The title is misleading, but Michael Moore’s latest film, Where To Invade Next?, is nonetheless an amusing farce that is worth watching. I had been expecting a wry discussion about the next target for U.S. intervention – would it be Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Ukraine, maybe even China or Russia? But the film is actually about “invading” countries that have good practices and benefits for their citizens and taking their ideas. Once we have their ideas and see how they work, maybe we can incorporate them here. It is the possible vision for what America can do for our own people that is the film’s strength. It is a welcome antidote to that of the two presumptive presidential candidates, where the choice seems to be between business as usual and building a wall. We can do better.
Michael Moore’s idea of an invasion is certainly much cheaper than what the United States has been doing lately. His invasion force consists of himself, his production crew, and a large American flag. The first country he invaded was Italy, where the average worker gets 40 days of paid vacation a year, compared to our average of two weeks for beginning workers. The Italians see their amount of vacation as something needed in order to rest and rejuvenate. And yet the productivity of the average Italian worker is just a little less than that of the average American worker. There is no clash between company and employees, and their life expectancy is about 4 years longer.
Next stop is France, where the school children are served near-gourmet lunches on real china plates. The French children were appalled when they saw photos of what American school children are served for lunch. As Michael Moore observed, “You know it’s bad when the French pity you.”
Then on to Finland, where the average Finnish school child is not given any, or just minimal, homework. The Finns say that the brains of children have to rest, and play time is important in the brain’s development. The average American child, in contrast, is given about 20 hours of homework per week. Finland must be doing something right because it ranks Number One in education, while the United States is at Number Twenty-seven.
Another thing about Finland which Michael Moore points out is that it is illegal to set up a private school and charge tuition. That means that rich kids go to the same schools as everyone else, and grow up and play with everyone else. Per Michael Moore, that means that the rich won’t take advantage of everyone else when they become adults.
Slovenia has free college education, and even allows American students to come there and go to college for free. In contrast, many Americans wind up deeply in debt in order to go to college.
Germany has a real middle class, and by law half of the people on company supervisory boards are workers. Many companies even forbid company e-mails or other communications after working hours. Also, it teaches about the Holocaust (sometimes called the Shoah, although this movie does not use the term), and Michael Moore contrasts this to the silence from the United States government about its wars against the American Indians.
Portugal gets honorable mention for removal of its laws against drug possession, and claims that drug usage went down once they were legalized. Norway is next because of its prison system, where rehabilitation is stressed over punishment. The longest prison sentence possible in Norway is 21 years, and yet their recidivism rate after 5 years is just 20 percent, compared to 80 percent in the American criminal justice system.
The one significant stumble in the film is when Michael Moore “invades” Tunisia. The subjects of abortion and self-immolation do not lend themselves to light-hearted frivolity, and his logic falters. The repressive dictator of Tunisia offered government-funded abortions, which inspired men to light themselves on fire when they realized how many human rights they were missing, and so they overthrew the dictator – who had provided the free women’s health clinics which inspired his overthrow. And the clinics continue today, but now there are more women in government. Tunisia is better off after its Arab Spring, but the movie’s causal chain is dubious. In any event, how does this apply to the United States? Wisely, Michael Moore proceeds onto Iceland.
Iceland is significant because its response to the financial crisis of 2008 – 09 was unique, when bank after bank in the West was faltering, went bankrupt, or received a government bail-out. It actually jailed the bankers who committed the frauds that led to the crisis. And while things in the country were difficult for a while, the economy has now recovered to nearly where it was before the crisis. Icelandic bankers are going to remember that jail in Iceland is a real possibility if they commit fraud in the future. In the United States, virtually no one was prosecuted for frauds so cumulatively massive that they almost brought down the economy. And Congress, instead of strengthening the laws against fraud, allowed the banks instead to become too big to fail (TBTF), sometimes known as too big to jail.
Michael Moore especially praises Icelanders for being the first country to directly elect a woman as head-of- state, Vigdis Finnbogadottir in 1980. This is true, but for clarity he should have pointed out that women had become the head of the government before in countries with parliamentary systems, notably Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, and Margaret Thatcher. And as for the claim that women leaders are somehow more compassionate than men, well, that is a term that has rarely – if ever – been applied to Indira Gandhi and “Iron Maiden” Thatcher. Finnbogadottir was president until 1996, when she was succeeded by Olafur Grimsson, who was president during the financial crisis. (As an aside, note that Vigdis’s last name ends in “dottir,” which is a cognate of the English “daughter,” as in “daughter of.” And [male] Olafur’s last name ends in “son,” as in “son of.” This is common in Iceland.) Maybe there is a connection between voting for women leaders and treating bank fraudsters appropriately to the harm they have done, but Michael Moore doesn’t quite make the case.
The film is full of witty dialogue and humorous visuals. It admittedly presents only one side and neglects such issues as the large debt of some countries, the flood of refugees and immigrants into Europe, the strain this puts on services, and the growing backlash against the current policy on immigrants and refugees. On the other hand, we Americans seem to be getting far less for our tax dollars and $19 trillion in government debt than most of the countries shown in the movie. All of the countries he “invaded” have government health care, although this was not mentioned — perhaps because Michael Moore covered the subject extensively in his movie Sicko. The movie is not some kind of visual policy paper or college thesis, but a presentation of some choices that most political candidates barely talk about. The notable exception is Bernie Sanders, but his proposals have been written off by the mainstream media. This movie shows that other countries somehow make them work, and maybe we should try. As Michael Moore points out at the end, the American Dream is alive and well seemingly everywhere except in America. Watch it if you can. Get inspired.
Where to Invade Next is rated “R” for language and brief nudity.