Is Capitalism Evil? Michael Moore Thinks So

In what will surely become an infamous scene in his oeuvre, Michael Moore backs an armored truck onto the sidewalk outside several bailed-out New York City financial institutions and asks the banks (or at least their security guards) to give back the people's money. It's a guerrilla tactic that Moore has perfected and that's good for a laugh, but it hardly delves into the causes of the global economic collapse. Moore's thesis in his latest movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, is that our current economic system is bad, even evil. But what economic system would Moore prefer? The filmmaker recently spoke with NEWSWEEK's Nancy Cook about the way he invests his own money, the future of industrial towns and cities, and the people to blame for the Great Recession. Excerpts:

What have you done with all the money you've made? Do you invest it?
I don't invest in anything. I don't own any stock. I don't participate in the system. Why would I want to put my hard-earned money into a casino? Now, when you invest, people are taking secondary bets on other secondary bets and concocting weird schemes. No normal person can benefit.

Is Wall Street alone to blame for the financial crisis? What about consumers who spent beyond their means?
That was the storyline during the first couple weeks of the crash—all of those people who took out loans they couldn't afford. But there have always have been people who have lived beyond their means. There are always those people who don't understand how to watch their money. They've never caused a crash before.

The banks and the lending institutions perpetrated a fraud so that people would never really understand what they would owe the banks. Elizabeth Warren [a law professor at Harvard University and chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel] took her credit-card contract into her class at Harvard and asked them to look at what the interest rate was. They couldn't find a straight answer in that long document. That's not an accident. That's on purpose. Hopefully, the Justice Department will attack this and clean this up, but I don't blame the people who are victimized by this.

The movie idealizes the 1950s and 1960s, before foreign countries became so competitive and the global economy emerged. It's not realistic to go back to those times now, so how can the U.S. fit into a global marketplace?
Where is the moral question that gets asked? The question can't just be about making money. If the company was just about making money, then why doesn't General Motors just sell crack? They don't sell crack because, as a society, we don't let them sell crack. We can actually tell a company, "No, you can't move that work to a factory in Mexico. You have to stay."

What role have unions played in all this? Many people blame part of the problems of the car industry on the inflexibility of the unions.
That's all they've been: flexible. They should win some kind of limbo contest. They've cut their pension, cut their days off, and on and on. Every time they were flexible, they just got whacked harder. The problem with unions is that they've been too accommodating. If I was a member of Congress, I would not allow companies to do layoffs just to make a profit.

What do you think will happen to blue-collar industrial cities, like your hometown of Flint, Mich.?
We can't let the Flint, Michigans, of this country die off. These cities have industrial infrastructure, and this should be seen as a national-security issue. If you let the factories collapse, we will need those factories someday. We need them to produce mass transit, to make cars that are not run with the internal-combustion engine, and to make alternative energy systems. We need factories to do these things.

Throughout the movie, you call capitalism evil, but what's the alternative?
I'm not an economist. I'm a filmmaker. I'm not going to pretend to give an answer here, but I believe there are enough people in this country to construct an economic order for the 21st century. We could take the best parts of capitalism and socialism and figure out what's best for us. A new system doesn't have to be created out of whole cloth. It can be created with democratic principles and Judeo-Christian ethics. But we'll never get there until we have publicly financed elections like you have in other Western democracies. I don't know how that's ever going to happen, but who would have thought three years ago that we would see an African-American president elected in our lifetime?

What specific financial or economic reforms are you advocating for? The movie is a real call to arms, but it doesn't say what exactly you'd like to see change.
I want President Obama to declare a moratorium on evictions. I want peasant insurance outlawed. I want pilots to be paid a decent wage. I want the American public to join with me and appeal to our elected officials. We're just cherry-picking here, and this doesn't really correct the real problem. Somehow our elected members of Congress have to have more of a say in economic policy with a little less power concentrated in the Fed. I mean, why is it that we've spent a year since the collapse and not had a single regulation passed?