Is Capitalism Evil?

Michael Moore masterfully attacks the system of capitalism in his newest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story”. Following his typical formula of evoking an emotional response from his audience before arguing his point, Moore showcases real stories of people that have been victimized by capitalism.

Moore interviews hardworking Americans that are in the process of losing their houses because the banks dramatically increased mortgage interest rates so that debtors could no longer keep up with payments. These people are then evicted incredibly quickly because the banks sold their houses immediately after foreclosure. Strangely, all of these people claimed that they had owned their homes for several decades. If that’s true, then why were they still paying mortgages?

Moore explains that they were duped by America’s financial gurus into re-mortgaging their homes. The reasons why someone would take out a second mortgage will differ on a case by case basis, but what’s apparent is that these people suffered the consequences of their actions. They weren’t forced to re-mortgage. They were advised to and they took the advice.

Yes, the banks and other financial institutions acted unscrupulously by manipulating the system and effectively forcing people out of their homes, but they aren’t the only ones responsible for these sad situations. The people that re-mortgaged their homes were adults that made decisions and paid the price for the risks they took. This sounds cold-hearted, but it’s the truth.

Moore goes on to expose corporations that take out life insurance policies on their employees, naming the company as the beneficiary so that, in the event of the employee’s death, the company profits. Wal-Mart is one example of a corporation guilty of taking out what are called “Dead Peasants” policies.

Following these cases of capitalism gone wrong, Moore includes interviews with Catholic priests that insist that capitalism is evil. Part of their defense of such a bold statement is their claim that Jesus would have no part of capitalism. However, as far as we know, Jesus took no part in marriage (Dan Brown may not agree). Does this mean that marriage is evil?

Moore reveals that financial institutions and organizations manipulated capitalism and democracy to achieve their desired end of taking more money from the American people than they could ever need. Moore is against capitalism but for democracy. Both were misused to do the evil that he’s exposing in his movie. If democracy isn’t evil for this, than neither is capitalism.

Capitalism is a system created by human beings. Just as anything else created by human beings, it will have its flaws because we are flawed creatures incapable of creating perfection. Just as guns or drugs aren’t evil in and of themselves, capitalism isn’t evil either. However, just as guns and drugs can be dangerous, so can capitalism. It simply depends on the people controlling them.

In Michael Moore’s movie, we see America’s wealthiest people use capitalism to make themselves more money than they could ever spend at the expense of the working classes. They defer to competition and free enterprise as justifications for their actions. It’s true that capitalist economies depend on competition and free enterprise. It’s unclear how that justifies the malevolent greed and callousness required for the rich to take what little the poor have to add to their own incalculable wealth.

Animals compete for resources every day and every day many die because of this competition. Competition is a part of nature. It only makes sense that humankind would include it in our economic system. What separates us from animals is that we have the ability to recognize and circumvent the dangers of unchecked competition.

It’s just as Jesus said. We’ll always have the poor among us and we can help them whenever we wish [Mark 14: 7]. God clearly indicated that it’s His will for us to care for the poor and exercise generosity with them [Deuteronomy 15: 11]. God has given us the choice to help the poor and made it clear that helping the poor is the right choice. This choice is what is missing from the current practice of capitalism, but not from all capitalists.

Warren Buffett is a great example of an ethical capitalist that defends the less fortunate. In this 2007 Sunday Times article, Buffett criticizes the American tax system arguing that it serves only to increase the disparity between the rich and poor. The lower classes are taxed a higher percentage of their income in comparison to the upper classes.

Buffett goes on to say that instead of a regressive taxation system, the economy would be better stimulated if the government spread the wealth of the upper classes amongst the lower classes, implementing a progressive system that gives tax breaks to the less fortunate rather than those with vast fortunes. This wouldn’t radically diminish the wealth of the upper classes. Their lifestyles wouldn’t even change as the money taken from them would be miniscule in comparison to the wealth that they wield.

The reason Michael Moore has come to the conclusion that capitalism is evil is because capitalism has been driven by greed. What’s worse is that many business people believe this to be acceptable proclaiming that greed is good (I realize that this is a clip from a fictional movie, but I know many business people subscribe to this lesson and even teach it in the classroom). This doesn’t mean that capitalism is evil or that it can’t be fixed. An infusion of compassion, generosity, fairness and charity would go a long way towards fixing the many problems of capitalism.

Moore gives examples of companies in the U.S that are democratically managed and are successful because of that. These companies are working within the same system of capitalism that produced the grave injustices that he highlights earlier on in the film. This suggests that there may be hope for capitalism if it’s balanced with democracy, ethics and virtues instead of being dominated by deadly sins.

Some believe that the whole economic system of capitalism needs to be replaced. I say that if they have a system in mind whose track record demonstrates that it’s capable of managing a global economy consisting of over 6 billion people, then I’m all ears.

Personally, I would rather work on improving the system we already have. A good step towards improving the system is increased government regulation of the financial sector. In a democracy, the government is accountable to its people and should be protecting us. The sooner governing authorities recognize this and act accordingly, the better.

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  1. Jack4455 said:

    I’m not a big fan of Michael Moore, yet I’m not sure I can agree completely with your reasoning: In the 6th paragraph, “…Jesus would have no part of capitalism. However, as far as we know, Jesus took no part in marriage…” is a logical fallacy. “Would have no part of” has very different connotations than “took no part in”. We all know Jesus’ teachings are largely opposite the fundamental concepts of Capitalism. That he did not marry is an unrelated concept. The fallacy becomes all the more clear with a similar statement: “Jim does not condone murder, & he has never eaten green tea ice cream, therefore either green tea ice cream is evil, or murder is A-ok.” Wouldn’t you agree?

    October 5, 2011

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