I went to see Capitalism: A Love Story, and like most of Michael Moore's movies, it proposes a lot of questions and leaves little in the way of answers. This is not a bad thing, mind you - expecting all the answers to our economic and social ills to come out of a two-hour movie is foolhardy. But Moore has the balls to challenge a lot of our sacred cows on economic policy, and these are worth musing about here.
I don't post on economic issues here a lot, not because I don't think they're important, but because I don't know a whole lot about them. I went on a mini-rant on economic policy in response to Balko once, but that's about it.
So here are some ill-formed questions that came out of the movie with me, and that perhaps people with better economic knowledge can answer...
- People on the right throw around the term "socialism" as if it's a proven evil. If it's socialism, it's necessarily bad. Well, is socialism necessarily a bad thing? Why? What about capitalism makes it better than socialism?
- Let's say our current employment climate continues. If I reach the point where I'm reasonably wealthy, and could provide for my daughter's well-being and my own with the wealth I had accrued to that point, would it be ethical for me to continue working no matter what age I'm at, and whether or not I enjoyed my job? And what's the point in working more than you need to in order to live comfortably?
- Is it better to rely on a system of charity to help the poor or compel rich people to help the poor? I'm reminded of a Jewish rabbinical story I once heard. Two men of equal means come upon a beggar in the street. One is not compelled (in this case, by his religion) to give anything, yet out of his sense of compassion, he gives $5. The other is repulsed by the beggar, but because his religion demands it, he grudgingly gives $10. Who has done the better deed? The rabbis said the guy who gave the most money, of course - his heart will catch up, but in the meantime, more good is being done. So is compelling the rich to help the poor (via taxation) more ethical than removing all compulsion and expecting altruism to do the trick?
- Moore claims the solution to our economic problems is to "destroy" capitalism. But he spends half the movie criticizing a cozy relationship between Capitol Hill and the banks that doesn't resemble actual capitalism at all. If we destroy the corporatist mentality in Congress, would capitalism lead to the negative things we liberals associate with it? On the other hand, is the capitalist ideal even possible, or will capitalism always breed corporatism? And because ideal anything is impossible, aren't some regulations necessary for the proper functioning of a real-life capitalist marketplace?