Reviewing Michael Moore's Bestseller
Good Intentions, but Inadequate Solutions
Michael Moore has a loud, annoying, powerful voice calling for a better, fairer world. Is Moore on target, or could he benefit from an even sharper perspective? In this article, Todd Altman reviews Moore's bestselling book Stupid White Men.
by Todd Altman
February 26, 2003
I've been a fan of Michael Moore ever since I saw his brilliant film, Roger and Me, several years ago. His latest film, Bowling for Columbine, recently received an Academy Awards nomination for Best Documentary.
Though I haven't seen Moore's latest film, I have read his latest book, the best-selling Stupid White Men, wherein he tries to balance provocative political commentary with wit and humor. While this seems to work at times, as one reads, it becomes obvious he's haunted by the fear that if he doesn't crack a joke every few paragraphs, the average reader will become bored and lose interest. I happen to believe this fear is well-founded. Nevertheless, I think it compels him to place too much emphasis on his comedy routine, making whatever serious point he's trying to express seem of secondary importance. As a result, his attempt to entertain often has the unintended consequence of overshadowing his attempt to enlighten.
What's worse is that, after calling attention to one serious problem after another, he proposes solutions that do everything but address the root cause. For instance, he spends the entire first chapter complaining about how Bush stole the election. Yet when it comes time to propose corrective action, he ignores solutions such as instant runoff voting -- a voting system that would have prevented the Bush-Gore election controversy from occurring in the first place -- and chooses instead to advocate non-solutions such as "dogging bush wherever he goes." Why? Did he think that advocating a real solution would have been too boring for his audience?
In chapter 3, he states:
"From 1979 until now, the richest 1 percent in the country have seen their wages increase by 157 percent; those of you in the bottom 20 percent are actually making $100 less a year (adjusted for inflation) than you were at the dawn of the Reagan era."
The decrease in real wages for the bottom 20% is due in large part to the fact that, since 1979, Congress has increased the terribly regressive payroll tax to such an extent that 80% of American households now pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income tax. I appreciate that Moore draws attention to decreasing wages, but do not understand why he doesn't even mention the increasing tax on wages. Why complain about the symptom and then ignore the cause?
In chapter 5, he points out the alarming extent to which society has become dumbed down in recent decades. The reason, he argues, is that we don't spend enough on public schools. In reality, it's not the amount of money spent on schools, but the school system itself, that is the problem. As award-winning schoolteacher John Taylor Gatto explains in books such as Dumbing Us Down and The Exhausted School, the government school system was designed to dumb down society, i.e., to churn out an entire populace of non-thinking, consumeristic sheep. It should therefore come as no surprise that, even though we currently spend several times as much real money on government schooling as we did in 1940, the literacy rate is much lower now than it was then (see Chapter Three of Gatto's The Underground History of American Education for details).
I could go on, but I think the point has been made. While I truly empathize with Moore's concern for the working poor; and while I deeply admire him for using artful, intelligent filmmaking as a means of exposing the very real dangers of crony capitalism, I think that, when expressing his views on paper, he has an unfortunate tendency to propose solutions that treat symptoms while ignoring root causes.
When it comes to reversing the alarming wealth disparity, the real solution is to institute a land-based tax system and a debt-free money system. (Click here for details.)
When it comes to increasing voter turnout and breaking the stranglehold that the two-party duopoly continually imposes on our so-called "free" elections, the real solutions are ballot access reform and instant runoff voting.
When it comes to reversing the expansion of the prison-industrial complex, the real solutions are to end (not reform) the racist, destructive, and unconstitutional drug war, and to repeal both the "Patriot" Act and the Homeland "Security" Act.
And when it comes to increasing the quality of education, the real solution is to repeal compulsory school attendance laws, lest politicians (or rather the plutocrats pulling their strings) continue to use them as a means of rendering citizens virtually incapable of critical thought, and hence incapable of challenging the current power structure.
Should Michael Moore ever read this review, I hope he'll take it in the spirit in which it is intended -- as constructive feedback on the solutions he advocates, solutions that I respectively submit do not adequately address the root causes of the socioeconomic problems to which he's been drawing attention all these years.
Todd Altman is an Air Force veteran, has a bachelors degree from the University of Maryland, and is the author of the Geolibertarian FAQ.
Email a text-only version of this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?