Maybe they should invade the U.S.

February 25, 2016

Steve Leigh reviews muckraking filmmaker Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next.

MICHAEL MOORE has made another poignant, funny and politically sharp movie.

In spite of the title, it has little to do with U.S. foreign policy. In Where to Invade Next, the documentary filmmaker behind Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine goes after social problems that continue to plague the U.S., like homelessness and lack of health care--and shows that the U.S. could learn a lot from the rest of the world.

Though he doesn't mention Bernie Sanders, this movie could be an extended campaign ad for the Vermont senator. Many of the policies that Moore applauds in other countries are part of Sanders' platform. This is not a coincidence--Moore has long been a supporter of European social democracy, as is Sanders.

Before outlining the policies that the U.S. should adopt, he shows scenes that pinpoint some of the U.S.'s biggest problems--homeless Vietnam vets, police brutality, school districts that require parents to supply toilet paper, foreclosures and the horrific murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-choice bigot. He also shows resistance, in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Michael Moore in Where to Invade Next
Michael Moore in Where to Invade Next

The theme of the movie is that many of the issues that the U.S. faces have already been solved in other countries--and in many cases by policies with deep American roots. Examples include the following:

-- In Italy, working-class people have legally mandated vacations, and paid honeymoon and maternity leave, as well as long lunches.

In France, children, even those in poorer schools, don't line up for McFood. Instead, they're allowed a leisurely paced lunch served by adults. The menus are planned by chefs to be nutritious and well-balanced as well as delicious. Lunch is seen as a time to learn about nutrition in a pleasant atmosphere.

In Norway, prison terms are limited, and prisoners are treated humanely, even people who have committed murder.

In Slovenia, education is free through college, even for American students who choose to go there for the many courses taught in English.

In Germany, workers can spend up to three weeks in a health spa at the government's expense.

In Iceland, the bankers who crashed the economy have been prosecuted and in some cases jailed.

In Finland, public school students have no homework. Nor are they subjected to standardized tests, and yet they have the best performance of any country.

FOR THE most part, Moore presents these gains as just rational ways to run a society. He even quotes an Italian CEO and other managers who strongly favor good benefits for their employees and ask, "Why do we need to be richer?" He quotes Icelandic officials who wonder how Americans can live with themselves if they know their neighbors are suffering.

Moore mentions in passing the source of these policies--strong labor and other social movements. An Italian union leader stresses how benefits had to be fought for and that unions have to continue the fight to maintain them.

In Tunisia, Moore shows a mass women's movement that was able to force even a "conservative Islamic" government to enshrine equal rights for women in the constitution after the Arab Spring. In Slovenia, the film shows students rising up against the threat of college tuition being instituted.

Moore has alluded to the need for struggle in previous films as well. In Sicko, he featured Americans in France who said, "In France, the government is afraid of the people. In the U.S., the people are afraid of the government."

Unfortunately, the role of struggle is only a minor theme in Where to Invade Next. The impression is that rationality should be able to win out with everyone, including capitalists, who would gain from humane polices.

This relates to a broader problem with Moore's politics. Even in his 2009 film Capitalism: A Love Story, he doesn't come out for a replacement of capitalism. He seems to believe earnestly that it can be reformed into a fairer system.

In line with this, he doesn't situate the good reforms of European social democracy in a broader global or even national context. For example, the same countries that provide good benefits to their citizens are failing to accept refugees in large enough numbers or treat them humanely when they arrive. The Icelandic official's call to take care of our neighbors doesn't apparently apply to global neighbors.

These same countries are continuing to engage in or support imperialist intervention, which is driving the refugee crisis, and policies that increase global warming. Plus, right-wing, racist, anti-immigrant parties in Europe are on the rise. The social safety net in Europe is being undermined by the global economic crisis--not just in extreme places like Greece, but in Northern Europe as well.

IN SPITE of these criticisms, Where to Invade Next is well worth seeing. It is very humorous and extremely entertaining. It will definitely provoke outrage, thought and discussion among those who see it.

The most important point it makes for an American audience is that the U.S. is an inhumane outlier in a myriad of ways. The U.S. is at the top or near the top among industrial countries in virtually every negative social measure--unequal distribution of wealth, life expectancy, entrenched racism, poverty, crime and imprisonment rates, and overall quality of life.

The American system is a disaster for poor and working-class people in the U.S.--a disaster that isn't at all necessary-, especially in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen.

Students 50 years ago in the U.S. paid little or nothing for public college education. Every other well-off country and many poorer ones provide medical care to all its citizens. Medical bankruptcy, the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., is virtually unknown in many countries.

Most countries in the global north provide extensive public housing, livable unemployment compensation and welfare. Even with the massive rise in productivity in the U.S. over the last 50 years, the politicians tell us that these things are no longer affordable here. This is because of low taxes on the rich and a bloated military--and the general policy of neoliberalism.

This movie should stimulate people to question and struggle against the unjust American system of class relations based on neoliberalism. That is an important start toward challenging the capitalist system on a world scale.

The advanced benefits available to European workers will never be secure even in Europe much less extended to people across the world while we have a global system based on profit over human need. With the advanced technology available today, everyone in the world could have a decent living standard based on clean energy. This will never happen on a capitalist basis--even a reformed capitalism as in Europe today.

Go see Where to Invade Next. Critique it. Discuss it with your friends, family and co-workers.

Further Reading

From the archives