Michael Moore’s latest film, Where to Invade Next? is now available on Netflix, and I urge everyone to see it. Using his usual gimmicky approach to attracting attention, he wickedly posits that the United States, which apparently fancies it has a stake in the governance of every country on earth, should keep it up, invade more countries, and take a lesson from the way these invaded countries govern themselves. To be consistent with his wacky theme, he concludes every visit by planting an American flag on the soil of the newly-conquered country and announces he is taking back the lessons learned.
But beneath this jokey exterior Moore has a deadly serious messge, and one that it seems to me every non-American in the world must heartily applaud: the message is that, even within the heartless rules of capitalism, it is possible for a nation to enact rules and commitments on a human level that, free from the shibboleths of American propaganda, make the lives of ordinary people so much more pleasant, productive and, in short, human. This film is a humanist masterpiece.
The film opens with a long interview with an Italian couple, fully employed, normal, healthy and relaxed people, as he questions them about the holidays they have. To his astonishment they tell him they have a month every year, holidays statutorily embedded, to which they are entitled. He goggles at them. How much do American workers have: zero, he says. Of course, some workers with strong unions get two weeks a year, and there are the occasional people who get three weeks. But hang on there: the Italians get more than just the four weeks….they get much more time off than that. So much for parental leave, days off for this and that, even a thirteenth month of pay for a whole month --- Moore goggles --- that they don’t even work for --- so much time off in total that Moore calculates it at eight weeks a year.
Next he goes to a group of employers to chastise hem for being so lenient with their workers. How can they run a business like this when their workers are always on holiday? Don’t they resent it? They laugh at him, denying everything: not at all, they say, we get better work, higher productivity, out of contented employees. Moore wastes no time in planting an American flag to indicate his takeover of their system to improve the American lifestyle.
This gets us off to a rollicking start, and the pace never slackens. Off to France for a high school sex education class and a gourmet meal in a school cafeteria; then to Finland, whose globally-admired system of education has no standardized testing --- a particular bete noire apparently among Finnish teachers --- and no homework. “Children have to play,” says one expert, in explanation.
Then to relatively poor Slovenia, once part of Yugoslavia, with its free higher education, even for visiting students --- and the University of Llubljana has 100 courses in the English language, so is full of foreigners getting a free university education ---- a system from which students emerge --- wait for it! --- free of debt. And so on through Germany and Portugal where he discovers startling concepts such as workers on company boards, the teaching in schools about the terrible lessons of the past, outlawing of the death penalty, and decriminalization of drug possession; then on to the sequence that more than any other convinced me, in Norway, to a maximum security prison where the only keys to the cells are those held by the prisoners themselves. His juxtaposition in this sequence of the humane conditions in the Norwegian prison compared with the insensate brutality of the American prison system must surely have convinced even people who thus far had been sceptical of his message (I confess an interest here: I interviewed the Director of Swedish prisons as long ago as 1961, visited one of those prisons in which the keys were held by the prisoners, heard about how very few people are locked up at all, and have since regarded this Scandinavian system as a model towards which every nation should strive.)
So on through Tunisia, with its lessons about woman-power leading to a revolution and to humane measures about reproductive power, and Iceland, where women play an equal role to men, and where they had no compunction about imprisoning the bankers who landed their country in the U.S.-induced 2008 global economic crisis.
Moore does not exactly denigrate his own country: he points out that many of the ideas he has picked up on his travels around Europe had been espoused in the United States, had even been embedded in their constitution (such as the ban on cruel and unusual punishment), but have since been ignored. I forgive him for a touch of hyperbole here, when he claims that all these ideas he espouses in the film originated in the United States, a somewhat questionable claim.
Apart from that, however, I found his movie such a testament to the better instincts of people who have to managed remain free of the insanity of the American march towards Oligarchy, as to make it a valuable document that should, ideally, be showed in every school, at least in every high school, in the world, because it shows clearly that a life not dominated by greed and self-interest can provide a method of governance more in tune with humanity’s best instincts than the system most of us live under now.
Something has to be done to protect the world from the American cultural hegemony that, while advertising a system of naked predatory capitalism as an ideal, somehow manages to persuade people from all over the world that their best interests might lie in joining this destructive American rat-race.
Michael Moore does not seem to be in the best of health: he was hospitalized with pneumonia as he was preparing to release this film, in which he plays his usual role of the shuffling poor urbanite. I can only hope he takes care of himself so that he can long continue the education of his nation.