NEAL CONAN, host:
Starting 20 years ago with "Roger & Me," Michael Moore's made a series of provocative documentaries that challenge American corporations and the government that does or doesn't regulate them. In many ways, he comes full circle in his new picture, "Capitalism: A Love Story," where, among other things, he circles Wall Street with crime scene tape and drives an armored van up to the headquarters of bailed out investment bank Goldman Sachs, where he confronts a security guard.
(Soundbite of movie "Capitalism: A Love Story")
Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Director, "Capitalism: A Love Story"): We're here to get the money back for the American people.
Unidentified Man: I understand, sir. But you can't come in.
Mr. MOORE: Can you just take the bag? Take it up there?
Unidentified Man: Absolutely not.
Mr. MOORE: Fill it up. I got more bags. 10 billion probably won't fit in here.
CONAN: If you'd like to talk with Michael Moore about his movies or why he thinks capitalism is evil, our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our Web site at npr.org -click on TALK OF THE NATION.
"Capitalism: A Love Story" opens in theaters across the country on Friday. Director and star, Michael Moore, joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. MOORE: Oh, thanks for having me, Neal.
CONAN: And it's interesting, in the picture you embrace the vision of American society from the 1950s, when you grew up and your father was able to support a middle-class family with a nice lifestyle there in Flint, Michigan working at a sparkplug factory.
Mr. MOORE: Right. And with only one income.
CONAN: And with one income.
Mr. MOORE: Yes. I mean, obviously, those who lived during that time remember that, you know, the American dream, the promise of the American dream, that if you worked hard and your company prospered, you would prosper. That was essentially the deal. And - but sadly enough, during these last 20 or 30 years, it's become more like you work hard, the company prospers and you lose your job. So - or you work, you keep your job, but you work longer hours for less pay, less benefits, et cetera, et cetera.
And it's tragic, I think, to see how we've built our country into the wealthiest country on the planet, that there is so much abundance here, and yet we have such a disparity between the haves and the have-nots in this society.
CONAN: And one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie is you walk with your father to the site of where that factory was in Flint and it's now a razed lot.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. It's like a four-square-mile razed lot. I mean, it looks like a moonscape, almost. It is very sad. My dad worked there for almost 34 years and I have great memories of going there with my mom to pick him up everyday after work. And of course, work in those times, he was done working at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Mr. MOORE: You worked an eight-hour day. You started at six in the morning and then you worked eight hours. And it gave us a good life. I mean, he didn't have a college education and yet we had full medical care, full dental. We could go to college. We weren't saddled with student loans that, you know, would have a noose around our neck for the next 20 or 30 years. You know, it was a whole different time. And starting around the time of Ronald Reagan, things that we didn't used to have started to come into the forefront here, where things -where those with money, I guess, weren't satisfied with what they had, they wanted more. And so they decided to concoct new ways to suck money out of people. So for instance, credit cards, all of a sudden, became a big thing. When I was a kid, I think there was a kid - somebody in the neighborhood that had a Shell card...
Mr. MOORE: ...you know, for gas. And maybe a couple of moms had a JC Penney card. But that was it. Nobody was in five, ten, $15,000 of credit card debt. When you went to school, Neal, I assume you went to school, you - if you needed...
CONAN: Up through 12th grade, anyway. Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: But if you went to college - you wanted to go to college, you could go and get a student loan at the college, not a bank. You walked into the financial aid office and you'd get a one or two percent loan or maybe work study or a grant...
Mr. MOORE: ...or some kind of help. They were there to help. They weren't there to have you in hock for the next 20 to 30 years. That didn't exist in, you know, in our time, this private bank student loan, 30 years, you know, you end up paying a half a million dollars by the time you're 40 or 50 years old. It's just - it's made life a lot more difficult for working people in the middle class. And frankly, I think, the middle class has been decimated to a great extent.
CONAN: Hmm. You make it clear in a lot of your pictures what you're against. In this one, you seem to go beyond that to talk about what you're for. And is it fair to say that you argue that democratic socialism would be a better system?
Mr. MOORE: Well, I think - yeah, I think democracy is a - if democracy, if the concepts of democracy were applied to an economic system, that would be a much better economic system. And if the principles that we say we believe in the Judeo-Christian ethic or whatever religion you belong - all the great religions say the same thing about how we're to treat the poor...
Mr. MOORE: ...and how the wealthy are not supposed to make off like bandits. If we actually lived by those principles, that we'll be judged by how we treat the least among us, you know, that kind of an economic system would benefit people a lot better than a system now that - and the way I would define capitalism, because people ask me well, you're against - you mean, you're against people making money. No, I'm not against anybody working hard, earning a living, making money, open a store, sell shoes. I - that's - we need shoes.
I'm talking about what it's become. It's become a system of legalizing greed and protecting the wealthy. And we're at a point now where the wealthiest one percent have more financial wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined. That is so out of whack. And it doesn't have anything to do with us being a democracy when the upper one percent, the top one percent get to have that much wealth and get to essentially call all the shots here.
CONAN: Well, it does because you'd figure the other 99 percent have votes.
Mr. MOORE: Well, that's their biggest - that's the thing they're most concerned about, the fact that they actually have to function in a political democracy where they only have one percent of the votes. So they have to convince - it's like a pyramid scheme. I mean, this is an essential - capitalism has become this Ponzi scheme, this pyramid scheme where only a few people at the top get to have the riches. But the key is to convince everybody else in the rest of the pyramid, if they just work hard enough they can make it to the top of the pyramid, too. Well, actually, the truth is only so many people can stand on top of a pyramid. That's the way it's designed. But they've done a fairly good job until recently of convincing people to work their butts off, thinking some -too, some day they too could be living just like the rich guy.
Mr. MOORE: I think that a lot of that has fallen away now, because capitalism -and those who believe in it or said they believed in it - has proven that it's a system that doesn't work. They never really believed in the defining principles of it anyway, because as soon as they hit the skids, they wanted socialism for themselves. They wanted the bailout. And so now the, sort of the clothes have been peeled off the emperor, and the average Joe gets that this has really kind of been a ruse, and that he or she was never really going to get to the top.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest is Michael Moore. His new picture, "Capitalism: A Love Story," opens in theaters around the country on Friday. 800-989-8255. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Robby(ph) is on the line from Tucson.
ROBBY (Caller): Hi, Mr. Conan, Mr. Moore. I just wanted to say really quick, Mr. Conan, I love your show.
CONAN: Thank you.
ROBBY: And Mr. Moore, it's a pleasure being able to talk to you and ask you a question here. I just wanted to point out one quick point. If democracy, you know, is, you know, in theory should work out all right, I guess I'm just trying to wonder here, you know, it's never going to work out because there's money in the first place. The monetary system - a system based off currency will never function. I mean, capitalism is inevitable when you have currency. Am I wrong? I just wanted to shoot out that point, Mr. Moore. It's been a pleasure. I'll leave it at that.
Mr. MOORE: I don't think it's inevitable, but I understand what you're saying because greed is not something that was invented here or with, even with capitalism. That's been around for, I think, since humans were able to...
CONAN: Human nature, yeah.
Mr. MOORE: It is part of our human nature. That's why we create - these dark sides of our human nature, like greed or violence or whatever. We create structures and restrictions to sort of rein these things in so they don't dominate. Capitalism does not rein in greed. Capitalism encourages it - make more money. How can I make money? Now, hey, I figured out a way where I don't have to make things anymore. I can make things off money, move the money around, take bets on the money. Now, let's take out insurance policies on the bets.
This is what this thing devolved to - to where it was no longer about what we produced as a society. It was just about how to move that money around and play the stock market and come up with these exotic derivative schemes. So - but I think that democratic principles applied to the economy actually would - we'd be - listen, it's never going to be an equal division of the pie. That is utopia. That's never going to happen. But we can have a fair division of the pie so that, yes, some may get a little more than others, but nobody should be going without. And what we've got right now is we've got one guy coming to the table, taking nine slices of the pie and leaving one slice for everybody else. That's just simply wrong.
CONAN: Robby, thanks very much for the call. Some have described you as a hypocrite because you work in a commercial film industry, and that your anti-capitalist movie is, in part, produced in cooperation with very large corporations.
Mr. MOORE: Yes. Corporations that I believe are not necessarily operating for the general good. And so there's your irony.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: You know, I'm given money by companies who know that I'm going to say that what these companies are essentially participating in is an evil. They do that - and here's the great flaw of capitalism - they do that because they believe they can make money off me making these movies. And so I take advantage of that to get the word out there. But I think that - I think they wouldn't give me the money to do this if they thought that my movies - if people would actually leave the movie and get involved politically, and do things to take away some of the power that these corporations have. Then they might say, okay, I think we've been giving this guy enough - we shouldn't - no more movies from him for a while.
CONAN: Well, that goes to the next question: Do you think that your movies actually change people's minds or is your audience very largely made up of people who already agree with you?
Mr. MOORE: No. No. That - I mean, this is why the right comes after me so hard, because I'm one of the few people on the left that actually has crossed over and has a wide mass audience, much of it in the mainstream. If I was just making movies for the church of the left, I'd be in the art house down the street. My movies are shown in cineplexes and shopping malls. That's what makes them dangerous to the other side because so many everyday working Americans like to go to my movies because they're funny, they're entertaining. And you get to sit there for two hours and have a good cathartic Bronx cheer at...
CONAN: And in this one, leave singing "The Internationale."
Mr. MOORE: Yes. But, as sung by Tony Babino, a lounge singer from New Jersey. So it's a very different approach to it. I'm having a little satirical moment there.
CONAN: We're talking with Michael Moore about his new movie "Capitalism: A Love Story." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go next to Rob(ph). Rob with us from Lapeer in Michigan.
ROB (Caller): Yeah. Hi.
ROB: It's actually Lapeer.
CONAN: Oh, Lapeer, excuse me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: Right by where I grew up.
CONAN: He's local. I'm not.
ROB: Yes, exactly. Mike, listen, you are a fantastic man. I saw you this Sunday at the Whiting. And your Q&A session afterwards was fantastic. I did not get to ask a question. But the first question that you asked - or was asked of you, your response was so profound that I'd really like you to go into that. The question was about charity and how charity is not the solution to our problem.
CONAN: So this was evidently at a screening of the film?
Mr. MOORE: Yes.
CONAN: Yeah. Okay. Go ahead.
Mr. MOORE: Big Flint premiere. And we had - it was a free screening for the town, and a few thousand people showed up. It was great.
ROB: Yeah. It was fantastic. Thank you.
Mr. MOORE: Oh, thank you. It was really the nicest nights of my life, I have to tell you the truth. It was really quite a wonderful…
ROB: You got about eight standing ovations.
Mr. MOORE: No, I know, I know. When people start standing and applauding during the film…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: …you know, it's like, sit down.
CONAN: Sit down. The best parts coming up.
Mr. MOORE: You're missing the funny line. But I've - when I've seen in places like Flint or Pittsburgh and other places, the audiences get awfully rowdy. I mean, they start talking to the screen and - but what I said there the other night about charity is that, that the rich can no longer get away with what they're getting away with, paying as few taxes as they pay simply because they make donations to things. That isn't what it's about.
We have to - everybody has to pay their fair share. And I pointed out - I think a lot of people don't - maybe a lot of your listeners aren't going to realize what I'm going to say, don't know that this is the case. How many of you listening to this right now know that those who make over $110,000 a year pay no Social Security tax after $110,000, whereas the rest of you, if you're making 40, 50, 60,000 a year, you're paying a flat tax of about seven percent in Social Security and Medicare tax. It just comes right out of your income no matter what. If you're making 20 grand or 40 grand or 60 grand, you pay a flat tax of seven percent. But for people who make over 110,000, they don't pay a flat tax of seven percent on everything they make. They pay zero percent after that 110,000.
If all people who make over 110,000 paid their fair share, the same - in other words, their entire wages were taxed at the same rate your entire wages are taxed at, we would have enough money in Social Security beginning tomorrow that lasts us until 2087 - to almost the next century. So all this talk about, oh, we're running out of money in Social Security. We're running out of money for Social Security. Your schools are running out of money. The potholes in front of your house aren't getting fixed because the wealthy aren't paying the taxes that they always paid. And as I point out in the movie, when I was growing up, the top marginal tax rate was 90 percent. The wealthy, the really wealthy, on their top income paid 90 percent. And with that money, we built an interstate highway system. We built schools and hospitals, things ran right. And the rich lived really well.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Rob, thanks very much for the call.
ROB: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in. This is Kevin(ph). Kevin with us from Birmingham, Alabama.
KEVIN (Caller): Yes. My question is how much of the current problems that facing do you believe is just a byproduct of the culmination of every individual's greed, and how much of it is actual conspiracy of the wealthy and powerful, you know, seeking to keep everyone else down?
Mr. MOORE: That's a great question. There was - last year when the crash happened, in the first weeks after the crash, that's all we heard. That it was all these people living beyond their means and getting loans that they shouldn't have been getting. And that's what caused this crash. Well, listen, there's always been people who live beyond their means. You've got an uncle in the family.
Mr. MOORE: You know who he is.
CONAN: We also heard a lot about predatory loan practices and things like that.
Mr. MOORE: Well, and as it turned out, according to the FBI, 80 percent - 80 percent of the mortgage fraud in this country was caused by the banks and the lending institutions. And we also found out later that the number one cause of foreclosures in this country are medical bills. That's the number one reason why people lose their homes: because we don't have universal health care. And I just - you know, this film and my work, I try to point out these things that oftentimes, you know, people think it's the victim that's causing this, and in fact it really isn't.
CONAN: So, thanks very much for the call, Kevin. Appreciate it.
KEVIN: Thank you.
CONAN: Just a few seconds left. "Capitalism: A Love Story," it sounds like a romantic comedy. In part, it is.
Mr. MOORE: Absolutely. It's definitely - I mean, people have told me that it's my funniest film yet. The romance part, it's more about the wealthy, how much they love their money. And - except - well, this has a twist. They love their money and they love our money now. They want all our money. So it's like -it's, I - listen, I - it's 20 years, like you said, of making movies. I -everything I've got, I put into this film. And I'm very proud of it. And I hope people go to see it on Friday because I think they're going to have not only a good laugh and a good cry, but a real sense that, you know, I'm on their side.
CONAN: "Capitalism: A Love Story" opens on Friday. You can get a preview at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Michael Moore directs and stars in the film and he joined us today here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much.
Mr. MOORE: Thanks, Neal. And thanks for this great show.
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