In his usual, clever, playful style, Michael Moore decides he will “invade” other countries to see what he can bring back to America that will be useful to us. His travels take him to Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Tunisia, and Iceland.
In all these countries he finds valuable benefits that started in the U.S., but somewhat mysteriously, are no longer available. For instance:
- Worker benefits (more vacation time, fewer hours of work, maternity leave), representatives from the working class sitting on boards, boards more equally represented between males and females, and unions that negotiate peacefully with corporate management.
- Educational programs that maintain excellence without mountains of homework or standardized tests, no student debt for higher education, and healthy meals in the cafeteria.
- Absence of laws against drugs—those who get addicted are treated rather than incarcerated.
- A modern prison system in which prisoners are rehabilitated rather than punished (recidivism is only 20%, as compared to the U.S. 80%), there is no solitary confinement or death penalty.
- Civil protesting is more common than in the U.S. and has been effective in keeping tuition-free universities and women’s rights.
- Finally, perpetrators of banking fraud have been punished.
So, once again, we learn that the U.S. is not first in any of the major areas of living: Educational opportunities without tuition, participation of women and the middle class in running a company, respect and consideration for the rights of workers, and effective treatment of drug users and prisoners.
Well, of course upon hearing about all the services governments provide their citizens, we immediately think about how high their taxes must be. Moore shows with graphs how much more we actually pay for the services with hidden costs that are no different from taxes, e.g., co-pays for health care. Most (60%) of our taxes go for military costs instead of education, health care, or infrastructure.
The ironic part of all these “goods” is that they all originated in America, but we have gradually allowed them to be taken away for a number of reasons. An articulate woman in Iceland stated that she wouldn’t want to live in the U.S. because we’re not neighborly; we don’t take care of others around us, and seem to have only our individual interests uppermost in our minds. Another problem implicit in Moore’s interviews is that we do not protest when unjust laws are passed or unfair policies are enacted.
Moore gives us a comprehensive look at what other countries offer their citizens, and even though most of them originated in the U.S., we have fallen far behind. I’m not sure how entirely accurate his figures and conclusions are, but I think we can guess that he is mostly right. A friend did point out to me that all these benefits are achieved much more easily in smaller countries that until recently have been more homogenous in ethnicity, class, and culture.
This is a sobering documentary on how much less American citizens receive from government and corporations compared with other Western nations, even though, if hidden costs are calculated along with taxes, we pay more, work longer hours, and receive fewer benefits.
And the comparative status of Americans’ lives in the world?
Grade: B+ By Donna R. Copeland