Reflecting on Capitalism Through "I Care a Lot"Roundup
tags: film, television
Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University. He is the author of A History of Russia, Vol. I and Vol. II. For a list of all his recent books and online publications go here.
Watching the new Netflix film “I Care a Lot” certainly got me thinking. Sometimes I think the main political division in this country is between those who generally favor government oversight (mainly Democrats) and those distrustful of “big government” (mainly Republicans). There were once some progressive Republicans like Robert M. La Follette Sr. and conservative Democrats, especially from the South, but since Ronald Reagan’s presidency almost all those who want more government regulation, for example in regard to business and the environment, are Democrats (of further to the Left), while those wanting less regulation tend to be Republicans (or Libertarian).
Central to this political division is the nature of capitalism. As sociologist Daniel Bell stated in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, it has “no moral or transcendental ethic.” And one of capitalism’s greatest defenders, conservative economist Milton Friedman, once wrote, “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”
Right away, at the start of “I Care a Lot,” we’re alerted to a desire for no higher ethic than making money. We hear a female voice saying, “I used to be like you…thinking that working hard and playing fair would lead to success and happiness. It doesn’t…Cause there’s two types of people in this world: the people who take…and those getting took. Predators and prey. Lions and lambs. My name is Marla Grayson, and I’m not a lamb. I am a fucking lioness.” (All the film’s quotes are taken from the film script.)
Not since Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech in “Wall Street” (1987) have I heard film words that so pithily summarize the main flaw of insufficiently regulated capitalism—seeking profits can too easily transmute into greed.
Being a historian specializing in Russia and the Soviet Union, I am well aware of all the faults of communism, and even the more moderate democratic socialism of western Europe has its faults. But this essay is not comparing economic systems—as I’ve written earlier in an attempt to avoid labels, “How about Just a Fair and Moral Economy?”
Thus, our subject here is simply how “I Care a Lot” reflects capitalism’s lack of a moral ethic, how if insufficiently regulated it can encourage greed. (And after a few brief historical digressions–some from my book An Age of Progress?—we’ll get back to the film’s money-making mania.)
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