Michael Moore's Latest Film, 'Where to Invade Next,' Brings Optimism to American Socialism
We talked to the director about what America could do better.
This story appears in the December issue of VICE magazine.
Michael Moore doesn't really need an introduction. He's that lefty American documentarian whose movies screen at multiplexes. After a six-year hiatus, he's back withWhere to Invade Next, which has him "conquering" foreign countries to steal their good ideas—whether it's reducing schooldays to three hours and giving students gourmet lunches, decriminalising drugs, letting maximum-security inmates enjoy decent accommodations and retain the right to vote, or putting bankers in jail and women in charge of everything from banking to government. Moore's previous film, Capitalism: A Love Story, came out in 2009 and was notably ahead of the curve—as he and I discussed, many of that project's criticisms of our economic system are finally getting a mainstream hearing. Let's hope his new offering is similarly prescient and that all the good ideas he pilfered will eventually take root.
VICE: I kind of went into the film thinking I would know what was in it, but I was actually surprised at how much I was surprised.
Michael Mooore: Yeah, it's one thing to say, "Oh, they have universal health care in Germany." It's another thing to actually learn that any German with their health-care card and a prescription from the doctor, because of stress, can go to a spa for three weeks.
I wanted to know – where do the spa workers go for three weeks?
That's a good question, because you don't want to go to the place you work.
There was a section about Tunisia that was really fascinating too, especially the fact that Tunisian women have access to abortion.
Oh, not only access, but free – free of charge, no stigma.
At the beginning of the film you say you are going to pick the flowers, not the weeds. In other words, you don't show the downsides of the social policies you feature.
Well, because there aren't any, really. And here's why. There were. They started fixing this back in the 70s, and they made a lot of mistakes. The German health-care plan, they made a lot of mistakes. They made 20 or 30 years of mistakes and then fixed it. We can benefit off their trial and error. They've made the mistakes for us.
Given the emphasis you put on labor unions, and their seeming perpetual decline in the US, do you see any other forces that could pressure for the kind of changes you advocate for in the film?
[At the end of the film] there is this huge card – this is a union-made film – and I have all the logos of the unions in my film. I didn't wait for people on my staff to unionise. I just went to them and said you should unionise and I'll support it.
Good for you.
But like with the Norwegians who aren't just doing the 21-year [maximum prison] sentence because they're nice people, they're doing it for self-interest. Because when they have 20 percent recidivism they don't want to mess up that nice plan they've got going, because they know overpunishing creates more crime. So with this, yes, I am being a good guy, but I'm also going to have better [staff] morale.
Right, this is the self-interest argument.
I've actually thought about writing a book. A business book. What I'll say in the preface is: "I am not ever going to ask you to do [the things in this book] for my liberal, bleeding-heart reasons. I'm going to ask you to do it because it's good for you." I understand the American mind.
But maybe that attitude is losing ground. All the talk of socialism today – doesn't it feel like a huge shift?
Huge shift! Done. It's over. Shift has happened. Shift is happening. There was a poll two or three years ago...
Which said young people like socialism, it's cool.
Look up the poll from last week. They polled Democrats: positive or negative view about socialism and capitalism? Forty-six percent had a positive view about socialism; 37 percent had a positive view of capitalism.
It's a major theme of the presidential debates.
[Look at] what Hillary said in the debate last week. They asked her directly, "If 2008 happened again, would you bail out the banks?" And she said, "Absolutely not." "You'd let them fail?" She goes, "Yep." And I went, "Wow."
She's a sort of weather vane, and the wind is more liberal now, so she has to spin that way.
That's correct. So she's saying that the banks should know that the people like you and I, the next time we're coming to Wall Street, we're not going to Zuccotti Park, we're not going to sit over at the child's table at Thanksgiving. We're going to be at the adult table on Wall Street, and we're going to shut you down.
I think the challenge for the left is that we have to build political organisations so we can be prepared and actually pull that off.
It's so important. We have to be ready for when it happens.
This film is so optimistic in a way.
Don't you think my other films were too?
In the sense that if you made them you must give a shit.
Yeah, I believe by making this film, things will change!
You've embraced being entertaining to help the cause.
Well, it's redundant to say I'm entertaining, because I've chosen to make movies. You know, I'm not going back to the seminary to give sermons. I'm not running for office. I'm not organising a political organisation to give speeches and rallies. I've chosen to be a filmmaker... By the very nature of that, I've chosen entertainment to, you know, put forth my message, which means first and foremost I need to focus on making a good film, not on having good politics. I think my politics are OK, but if I make a lousy film, I've done my politics a huge disservice.
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