Sept. 22, 2009— -- "Anti-Jesus." "Anti-American." "Anti-democracy."
That's not a conservative pundit blasting communism or socialism. It's filmmaker Michael Moore talking about the target of his latest film: capitalism.
He profiles several stories of economic hardship, from the now familiar tale of a family forced out of their home by the mortgage crisis, to more shocking anecdotes about families who discover the corporations their deceased loved ones worked for made money off their employees' deaths -- a practice referred to within several companies as "Dead Peasants."
Moore says the film gets to the core of what he's been trying to say throughout his career.
"I've done this for 20 years, and I'm tired of dancing around it," he said. "You know, make a movie about General Motors here, make a movie about the health care industry there. These are all spokes to the hub. And that hub is capitalism."
"[It's] an economic system that's ... protecting, and guaranteeing the richest 1 percent, so that they have as much financial wealth as the bottom 95 percent combined ...In a democracy, how can you have that?" Moore said. "How can you have the richest 1 percent really calling the shots like that?"
In his first television interview about the film, Moore suggests that corruption-filled capitalism conflicts with the values of a democratic system of government.
"Corporate America ... they are all about trying to make as much money as they can ... This capitalism doesn't seem to have a moral or ethical center to it. And it has very little to do with democracy," Moore told "Nightline's" Terry Moran. "We need to interject democratic values into our economic order."
One year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the New York City investment bank, whose failure sent shockwaves throughout the global economy and marked the beginning of the worst crisis since the Great Depression, Moore says the economic system has spiraled out of control.
"This thing is so on steroids at this point, so out of control, I don't think that just a few rules and regulations are going to correct it," he said. "I think we are too far down the road, the genie is too far out of the bottle, and I think that this is probably an excellent time to say, 'OK, if we could create our own American order, our own economic order, how would we do that? And let's start with democracy in mind and having a moral value system attached to it.'"
Moore took Moran on a tour of New York City's financial district -- the lion's den of the financial crisis -- to the institutions Moore considers the worst offenders, Goldman Sachs and the New York Stock Exchange. In the film, he carries out what could be described as a classic Michael Moore stunt by wrapping the perimeters of the buildings in yellow crime scene tape.
"I believe this is a crime scene. I believe that millions of Americans have had their pensions robbed from them, their jobs stolen from them," Moore said. "People in the top floors of these buildings, they know what they've done to the average American. And they know that the possibility exists as that … there could be a severe backlash to all of this -- that the peasants may revolt."
Moore: Corporate America Hides Behind American Flag
The public erupted in outrage when many firms receiving massive taxpayer bailouts doled out bonuses this year. Since October 2008, the government has infused more than $700 billion in taxpayer funded bailouts to the banks.
Moore told Moran he considers the New York Stock Exchange an "enemy of democracy" -- an inherently un-American institution "hiding" behind the American flag hanging on the front of the building.
"That's our flag. This is a great country. People died for that flag and in, behind there, they have stolen people's pensions, they have moved people's money around, they have created all of these crazy, exotic systems of credit default swaps and derivatives," Moore said. "And in all of this they have lost people's pensions, they celebrate it when the unemployment rate goes up, the Dow Jones goes up, and yet, they are literally hiding behind that flag. And it's a personal insult to me as an American, as somebody who loves this country."
Moore romanticizes the good old days in the film, which he considers the time when the rich actually paid taxes; he calls to bring the top marginal tax rate back to what it was during the Kennedy era, around 70 or 73 percent.
"I don't get too wistful for the good old days, because the good old days meant that you and I got hired before somebody who was African-American, or a woman," Moore said. "So things are better to some degree. But of course I'm old enough to remember a time where you did go to the neighbor's house to get some flour ... the doors were unlocked. There was a sense of sharing and community. And now, it's all, dog eat dog. Capitalism has encouraged us to fight each other, to scramble for the crumbs that are left on the table, for the few jobs that are there."
Moore believes that the best and the brightest college graduates flock to investment banks where they're co-opted into "coming up with complicated, exotic schemes to trade money, make money off of money," instead of putting their energies into inventions, like a high-speed bullet train or a cure for cancer, that will benefit society.
"They don't come up with any new idea. They're not inventing the next light bulb in there, or the cure for cancer. They're in there making money off of money. And then betting against that money and then turning it into some sort of strange casino with derivatives and credit default swabs. It's so destructive to our society," he said.
Moore says that our current system of finance is so evil, that it can be compared to a system like child labor, which was accepted hundreds of years ago until someone stood up to entrenched authority.
"A hundred years ago, child labor was accepted. ... People started to say, you know, 'maybe this isn't right.' ... But well-meaning people said, 'no, no, no, we understand it's a problem, we just need to regulate it. We just need to make the factories safer, make sure the kids go to school, and then it's OK if the 10 and 12-year-olds work in the factory.' No, it's not OK! Some things are just patently wrong and no amount of regulation is going to make it better."
Moore believes that the media and large corporations, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, are partly to blame, having idolized CEOs' wealth and power and propagating it.
"They get put on the covers of magazines. They're on Fortune and Forbes and they're on the front page Business section of the paper. Like masters of the universe, look at their genius, they are able to make hundreds of millions of dollars. We have actually now seemed to, as a society, support that," he said.
While Moore admits that not everything done by financial firms is evil, since they provide jobs and make donations to charity, he says, that doesn't legitimize them.
"Well, it's never all evil, is it? I mean, Hitler put everybody back to work, I mean, right? I mean, I've read stories of slave masters who were very generous to their slaves," he said.
Moore: 'They'd Call [Jesus] a Socialist'
"Capitalism: A Love Story" is also deeply religious; Moore says he turned to his faith -- Catholicism -- to drive home the point: it doesn't matter how much wealth you've amassed when you're judged at the gates of heaven.
"There was a very clear message about when you get up there to the Pearly Gates with St. Peter, you're gonna get asked a number of questions. When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was homeless, did you give me shelter? When I was sick, did you come and give me aid and comfort?" Moore explained. "And, if you did those things, then, you know, you can pull into the big house. But, if you didn't, you don't get in."
Moore told Moran he'd ask wealthy CEO's: "What do you think is going to happen after this life, when you have to answer, what did you do with the wealth that you amassed? ... what's wrong with spreading the wealth around a little bit?"
Rebuffing criticism that "spreading the wealth" is socialism, Moore said, "I'm sure, if [Jesus] was around today, they'd call him a socialist," Moore said.
In fact, Moore insists that capitalism is anti-Christian.
"It goes completely against the values of Jesus. And Moses. And Mohammed. And Buddha. All the great religions say that ... the pie at the table is to be divided fairly, and that you're not to leave a whole group of people behind, and that you will be judged by how you treat the poor. And ... and capitalism, our form of capitalism today, is all about gimme, gimme, gimme. Make as much as you can. And to hell with the other guy."
Moore to Obama: 'We'll Be Watching'
To say Moore was pleased with the change in power in Washington is an understatement. He says he is still an unabashed supporter of President Obama, despite a growing amount of criticism on the left that Obama hasn't truly reformed the financial system, and has hinted at dropping the public option from his health care plan.
"I'm not discouraged or disappointed. I'm still operating on the high that I got when he was elected last November," he said. "This is the time when you want the smart guy in the White House. Not the dumb guy. You want a smart guy there. So, we got a smart guy there."
Despite Moore's vote of confidence in Obama's ability to handle the financial mess, he notes in the film that the president's number one private campaign contributor group were the employees of Goldman Sachs.
"I really put that in there for an audience of one. I wanted him to see that. I want him to know, that as much as we love him, as much as we support him, we also know who his backers are. And we'll be watching," Moore said. "And we'll wait and see whether or not he's going to do what's best for Wall Street, or for the people. I'm banking on the fact that he's gonna do what's best for the people."
Moore has attempted to bring the human impact of what he sees as a corrupt financial system to the attention of the country and government leaders. He considers himself a "surrogate" for the masses.
"I come from a working class, you know, I have a high school education," he said. "I'm fortunate to be able to do this, very fortunate, and I think people see me as their surrogate, I'm there fighting the fight in these films for them and I think they wish that they could walk into the chairman's office and have a word or two."
A self-described "optimist," Moore believes that even the "villains" on Wall Street will be moved by ripple effects of their actions on the society as a whole.
"I believe that all people are good at their core, including the people that work at Goldman Sachs, that if they could see the results of their decisions, of what they have done, I think they would be affected by this," he said.