As a fan of many of Michael Moore’s films and projects, I now see them in a new perspective since I began my studies in Austrian economic theory. I believe that laissez-faire capitalism and democratic socialism have a similar goal, but a different means of achieving it, with the former being the only real way to realize the goal. I write this open letter hoping to educate him and his fans on some basic economic facts and myths that I took the time to learn about this past year. Here I humbly state my perspective so that new knowledge may be passed on to Michael Moore and others who share his well-meaning philosophy.
Dear Michael Moore,
I saw your interview on Larry King Live the other day, and enjoyed it very much. It made me think of my two favorite stunts you orchestrated. First was the time on The Awful Truth when you staged a mock funeral for a man who was denied a pancreas transplant by Humana, which he eventually received thanks to your actions. The second time was in Sicko when you took several chronically sick 9/11 emergency workers to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base so that they could receive the same level of medical care the terrorists receive.
I believe your heart is in the right place. I believe that the vast majority of Americans want the same things for all people: more wealth, prosperity, freedom, access to healthcare, better education, world peace, adequate job opportunities, and so on. The difference between you and me, that is, the difference between a laissez-faire capitalist and a social democrat, is that you believe prosperity can be achieved by redistribution, whereas I believe prosperity is a natural effect of allowing people to live freely and respecting their right to the private ownership of property.
Based on your rhetoric, you believe that big business is the mortal enemy of the 21st-century common man. You posit the notion that big businesses only got that way by ripping off their customers, their employees and then bribing government officials to look the other way. Your solution to this: elect Democrats and they will fix everything.
However, based on an omission during your interview, I don’t think you have faith in the Democrats’ ability to fix things either. You lambasted McCain for voting for the $700 billion bailout, exclaiming what an outrage it was to steal from the poor and give to the rich, but you didn’t mention the fact that both Obama and Biden voted for the bailout too. How are the Democrats on your side when so many voted for the bailout?
I don’t believe either the Democrats or Republicans are on your side or my side, because I believe they are both on the same side. That is, they are both on the side of taking from the many and giving to the few. The bank bailout is just business as usual, only this time people paid attention because of its huge scope and ramifications.
In your interview, you seemed so excited at the prospect of having a Democratic President, House, and Senate so that an FDR style administration could be enacted to fix the problems caused by six years of a Republican majority. I urge you to read the chapter on FDR from the book The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, by Thomas Woods. For starters, I would hate to see the Japanese be put into prison, gold to be made contraband, and for crops and livestock to be purposely destroyed to raise prices. Read the free e-book America’s Great Depression by Murray Rothbard for a sound argument that government intervention, not the free market, caused the Great Depression.
Instead of educating you merely on what’s wrong with big government, I’d rather tell you what’s right with laissez-faire capitalism, how it has benefited you, and how it’s the only fair and just economic system that has been discovered.
Your movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 broke many records. It grossed over $23 million in its first week in release and over $100 million during its entire run. You sold two million DVDs on its first day of release. Surely, there were other filmmakers vying for the number-one spot on the same weekend you released Fahrenheit. Many of them poured their heart and soul into it and probably risked a higher budget than you did. Yet, if I asked you to share some of that $23 million with the 2nd through 10th place finishers, you’d look at me as if I were crazy likewise if I demanded you split up that $100 million you earned with other documentary makers who put out films that year and lost money. Didn’t they try just as hard as you? Didn’t they believe in their project as much as you did? Why should they be allowed to go broke if they worked hard and played by the rules?
The reason you wouldn’t share your box office receipts with them is because you earned it. Being an entrepreneur, you felt that back in the summer of 2004 the world was ready for a movie about George W. Bush and would be willing to pay money to see it. You put up the risk, produced it and released it at what you thought would be an opportune time. Obviously, you guessed well. The masses agreed that a movie about George W. Bush was what the market needed and it acknowledged this through record box office receipts. The people did this voluntarily and without coercion. Likewise, you did not cheat, steal, or bribe your way to the top; you earned that money honestly by providing something the people wanted. Had you made a poorly made movie, released it a week later when Spiderman 2 came out, or done anything else out of step, you may have lost your shirt.
Your box office success is an example of economic freedom. You got your money because millions of people gave it to you. Your number-one market position for the week of June 27th, 2004 wasn’t determined by a Senate subcommittee or a House resolution; it was determined by the market, that is, the people. What’s more is that the people who revile your name and your works didn’t have to contribute to you; only the ones who wanted to did.
This is the way laissez-faire capitalism works: you produce something you think other people want, and if indeed they do, they’ll trade something you want in return. In your case, each consumer traded eight dollars for a theater seat and a screening of your movie. What’s more is that both parties benefited from the trade: you’re better off with the eight dollars than you were with an unwatched movie, and in theory, they’re better off seeing your movie than they were keeping the eight dollars.
We do not have pure laissez-faire capitalism in this country. As it is with honest businessmen such as yourself, if you earn a lot of money by providing people with what they want, the government takes away a good portion of it in the form as taxes and spends them on wars and other projects you don’t like. If you lose your investment, the government does not refund the debts you incurred. That’s the story with the American economic system: do a good job, get taxed; do a bad job and you’ll have to lick your wounds. That is, of course, unless you’re politically connected.
The bank bailout is a great example of what is not laissez-faire capitalism. When a business achieves a prominent position through political maneuvering, it is known as crony capitalism or corporatism. Crony capitalists use regulations, subsidies and get laws passed that favor their business or industry. All of these methods require the heavy hand of government to make it all possible. Obama, McCain, and Biden all voted for crony capitalism this October.
In your movie Sicko, you showed us another example of crony capitalism at its finest. President Nixon’s HMO act of 1973 set a precedent that is still with us today. Under the act, grants and loans were provided to investors who created HMOs, the kind you deplored in your movie. This was a vicious government intervention because it steered investors in the healthcare industry towards HMOs rather than alternatives that could have served the people better. If you were an investor, would you be more inclined to invest in something that provided free money and cheap loans or would you try your luck in a sector of the healthcare industry that provided no such safeguards? With a looming subsidy hanging over the creation of every HMO, can you really blame the investors for taking an advantage that only the government could provide?
Michael, if you trade your ball cap for a Sherlock Holmes hat and investigated the machinations behind what you perceive as unfair business practices, you will see a government rule, ordinance, subsidy, or law backing it up. This is the status quo of our American economic system.
I am not an expert on Austrian economics, just a movie fan who sees a kindred spirit in you, someone who wants to leave the world a better place from whence he came. If your predictions for a Democratic majority come true, I urge you to do two things. One, keep an eye on the Democrats and see what they do that is indeed different in principle from the Republicans. Secondly, do as I did and read a few books on Austrian economic theory and decide for yourself which system is best suited for achieving a sustained level of peace, justice and prosperity for the 21st century. I recommend Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt, Economics for Real People by Gene Callahan and most importantly, read What Has Government Done with Our Money? by Murray Rothbard, also available as a free e-book from Mises.org.
When you’re done with those, and if you are so moved as I was after reading them, I would urge you to make a movie based on your new experiences. If you’re at loss with where to begin, then start on one of the greatest obstacles to peace, prosperity and wealth the world has ever known: the Federal Reserve System.
Sincerely, Todd Steinberg
October 25, 2008