By Dave B.
In the Netflix documentary Saving Capitalism, noted public policy specialist Robert Reich provides his views on what ails modern American capitalism. His focus is on two major points. First, that deregulation is a form of regulation, insofar as that it is a decision about what to regulate and how. Second, Reich details the ways in which increasing concentrations of wealth among the richest classes in society leads to those classes having greater political influence, which leads them to have greater wealth, in a continuous cycle.
Reich does a decent job of identifying some of the problems that currently exist in America’s political/economic dynamic and he does a good job of allowing people with various views to express their thoughts on the matter. For his openness to a multitude of viewpoints, he should be commended. However, Saving Capitalism has several major flaws.
First and foremost, it’s overly simplistic. For example, Saving Capitalism uses data to compellingly show that voter preference holds less sway with national politicians than does corporate preference, due to the greater resources that corporate entities can bring to bear in support of (or in challenge to) someone running for office. However, the documentary needs to go further: it never addresses the link between the money that a campaign has and the odds that someone will vote for that campaign’s candidate. In other words, it often feels as though Reich implicitly absolves voters of their duty to make informed choices. Saving Capitalism lacks sufficient nuance and intellectual heft to encompass even a fraction of the complexity that has led the United States to its current situation.
Another, more serious, problem is that Saving Capitalism offers no solutions beyond greater participation in politics. This is a necessary, but insufficient prescription for what ails the American body politic. Without specific policy proposals Saving Capitalism often comes off as no more relevant than the typical Facebook or Twitter feed: directionless (but deeply genuine) passion that ultimately is less effective than it otherwise would be if it were paired with workable solutions.
In short, Saving Capitalism is more of an extended book promotion video than a hard-hitting documentary. It isn’t without value and it does present some compelling evidence to support Reich’s two primary contentions, but so what? Someone with Reich’s experience and intellectual heft should be able to do more than just diagnose a problem and offer platitudes, even in the format of a Netflix documentary. Ultimately, Saving Capitalism does more to demonstrate the empty elite rhetoric that got us into this mess than it does to showing us a way out of it and for this reason, I do not recommend it.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.