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Two Voices on Michael Moore’s “Capitalism”

This week two young Adventist scholars offer their takes on Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, which is in theaters now. Daniel Blair is finishing a masters degree in Religion at La Sierra University (with an emphasis in New Testament studies) who holds that capitalism has become antonymous to the teachings of Christ. Justin Woods is a self-employed software developer, who recently moved to Loma Linda to pursue a doctoral degree in Geology. He is happiest when enjoying Indian, Thai, or Ethiopian food.
Capitalism’s True Story
Dan Blair
If Michael Moore were concerned about making a box office hit or about making a few bucks, he would not have released Capitalism. Why?
Chances are, anyone who tells the story of those oppressed by the system we belong to (a system many are so proud to be part of) will not produce a blockbuster. Neither will most films do well, one might imagine, that call out our nation’s form of government–a government run by an elite few who profit from the tribulations of its own citizens.
However, Moore is not only successful in his attempt to expose capitalism, he is irrefutable.
Capitalism provides firsthand accounts of people being pushed out of their own property, property they’ve worked so hard to keep, while others are laid-off work without compensation so the company they’ve devoted themselves to can make higher profit margins. Capitalism is all about profit!
The film offers unforgettable footage of families who discover that their loved ones who have passed away while pursuing the “American Dream,” were being exploited by the very companies they worked for.
The companies make money off their employees by taking out life insurance policies on them in order to profit from their deaths (millions of dollars in fact). But those with preconceived notions about Moore’s films as being unworthy of their hard earned dollar won’t be listening anyway.
Too bad for all of us! In the end, we all lose out when we miss Moore’s critical message about the direction that our Capitalist system is taking us.
Like the prophets of Old, Moore does not come bearing good news; he is certainly not accepted by those on top of the social/financial ladder, but his concern is to tell the rest of the story that somehow never gets told–the part of the story national pride would choose to ignore.
Well, how important is pride? When should we draw the line on pride? When does profit no longer mean living within ones means, but rather crossing over to unbridled greed?
I offer three points that make this film important for all of us as a nation.
First, “we the people,” have allowed the very system (Capitalism) that makes us modern America to become the catalyst for social degradation, stratification, and almost blatant disregard for whomever gets the short end of the stick (the reality behind the American Dream). The film documents one example after another of the people who are devastated by Capitalism. As Moore, true to his style, irreverently and at the same time so relevantly demonstrates, this system, which many praise so highly, is not only anti-Christian, it is anti-Christ.
Moore interviews members of clergy who openly share their conviction that capitalism is opposed to the examples of love as taught by the Jesus of the Gospels.
Second, “we the people,” have handed the government over to the corporate titans of Wall Street (the Corporate/Financial world). We have given the highest players of this monetary driven system free reign to do as they please; so free and deregulated in fact, that even if we didn’t want to bail them out of the 2008 financial collapse, the Senate did it without our consent…even after the House said, NO! It may seem that the U.S. Treasury is run by the government of the people. Not so! Moore demonstrates just how deeply the greed of Wall Street penetrates the U.S. government and the people who decide what financial regulations should or should not (in most cases) be placed on the corporate titans.
Third, Moore’s film demonstrates how the capitalism of today cares little about “we the people.” Airline pilots make less money than managers at McDonalds! Don’t believe it? Watch the movie.
One segment of the film in particular left me with tears in my eyes. Moore gets up close and personal with several Chicago window and door factory workers who choose to fight back and stand up for their rights. He captures the look of rejection, despair, and utter abandonment, after they are laid off without compensation for their dedicated work and loyalty. Are they powerless? No, they stand united and fight back…but I will not spoil the rest of the story through which Moore demonstrates hope for a better America.
Moore follows with examples of companies which are completely owned and operated by the workers. Each worker is an owner who has a voice and a vote, and no one can become greedy because everything, including compensation, is distributed equally from top to bottom. Successful and fair, these employee-owned companies sound like another “ism” which holds equality and fair distribution above profit.
We can no longer stand idly by and let the injustices and greed of a few be the example and representation of a system which claims to be “of, for, and by the people.” At least, for the sake of its true intent, try to see how Capitalism has taken a turn for the worse. “We the people” need to take back what is being taken away from the least of these!
Capitalism – A Different Story
Justin Woods
Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story is a critical look at the capitalist economic system as it exists in the United States today. Like previous Moore films, the overarching structure of this film is to tell stories about terrible social injustices, then place blame. The film is somewhat different from previous Moore films in that his interpretation of Christian ethics plays a major role. Moore openly displays his Catholicism and asserts a disparity between Christian ethics and capitalism.
I hoped, perhaps a bit naïvely, for a vigorous examination of the fundamental logical and intellectual basis of capitalism; something that would challenge me; something I could sink my teeth into; some real veggie-meat, if you will.
Unfortunately, this film doesn’t venture there. It is instead, cheerleading material for those who already agree with Moore’s worldview. There is no meat here, just sensationalism. The movie left me disappointed; and not because I happen to disagree with him. No doubt, the film will make Moore a lot of money, but it will have done nothing to advance the conversation about social justice or economic policy.
Moore narrates with a condescending tone throughout. The film opens with his assertion: “This is capitalism, a system of taking and giving–mostly taking.” This statement is representative of the way capitalism is addressed in the film.
According to Moore, the economic system of capitalism is, of itself, unspeakably evil and is singularly responsible for virtually all social injustice in this country. A Catholic priest he interviews says of capitalism: “It is immoral. It is obscene. It is egregious. It is radical evil.” Another said, “It must be eliminated.”
A Catholic bishop reports, “The system doesn’t seem to be providing for the welfare of ALL the people, and that’s what makes it, by its very nature something contrary to the Jesus who said ‘blessed are the poor, woe to the rich’.”
I must respectfully disagree with these conclusions.
Capitalism is nothing more than the economic system that follows naturally when individuals in a society are given the freedom to make choices about their lives. There is no evil inherent in capitalism; in fact, it is perhaps the one economic system that IS inherently free of evil. It is the economic manifestation of free people exercising free will.
Freedom is messy. I will be the first to admit it. Free people have the opportunity to make bad choices, to be selfish, to be evil. But of course, those are truths that transcend any economic system, because they are problems endemic to our fallen human nature. No economic or social system can change that.
The issue of freedom of choice is a central pillar of our church’s Great Controversy doctrine. God could have restricted His created beings to doing only His will, but there would have been no joy in it, for Him or us. Instead, He and His creation are suffering through the pain and mess of freedom tainted with sin. That is not an indictment of freedom however, but of sin.
Friedrich Hayek, an influential twentieth century economist, said, “Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom.”
Freedom is one of the highest ideals for which we can reach. Indeed, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1, NIV) Apparently, freedom itself is of high enough importance that it needs no further justification, even to Christ.
The argument that capitalism is the antitheses of Christ’s character is, in my opinion, missing the point Christ was trying to make. I believe that Christ intended that each of us choose to take on His character, and thus be changed from selfish people into truly charitable, deeply loving people. In terms of social change, He wants the change to start in the hearts of individuals, spread from person to person, and thus change the society from the inside out.
What this film seems to advocate however, is the opposite view; that such change should be imposed upon individuals by government. Such a system simply cannot be successful. A government which forces individuals to support causes they disagree with, which takes their money and property in support of those causes, which oppresses their free will, would not reflect Christ’s character.

    The principle that God has delegated to human authority the right to control the conscience is the very foundation of religious tyranny and persecution. But all who reason thus lose sight of the fact that we are now living in a different dispensation, under conditions wholly different from those of Israel; that the kingdom of Israel was a type of the kingdom of Christ, which will not be set up until His second coming; and that the duties which pertain to man’s relation to God are not to be regulated or enforced by human authority. E. G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 764.

Many of the truly horrifying stories told in this film are not even the result of capitalism, but rather of failed attempts at government intervention in what should rightfully be the domain of the individual.
Perhaps the most egregious example is the inconceivably massive government “bailout” of various industries over the past year or so. There is no definition of capitalism anywhere which legitimizes giving away public funds to corporations. In fact, this conflation of private and public is the very definition of socialism. Interestingly, Moore is actually arguing against the natural outcome of the very system he is advocating.
Moore’s goal in this film seems to be to equate capitalism with corruption. I would submit, however, that capitalism equals freedom.
Unfortunately, free societies are not free of corruption. This is a sad truth which will not be fixed until Christ returns. Until then, we are called as individuals to live generously and to love sacrificially, no matter what economic system we find ourselves in.

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