Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Revolution Will Not Be...Monetized?

The Revolution, according to Michael Moore, has come. It may not be time to pick up the gun. But it is time to pursue a better -ism than the -ism that ails us at present. So, we're told via his latest film.

Whether or not you've seen Capitalism: A Love Story, here (for the purposes of this half-witted rant) is the executive summary of the film:

In the latter decades of the 20th Century--at the height of American prosperity--some combination of the US banking industry, the wealthiest 1% of US citizens and the US government all cahooted to abandon the US manufacturing core in favor of a speculation-based economy that was measured primarily in terms of theoretical paper wealth. In doing so, these cahooters manipulated the dreams of the average American to maintain their control of the country. The resulting evils the cahooters perpetrated have ushered many Americans right out of their own homes and their own jobs into...well...that's just it...the poor, dumb bastards who comprise America's working classes have been left with their thumbs to sit on and the dwindling hairs on their heads to give them shelter.

That's the movie. In a nutshell. And it gives us--the choir to whom Mr. Moore so lovingly sings--this plan of attack:

"We're mad as hell...we kinda know what we're mad about...we really wanna do something about it...but we don't know exactly what that will be...yet."

Oh, wait, Democracy. That was the answer one of America's greatest storytellers proposed to the problem of Capitalism gone wild. That and a Second Bill of Rights (as outlined in some very cool film of FDR) aimed at guaranteeing certain rights for wage-earners. While noble, that answer (rather, that plan) is incomplete. Democracy is certainly a tactic and the Bill of Rights 2.0 is certainly a clear goal. But how will we deploy the vote and what will we do once we have achieved that particular goal?

In the film, Moore challenges us to embrace democracy and to engage the most fundamentally American tools of civic participation in order to resuscitate our great nation. He also reminded us what happened when we tried that last winter in the midst of the debate over whether to begin issuing bailouts to American industries. kinda didn't work. We got overruled. And the industries--particularly Wall Street--enjoyed a cash injection from the dirty syringes we weren't done using ourselves.

It's easy to hate on Wall Street. But you know who has money parked on Wall Street? I do. So does my father. And his sister. And her neighbor. And that guy's kid's teacher. We're all, to some degree, invested in the greatest ponzi scheme the world has ever known. And while many of us suffer from the genius applied by some of our brightest engineering minds who have abandoned engineering in favor of finance, some of us are forever thankful that those same minds have made us money that we would not have "earned" otherwise.

Speculation is a great seductress and she knows we all dream of wiping our funky asses with Benji Franklin's big face. Sadly, though, speculation ain't what she used to be. Back in 1849, you could discover oil or gold or some other very tangible commodity whose value may flutuate but would never be called into question. A century and a half later, you can launch Twitter or get in on the ground floor of some other intangible, yet very cool thing that hardly anyone knows how to monetize but that everyone is sure is worth billions. Well, they're pretty sure. After all, the guy who founded Friendster is still rich, right?

There's a moment in C:ALS (brilliant pun of an acronym, BTW) where a woman associated with these striking Chicago workers talks optimistically about what the power of the people could yield. She ponders their collective potential as owners and asks, almost wistfully, "But where would we get the money?"

And that's the question that Moore really leaves us with. Rather, that's one of 'em. Sure, Democracy may be the answer. Tactically. But what do we really want to accomplish? Do we simply want good jobs? I thought the American Dream had to do with owning your piece of the pie. To do that, you need to bake the pie or buy the pie. Either way, you're gonna need some kind of investment in order to deliver a slice to your plate. The solution for the dilemma of capitalism--an economic system which is less about immorality than it is about inevitability--isn't so easy as voting the bums out of office and writing new laws to ensure that there will always be a clock for the clockpunchers of our country to...well...punch.

Let's suppose that Moore's Revolution were to happen, though. Would US factory doors swing back open to welcome US workers back to the jobs that would now be a key part of their birthright? Not exactly. Most likely, it would take time to return those facilities to a sound operational state. Time, as so many cliches have alerted us, is money. So we're back to that question: "Where would we get the money?"

Well...Moore's Revolution could always mimic the cheapest form of birth control known to wo/man: Pull Out. If those 200 workers from Republic Windows had pulled all their money out of the stock market (and possibly their savings accounts, CDs, IRAs, etc), they may have had a pool of money big enough to buy the company themselves and run it as a co-op. Maybe it would have worked. Maybe it wouldn't. The workers certainly would have controlled their own destiny. Which, I gather, is all Michael Moore asks of his America.

As for what Moore asks of us to conduct this Revolution, the film fails to unveil a concrete plan. But it does appear that a more detailed sketch of how to make the porkiest capitalists cry whee, whee, whee all the way back to their opulent homes lives on Moore's web site. The site certainly offers a deeper understanding of both the means and the ends associated with Moore's Revolution. Which makes a person wonder: isn't C:ALS just one big commercial for 21st Century Progressivism? While that may not be such a bad thing, the film does come across as a scratchy note passed between the kettle and the pot.

Hopefully, that pot has some gold in it. Or some seed money. Or something. 'Cause a broke revolution ain't gonna solve anyone's problems.

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