While watching “The Young Victoria” the other day, a film about England’s 19th century queen, the thought struck me: Perhaps these odes to feudal aristocracies — films like “Marie Antoinette” or “The Duchess” — are so popular because they seem so familiar; just replace the lords and ladies with CEOs and trophy wives, the moated castles with gated communities, and the outrageous opulence with, well outrageous opulence.
We like to think we live in democracies, but even that bastion of democracy, The United States, is learning the hard way that feudal kleptocracy is back. What else do you call it, when Wall Street can essentially loot the U.S. treasury at will (the so-called bailout), and the upper 1 percent of society holds more wealth than the lower 95 percent combined.
That thought was still ringing in my head when I saw Michael Moore’s documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story” and learned how U.S. companies are covertly taking out life-insurance policies on their employees that make them worth more to their employers dead than alive. The industry term for such policies is — put down your coffee now — “dead peasants” insurance.
Does that piss you off? Moore wants you even angrier. The film unveils a confidential strategic planning document from Citigroup to its major investors, which concludes that the U.S. is now a plutocracy, and we’d better get used to it. The most potent short-term “threat” — as our lords see it — is that “the nonrich have equal voting power.”
“Capitalism” is Moore’s look at the dysfunctional economic/social system we’re stuck with, and it favors such anecdotal evidence over rigorous analysis. Thus we get hardworking farm folk being evicted from their homes, airline pilots on food stamps because their pay is so low, and a judge who received kickbacks for filling a privatized jail with teen offenders. Despite Moore’s usual grandstanding — wrapping yellow crime scene tape around Citigroup’s offices — there’s evidence aplenty that Adam Smith’s invisible hand is mostly lifting from the till.
Moore has been a consistently strident voice on the left, but he’s now perceived as so partisan that his last few films — “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Sicko” — have only been preaching to the converted. With “Capitalism,” Moore seems to have realized he’s not going to change any minds, and he’s instead concentrated on pure rabble-rousing. When “change you can believe in” becomes watered-down half-measures that give the illusion of reform, we certainly do need someone yelling at us to storm the bastille.