Michael Moore’s latest film, Where to Invade Next? and the subjective theory of value
Love him or hate him, you have to respect Michael Moore as one of the great entrepreneurs of our time. As a filmmaker and author, he has satisfied the demand for provocative agitprop that his audience, many of whom have supported Bernie Sanders this election, delightfully consumes. In the process, he made himself millions of dollars, employed many people and – despite his tendency to play loose with facts – has elevated the documentary as an artform. He’s basically the reason why Netflix has a robust selection of docs.
As a teenager, I was completely floored the first time I saw Bowling for Columbine. It wasn’t because I agreed with the film’s critique of American gun ownership, but rather his ability to craft an superbly engaging documentary and be an all-around provocateur. Someone who pushes a lot of buttons, even your own, deserves a bit of respect. I have since made going to see the latest Michael Moore movie at the theater an event, even as his product became a bit stale with films like Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story.
Thankfully, the seven-year gap between his last film and his latest, Where to Invade Next, gave the director time to find the right inspiration. The result is his best film since Bowling for Columbine and a return to form for the Oscar winner. In this outing, Moore imagines himself sent on a mission on behalf of the Pentagon to invade countries mostly populated by white people and claim their stuff for the United States. We follow him as he tours some of the utopian welfare states of the European Union, makes stops in Tunisia and Iceland, and erects Old Glory and vows to be bring back some “free” college, “free” health care and state-mandated vacation time back to the United States as booty.
Based on what I described in the previous paragraph, you may think the film would be another round of Moore bombarding moviegoers with socialist propaganda in a heavy-handed way, but that is not entirely the case here. While his films in general took aim at one major topic, he instead explores many issues, some of which will be of particular interest to libertarians.
For example Moore visits Portugal, a country that America can learn from in regards to criminal justice reform. Since decriminalizing drugs in 2001, Portugal has seen a decrease of drug related deaths. They treat drug abuse as a health issue as opposed to stuffing them into prisons like they do here in the States. If you are by chance in a Portuguese prison, you can vote while serving time and you also be assured you won’t face the death penalty. One police officer interviewed said they modeled their system after our Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishments. Moore, with this case, gives us a foil for our government’s current drug policy. Billions and billions of tax dollars burnt with the only thing to show for it is easier access to drugs, overzealous law enforcement using weapons of war to send black and brown kids to overcrowded prisons, and a virtual erasure of our Fourth Amendment protections. The War on Drugs will most certainly become one of the great stains on our country’s history.
Another interesting facet Moore examines during his travels is the education system, or lack thereof, in Finland. Ranked #1 in the world, their students spend only a few hours a day in class and have very little homework. They feel they can do better when going to school less. Assuming Moore is portraying this accurately, it appears that Finnish students have a less rigorous curriculum than many of those homeschooled in America. If giving students more time and room to grow themselves outside of the classroom is key to a successful education, then everyone should be pissed off that they had to get up early to go to the state-run youth indoctrination corral that is our current education system. Unlike Finland, ours is a system that sacrifices music and art programs at the expense of standardized testing, and values athletics over academics.
Moore also makes fair points in Where to Invade Next about the costs of war and bailouts in a more peripheral sense, but a majority of the movie advocates the adoption of a European-style welfare in the United States. We learn Italy mandates three weeks of vacation, honeymoon pay, plus an allowance. France has “free” health care and their schoolchildren are served multiple courses for their gourmet-prepared lunch. Germany has strong labor unions and has enacted laws that make it illegal for an employer to contact an employee when they are off. Slovenia has “free” college, even attracting debt-ridden American students. Moore so flatteringly portrays Slovenia’s higher education system, he was able to have a private audience with their head-of-state, President Borut Pahor, perhaps to instruct Moore on how he will depict Slovenia on film.
The picture the director paints of Europe is certainly rosy, but Moore seems to forget or purposely omit a couple things. There is not a mention made about their current debt crisis or how our military is basically theirs, nor does Moore acknowledge the differences in demographics, language, culture and population that makes comparisons between Europe and the United States not the most precise.
America and Europe also reacted differently to the Industrial Revolution and therefore had different reactions to socialism as a doctrine in general. This would explain why some Europeans would rather keep their entitlements and vacations, and oppose any sort of austerity even in the face of economic doom.
Structurally, Where to Invade Next is a bit uneven and could have been benefited from cutting the final few stops in Moore’s travelogue. In fact, the story of the women’s rights movement in Iceland would make for a compelling documentary in its own right. He more than makes up for any flaw with his wit and provocative subject matter.
Also, to is benefit, Moore’s personality is less bombastic than before and he has become more amiable as he gets older and wears his hair longer. This will certainly be helpful for him as he is less likely to turn off libertarians, conservatives or others who might not normally see one of his movies. It is also a reason why Where to Invade Next is more optimistic and less angry than his previous films.
If you consider yourself a libertarian and I haven’t convinced you already to view the film, I recommend thinking of it as an exercise in sharpening your knives. Moore is an effective communicator for his cause and surely this film will be cited by modern progressives and socialists for years to come.
You can’t rebut some of the film’s claims without seeing it. Also, libertarians can certainly learn from Michael Moore’s rhetorical and filmmaking methods, and perhaps make films just as provocative and entertaining as his documentaries. Libertarians and attendees of Ron Paul’s 2008 counter-convention should be familiar with the final special treat as the movie ends: The punk rock anthem “Take Back the Power” by The Interrupters, fronted by Aimee Allen, plays as the credits begin to roll.
Where to Invade Next is now available to rent and download.