But the film is just devastating to Dodd and while I watched it I kept thinking that it will depress Democratic turnout in Connecticut and kill his re-election bid. I hope he likes the home he bought though. Matt Browner Hamlin effectively answered the film's charges; so will Moore give him the $10,000 he promised for anyone finding factual errors in the movie?

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