Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story is making it big in America. The shambolic American documentary maker is appearing on all the top chat shows to promote his new film.
“Well, people want to believe that it’s not the economic system that’s at the core of all this. You know, it’s just a few bad eggs. But the fact of the matter is that, as I said to Jay [Leno], capitalism is the legalization of this greed.
“Greed has been with human beings forever. We have a number of things in our species that you would call the dark side, and greed is one of them. If you don’t put certain structures in place or restrictions on those parts of our being that come from that dark place, then it gets out of control. Capitalism does the opposite of that. It not only doesn’t really put any structure or restriction on it. It encourages it, it rewards it.”
Defining capitalism in such an ahistorical way is immensely crass. It means seeing the capitalist system as essentially a way of expressing a base human emotion. Whatever faults capitalism may have it is immensely more complicated than Moore’s childish characterisation suggests.
In fact the idea of greed in this sense is a caricature of the notion of self-interest. The implication is that humans should be motivated by factors other than the desire to become more prosperous. It is a sentiment that the rich and powerful – who want to maintain their privileged positions – are happy to indulge.
The conclusion of such an outlook is inevitably to preach restraint. If excess is the problem then curbing human desires is the solution. As a result the motor force of human progress ends up being derided.