Michael Moore and Capitalism
My problem with Michael Moore? He's kind'a brightly dumb. You know what I mean?
Michael Moore was very revealing this a.m. (Thurs. Sept. 24) on Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" (I never understood whether Amy meant "Democracy--NOW!"--as a demand or "Democracy Now"--NOW in the present tense). Revealing in the sense that he admits he's just a dumb jerky filmmaker who thinks like he knows how to entertain people with a camera and his ability to take what the camera films and turn it into a documentational type of make-you-realize (wake you up) movie.
He admits he's not an economist and doesn't understand terms like derivatives and sub-prime mortgages (and I'm thinking, neither do most economists). He admits he has no alternative to Capitalism nor is he favoring one economic system over another. His motive for his latest film, besides fun and profits, "Capitalism, a Love Story," is meant to show We the People that 1% of all of us owns almost 100% of our capital/wealth and how that 1% of us not only owns our wealth but they own our government (our politicians) and, hell, they own US, too!
Then Michael Moore made a revelation that I had never thought of in terms of his motives in making his disruptive documovies. Moore when asked why in his movie he had no alternatives to Capitalism revealed that he was a Catholic and had grown up in the Church, attending Catholic schools, and loyal to the doctrines of the Catholic Church. He said he certainly had some problems with the Church itself but not with its doctrines--"its moral doctrines" its definitions of good and evil according to the teachings of Jesus.
Moore then went on to say he tried to portray Jesus in "Capitalism, a Love Story" as a Capitalist using scenes of Jesus speaking from Franco Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth" movie to show Jesus the Capitalist (with one of Moore's actor's voice dubbed in putting words in Zeffirelli's Jesus's mouth) teaching Capitalism.
Moore says whatever system replaces Capitalism should be based on the basic principles he feels Jesus taught through a bunch of questions (Jesus was Jewish, right? Questions? What did you expect?) he asked in terms of whether you or I can get into heaven or not, the basic questions being 1) When you saw a starving person did you feed him? 2)When you saw a person in dire need did you help him? 3) When you saw a person suffering from a disease or accident did you try and help him regain his health or did you comfort him in his time of pain and suffering?
So Moore is a Catholic. There is Socialism in the Catholic Doctrine. Dorothy Day was a Catholic Socialist. Hell, Jacques Maritain was a Catholic Existentialist. When in my early life I was a social worker in the juvenile delinquency business, it was hard as hell to get help from the state, parish, or Federal welfare systems in terms of psychological or psychiatric evaluations or in terms of family counseling and family aid, though it was easy to get this help from Catholic Charities or through the Catholic Church social services workers.
So Michael Moore is a big dumb jerky filmmaker born and raised and still living in a country suburb of the city of Flint, Michigan (hometown of our own thedailygrowlerhousepianist), a nice little Catholic boy, his daddy a country doctor, his wife from the same source--his parents living through the Great Depression--and that's where Michael Moore's sense of values comes from, the Socialist side of the Catholic Church, the principled side of the Catholic Church that does believe in the Jesus adage of "the only commandment now, after my dying on the god-damn cross did away with you Jewish brothers and sisters having to follow those Mosaic Ten Commandments and do all that messy animal sacrificing and shit, is 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.'" And that's a hard principle (commandment) to follow especially when you live in a Capitalist society that teaches rugged individualism as the principle path of success (pull yourself up by your bootstraps). Rugged individualism means that you treat your neighbor as competition.
This Capitalist road to success is unfair. No it's not democratic. Yes it is enslaving. Rather than frugality, Capitalism teaches RISK. Without RISK you have no CHANCE at the accumulation of wealth, which is your goal, more wealth, more power. Some say opportunity knocks but once, but true Capitalists believe it knocks every morning when you wake up and knocks all day long. YOU must figure out when it's knocking loudest and you must know just when to open that door to opportunity at just the right time.
Reagan economists (the Milton Friedman U of Chicago crowd--the home of Leo Strauss the father of the Neo-Cons and the New World Order) believed that the 1% who own nearly all of our wealth are compassionate people who do not need government regulations to make them be responsible citizens or government taxes on them at the highest rates (We the People used to tax the rich at 50% compared to the average 25% that the workingclass has taken directly out of their earnings) to make them socially and culturally responsible citizens. From whence comes the trickle-down theory, the theory George H.W. "Pappy" Bush called Voodoo Economics.
Capitalism is a form of Voodoo. It is. Its constant beating drums lure you into its dreamworld. In that dreamworld, you have a chance at magical success--as long as you keep your mind on the beatings of those drums (think about the role of drums on the slave ships) and stay in this dreamstate, you have a CHANCE at becoming POWERFUL! And Pappy Bush was right; yes, the trickle-down theory is via favor, favor gained through believing strongly in the voodoo--the voodoo of lotteries, scratch offs, gambling casinos, bingo games, coupon collecting, playing the commodities market or playing at being a day trader where at any minute of any day your $5,000 investment will be worth a million bucks! Getting-rich-quick is always the prize...which is all Capitalism is: a chance to get rich quick. Like Mayor Mike Bloomberg! Like Rudi Guiliani. Like Judith Regan. Like Howard Stern. Like Michael Moore.
Under Socialism celebrity and stardom are based on community service, humanitarian service, spreading the wealth around equally (true democracy). In other words, We the People should own our common ground. Which means We the People through our government own the wealth of the nation. We the People own the oil, the gas, the cattle ranges, the parks, the plazas, the land on which we build our houses or our businesses. Read Henry George's great book Progress and Poverty. In it George explains the meaning of a commonwealth and all about being able to lease land from We the People (the single-tax theory) as long as we IMPROVE that land and don't rent it and let it lie fallow or unimproved. The things we put on that land we are leasing from the commonwealth are called Capital improvements--that's your capital. Money is not Capital. Money is merely a method of exchange. Therefore, money is not wealth. Read George's book--it's too much for me to dwell on right now.
I don't think it's possible that we'll ever have Socialism in this country. We are trained from kindergarten on in Capitalism. We have a history of respecting and making legends of our most ruthless Capitalists, from George Washington (an aristocrat plantation owner, slaveholder, and military man--plus he was a WHITE man) on down the line right on up to our first Black (he's half-Black/half-White remember) president. Obama is a died-in-the-wool, Hah-vard-trained Capitalist. He was trained at Hah-vard in corporate law. Corporate law is Capitalism law. Obama knows that if he pushed for Socialist solutions to societal problems Sarah Palen running with Tom DeLay could win the next presidential election.
The Christians, and guess what, the Muslims, too, call Socialism "secular humanism." Capitalism is very religious. Capitalism depends on a GOD for its divine blessing. A Capitalist Christian will tell you, yes, it's almost impossible for a rich man to enter heaven UNLESS...aha, and here's the Christian-Capitalist spin: this rich man gives a four-cornered portion of his wealth--in the Christian bible this is based on the production of wealth based on agrarian land holdings--like if a man owns 3000 hectres of land on which he is growing wheat or barley, the the Christian-Judaic God demands he take all the profits he makes off four corner hectres of his land down to his local priest and hand it over to God. Owning land is very important to Christian Capitalists. The USA was based on White male landholders ruling us. Aristocrats. Our Constitution was written by an aristocrat landholder and slaveholder, a redheaded White man who had the hots for those young Black slave girls who walked around half-naked down in his slave quarters, which he could easily spy on using one of his telescopes. Though the slave girls were half naked showed old Tom Jefferson was frugal with his slaves's clothing expenditures, though his own clothing was the finest made by tailors in London and Paris where Jefferson was for long periods of time--being an ambassador, an ambassadorship being one of the payoffs for being a good Capitalist and conspicuous consumer (Jefferson collected rare books and rare wines and his collection of silverware was large enough that a contribution of his silverware and that of George Washington was the source of our first silver coins, the silver dollars, halves, and quarters of 1794 (on which Liberty (a woman) was depicted with long flowing hair--therefore our first silver coins are known as "Flowing Hair" coins--Liberty meaning the freedom to be as wealthy a son of a bitch as you can get--true Liberty meaning you've wealth enough to do as you please in your pursuit of YOUR individual happiness, which we all know means "if you're happy, you gotta be rich."
Of course, there's National Socialism...oh, but that's right, we already have that. That's what Corporate Socialism is. The Corporations own our wealth...and NOW they do. The Corporations own us all lock, stock, and barrel.
Henry George said the following: “What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power.” Amen to that Brother George. Check out Gibbons's great book: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The Following Is the Afterword to Henry George's Progress & Poverty by his granddaughter, Agnes George DeMille (yep, Cecil B. DeMille's niece):
Who Was Henry George?
by Agnes George deMille
A HUNDRED YEARS AGO a young unknown printer in San Francisco wrote a book he called Progress and Poverty. He wrote after his daily working hours, in the only leisure open to him for writing. He had no real training in political economy. Indeed he had stopped schooling in the seventh grade in his native Philadelphia, and shipped before the mast as a cabin boy, making a complete voyage around the world. Three years later, he was halfway through a second voyage as able seaman when he left the ship in San Francisco and went to work as a journeyman printer. After that he took whatever honest job came to hand. All he knew of economics were the basic rules of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and other economists, and the new philosophies of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, much of which he gleaned from reading in public libraries and from his own painstakingly amassed library. Marx was yet to be translated into English.
George was endowed for his job. He was curious and he was alertly attentive to all that went on around him. He had that rarest of all attributes in the scholar and historian that gift without which all education is useless. He had mother wit. He read what he needed to read, and he understood what he read. And he was fortunate; he lived and worked in a rapidly developing society. George had the unique opportunity of studying the formation of a civilization -- the change of an encampment into a thriving metropolis. He saw a city of tents and mud change into a fine town of paved streets and decent housing, with tramways and buses. And as he saw the beginning of wealth, he noted the first appearance of pauperism. He saw degradation forming as he saw the advent of leisure and affluence, and he felt compelled to discover why they arose concurrently.
The result of his inquiry, Progress and Poverty, is written simply, but so beautifully that it has been compared to the very greatest works of the English language. But George was totally unknown, and so no one would print his book. He and his friends, also printers, set the type themselves and ran off an author's edition which eventually found its way into the hands of a New York publisher, D. Appleton & Co. An English edition soon followed which aroused enormous interest. Alfred Russel Wallace, the English scientist and writer, pronounced it "the most remarkable and important book of the present century." It was not long before George was known internationally.
During his lifetime, he became the third most famous man in the United States, only surpassed in public acclaim by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. George was translated into almost every language that knew print, and some of the greatest, most influential thinkers of his time paid tribute. Leo Tolstoy's appreciation stressed the logic of George's exposition: "The chief weapon against the teaching of Henry George was that which is always used against irrefutable and self-evident truths. This method, which is still being applied in relation to George, was that of hushing up .... People do not argue with the teaching of George, they simply do not know it." John Dewey fervently stressed the originality of George's work, stating that, "Henry George is one of a small number of definitely original social philosophers that the world has produced," and "It would require less than the fingers of the two hands to enumerate those who, from Plato down, rank with Henry George among the world's social philosophers." And Bernard Shaw, in a letter to my mother, Anna George, years later wrote, "Your father found me a literary dilettante and militant rationalist in religion, and a barren rascal at that. By turning my mind to economics he made a man of me...."
Inevitably he was reviled as well as idolized. The men who believed in what he advocated called themselves disciples, and they were in fact nothing less: working to the death, proclaiming, advocating, haranguing, and proselytizing the idea. But it was not implemented by blood, as was communism, and so was not forced on people's attention. Shortly after George's death, it dropped out of the political field. Once a badge of honor, the title, "Single Taxer," came into general disuse. Except in Australia and New Zealand, Taiwan and Hong Kong and scattered cities around the world, his plan of social action has been neglected while those of Marx, Keynes, Galbraith and Friedman have won great attention, and Marx's has been given partial implementation, for a time, at least, in large areas of the globe.
But nothing that has been tried satisfies. We, the people, are locked in a death grapple and nothing our leaders offer, or are willing to offer, mitigates our troubles. George said, "The people must think because the people alone can act."
We have reached the deplorable circumstance where in large measure a very powerful few are in possession of the earth's resources, the land and its riches and all the franchises and other privileges that yield a return. These positions are maintained virtually without taxation; they are immune to the demands made on others. The very poor, who have nothing, are the object of compulsory charity. And the rest -- the workers, the middle-class, the backbone of the country -- are made to support the lot by their labor.
We are taxed at every point of our lives, on everything we earn, on everything we save, on much that we inherit, on much that we buy at every stage of the manufacture and on the final purchase. The taxes are punishing, crippling, demoralizing. Also they are, to a great extent, unnecessary.
But our system, in which state and federal taxes are interlocked, is deeply entrenched and hard to correct. Moreover, it survives because it is based on bewilderment; it is maintained in a manner so bizarre and intricate that it is impossible for the ordinary citizen to know what he owes his government except with highly paid help. We support a large section of our government (the Internal Revenue Service) to prove that we are breaking our own laws. And we support a large profession (tax lawyers) to protect us from our own employees. College courses are given to explain the tax forms which would otherwise be quite unintelligible.
All this is galling and destructive, but it is still, in a measure, superficial. The great sinister fact, the one that we must live with, is that we are yielding up sovereignty. The nation is no longer comprised of the thirteen original states, nor of the thirty-seven younger sister states, but of the real powers: the cartels, the corporations. Owning the bulk of our productive resources, they are the issue of that concentration of ownership that George saw evolving, and warned against.
These multinationals are not American any more. Transcending nations, they serve not their country's interests, but their own. They manipulate our tax policies to help themselves. They determine our statecraft. They are autonomous. They do not need to coin money or raise armies. They use ours.
And in opposition rise up the great labor unions. In the meantime, the bureaucracy, both federal and local, supported by the deadly opposing factions, legislate themselves mounting power never originally intended for our government and exert a ubiquitous influence which can be, and often is, corrupt.
I do not wish to be misunderstood as falling into the trap of the socialists and communists who condemn all privately owned business, all factories, all machinery and organizations for producing wealth. There is nothing wrong with private corporations owning the means of producing wealth. Georgists believe in private enterprise, and in its virtues and incentives to produce at maximum efficiency. It is the insidious linking together of special privilege, the unjust outright private ownership of natural or public resources, monopolies, franchises, that produce unfair domination and autocracy.
The means of producing wealth differ at the root: some is thieved from the people and some is honestly earned. George differentiated; Marx did not. The consequences of our failure to discern lie at the heart of our trouble.
This clown civilization is ours. We chose this of our own free will, in our own free democracy, with all the means to legislate intelligently readily at hand. We chose this because it suited a few people to have us do so. They counted on our mental indolence and we freely and obediently conformed. We chose not to think.
Henry George was a lucid voice, direct and bold, that pointed out basic truths, that cut through the confusion which developed like rot. Each age has known such diseases and each age has gone down for lack of understanding. It is not valid to say that our times are more complex than ages past and therefore the solution must be more complex. The problems are, on the whole, the same. The fact that we now have electricity and computers does not in any way controvert the fact that we can succumb to the injustices that toppled Rome.
To avert such a calamity, to eliminate involuntary poverty and unemployment, and to enable each individual to attain his maximum potential, George wrote his extraordinary treatise a hundred years ago. His ideas stand: he who makes should have; he who saves should enjoy; what the community produces belongs to the community for communal uses; and God's earth, all of it, is the right of the people who inhabit the earth. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living."
This is simple and this is unanswerable. The ramifications may not be simple but they do not alter the fundamental logic.
There never has been a time in our history when we have needed so sorely to hear good sense, to learn to define terms exactly, to draw reasonable conclusions. As George said, "The truth that I have tried to make clear will not find easy acceptance. If that could be, it would have been accepted long ago. If that could be, it would never have been obscured."
We are on the brink. It is possible to have another Dark Ages. But in George there is a voice of hope.
Agnes George de Mille
New York, January, 1979
Agnes George de Mille was the granddaughter of Henry George. Famous in her own right as a choreographer and the founder of the Agnes de Mille Heritage Dance Theater, she received the Handel Medallion, New York's highest award for achievement in the arts. She was the author of thirteen books.
Henry George wrote: "So long as the increased wealth that progress brings goes to building great fortunes and increasing luxury, progress is not real. When the contrast between the haves and have-nots grows ever sharper, progress cannot be permanent. To educate people condemned to poverty only makes them restless. To base a state with glaring social inequalities on political institutions where people are supposed to be equal is to stand a pyramid on its head. Eventually, it will fall." [From the Introduction to Progress & Poverty.] [I, bye the bye, have a Degree in Applied Economics from the Henry George School.]
for The Daily Growler