Q&A: Why Michael Moore Hates Capitalism

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Chris Pizzello / AP

Michael Moore, director/writer/producer/star of the documentary Capitalism: A Love Story

Since his debut in 1979's Roger and Me, documentary filmmaker/agitator Michael Moore has aimed his blunderbuss of a lens against large American corporations and the institutions that he believes have flat-out screwed the working class. In his latest film, Capitalism, Moore ridicules the business philosophy that has blown up the economy, resulted in 6 million job losses and required more than a $1 trillion in bailout money to keep the banks afloat — while millions of people have lost their homes to foreclosure. He's a man who has made perpetual outrage an art form in every sense of the word. He had some choice words for TIME's business editor, Bill Saporito.

What brought you back to a film about the economy?
I've been thinking about this for about the entire 20 years I've been making movies. Most of the subject matter all comes back to the simple theme of an economic system that is unfair and unjust, in which a few people with a lot of money are making decisions that cause a lot misery and heartache for millions of people.

So it wasn't a specific incident?
The Republicans and the Right Wing gave permission for all of us to use words we haven't used before: capitalism and socialism. So let's have a discourse. They called Obama a socialist because he told Joe the plumber he wanted to spread the wealth around. Then we had the crash and a month later Bush is talking about the glories of capitalism. I don't' remember in my lifetime where the President starts off a speech says, "And now class, today's topic is capitalism." They started using these words, so now it's on the table. Let's talk about it.

Bank of America wants to give back the TARP money it borrowed. In one very funny sequence in Capitalism, you back up an armored truck to various banks and demand the return of our money. Maybe you were just a tad early?
And the AIG money? I don't think we're going to see any of that. You cannot steal money, and then invest the money and then give it back. You can't, let's say you are the president of the Kiwanis. You can't take the organization's money, go make a profitable investment and then slip it back. It's a felony. It's as if you beat up your spouse and then take your spouse to the hospital and then say: 'How about that: I took her all the way down to the hospital. That's the kind of guy I am.'

You've called the TARP program part of a financial coup d'etat. But if we get our money back, with interest, and the banking system reverts to doing what it should do, haven't the citizens won?
If you give me $700 billion per year, hey I have some good ideas. I can make some money with that, for me and for you. I'm going to have my best quarter if you gave me that money. I wonder how many people in the inner cities would love a little bailout money to get out the hole they are in and have one of their best years ever. This wasn't a gift; it was a theft. They stole the people's money by gambling with it. They took the pension funds of working people and gambled away their money, and went back to the same working people and asked for $700 billion more of their money.

Capitalism documents, very powerfully, sheriffs departments evicting families after their homes have been sold in foreclosure. Clearly, lots of people got put into bad mortgages by sleazeball operators. But didn't ordinary homeowners get greedy too?
That's a completely a diversionary tactic— how greedy can you get that you'd want a roof over you head? The FBI has said that 80% of mortgage fraud has been instituted by banks, not the people, not the home buyer; that's an FBI's statistic. The No. 1 cause of bankruptcies is medical bills. The mass media has done a pretty good job of placing blame on lower income people. For two hours this week I'm going to give the other side and here's the other side: don't blame the victim.

Real wages have not increased in a decade. You would think that labor unions would have been able to take advantage of the situation and recruit more members? Why haven't they?
This is the crux of the problem: because the Republicans and the right wing have been successful in almost eliminating unions, everyone else has suffered as a result. Because unions fought for good pay and benefits, so many other people who weren't union members benefited. By decimating the working class the corporations may have increased profits short term. But what they found is that [by forcing down wages] they couldn't sell their products to their employees three years down the road. The wealthy have never liked to pay for the labor that enriches them. Ever since slavery was eliminated, they have been trying to keep it as close to slavery as they can without violating the slave laws. When you have a United or a Continental pilot having to walk dogs as a side job [to supplement their salaries], you have admitted on the spot that capitalism doesn't work. What will historians and anthropologists call it? They are not going to call us employees or associates. They are going to call us wage slaves.

But aren't you really a model capitalist? You raise money. You hire people. You create a product and sell it to the public, bearing the risk and gaining the rewards that goes along with it.
Capitalism would have never let me be a filmmaker, living in Flint, Michigan with a high school education. I was going to have to make that happen myself. My last movie, I gave it away for free on the Internet: Slacker Uprising. If I were a capitalist I would not give my employees health insurance with no deductible, which I do, including dental, and paid pregnancy leave. That's not called capitalism, that's called being a Christian and someone who believes in democracy, so that everyone should get a fair slice of the pie.

What do you want people to feel when they walk out of the theater?
I want what all filmmakers want: I want people to walk out and say to each other: 'Wow, that was great way to spend two hours. That was exhilarating. I haven't seen anything like that in a while.'