Economic Bill of Rights
I got speak on a panel for the BC Cooperative Association this week after a screening of Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story. I thought it was quite well done, and better than I expected. Less of the MM kitsch and a fairly broad sweep over the history and current foibles of American capitalism. While this approach means it loses some overall cogency and rigor, I love the visuals and the human-scale stories that are hallmark of MM’s film-making.
Perhaps one major shortcoming in the film is a failure to bring in the environment, except for some Katrina footage near the end that is not overtly connected to climate change in the narrative, a shame given the approach of Copenhagen. Instead the focus is the financial crisis, the lead up to it through to the massive gifts to Wall Street in the dying hours of the Bush Administration. That focus on finance gets tied back to more mundane corporate capitalism in a number of ways throughout the movie, but leaves me wanting Moore to have interviewed Jim Stanford for the movie not the “Inconceivable!” guy from The Princess Bride.
The movie spoke more to alternatives than I thought it would, in particular a worker-owned manufacturing plant. It also covers workers who occupied their factory during the crisis to get, in the end, $6,000 of back-pay. But nor does the movie channel The Take, by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, where occupying workers in Argentina actually become a worker cooperative. This is a movie about American capitalism not off-shoots in South America, nor the Scandinavian, Japanese or French versions, where the grotesque surge in inequality of American (and Canadian) capitalism since 1980 have not manifested (at least in terms of the share of income going to the top 1%).
Since Moore’s reference to “plutonomy” came up in a recent post, I’d add that one striking part of the movie that gives me some hope was the clip of FDR’s proposal for a second bill of rights. Here is the text:
Franklin D. Roosevelt
â€œThe Economic Bill of Rightsâ€
Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to Congress on the State of the Union
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our peopleâ€”whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenthâ€”is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rightsâ€”among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, howeverâ€”as our industrial economy expandedâ€”these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. â€œNecessitous men are not free men.â€ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for allâ€”regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
Americaâ€™s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.
source: The Public Papers & Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Samuel Rosenman, ed.), Vol XIII (NY: Harper, 1950), 40-42