I have just seen Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story. I thought it was quite good. It is, of course, entirely specific to the United States, and the financial practices portrayed are less acute in Australia. We must look massively over-regulated from the vantage of Wall St.
The thesis of the documentary is that capitalism is an evil which is incompatible with liberal democracy. The film does a great job of drawing attention to the human impact of the decisions and practices of banks and corporations. It also illustrates how the middle and working classes can be trapped in horrific economic circumstances through no fault of their own, and largely through the greed of those who control the primary financial levers.
I don’t think capitalism is the root of all evil. In attempting to think about economics within a Christian biblical worldview, some tenets of capitalism are clearly held (for example, private ownership: Leviticus 25, Acts 5:1-10). Elements of other economic systems are also affirmed, particularly the call to give generously and sacrificially from our own wealth to meet the needs of others (2 Corinthians 8 & 9, cf. Exodus 16). No economic system is prescribed by the biblical authors; rather we are to wisely steward what God has given us.
However, the film makes the vitally important point that capitalism and liberal democracy cannot exist peacefully side-by-side. At some points they will clash. Economics and politics are not separate. If democracy is for the good of all, then it must place some limits on capitalism; unless we hold capitalism as the more important, which a Wall Street Journal columnist interviewed in the film does openly.
So, that’s the film. What really interested me, though, was the response in the cinema. I saw it in Newtown, and 80% of those in attendance were middle aged, middle class urbanites. Socially aware. Environmentally conscious. Bush-haters (one woman verbally recoiled whenever the former President appeared onscreen). Exclamations of dismay and disgust were (rightly) uttered as weeping mothers recounted their evictions. The film ends with Moore calling those who are watching to join him in a growing social movement against the powers of capitalism. There was applause at the film’s end.
But will anyone really make a difference? It strikes me that even if some who were present do write a letter to the federal government calling for tighter regulation and support those who lose their homes in conversation and via petition, many would be less willing to buy a house for a dispossessed family, or take them in. In a political system with strong government intervention, it is easy to leave ‘helping people’ up to the state. This often severely limits our social consciences. Welfare? Yes, but as long as it doesn’t cost me anything.
The biblical approach to wealth is clear. What we have is not our own. Do not seek wealth, and be radically generous. How do urban, socially aware, middle-class whiteys like me stack up? Are we hungry for justice, or simply angry with those who are wealthier than we? Have we realised that we can’t all be ‘rich,’ or are we finding new ways to justify our own wealth by comparing it to that of others?