Let’s All Move to Michigan, Shall We?


Exported from Michigan

Jon Vander Pol (2014)

Film Review

Exported from Michigan is a slick rah-rah promotional film about the glories of doing business in the state of Michigan. Even though it’s an obvious propaganda piece, it’s always interesting to track the key messages the mainstream media is trying to foist on us. The main message I see this film promoting is that society (ie government and corporations) no longer have an obligation to guarantee full employment. It’s up to the 20-30% of American young people who are unemployed to solve the problem themselves by becoming self-employed entrepreneurs.

Despite the film’s irritating lack of balance, I was gratified to see its heavy emphasis on local economies, civic engagement and community building. I’m in total agreement that local businesses are the key to a thriving economy – states tried to increase employment with tax breaks for multinational corporations learned from bitter experience corporations have no loyalty to the welfare of local communities.

The filmmakers argue that Michigan began sliding into recession long before the 2008 economic crisis, owing to a steady exodus of the big three automakers that began in the 1970s. Michael Moore’s 1989 film Roger and Me focuses on the economic devastation Flint Michigan experienced after GM closed their auto plant and laid off 30,000 workers.

Among the film’s highlights are the urban agriculture movement in Detroit, where one-third of the land is abandoned; the craft beer movement, involving 140 microbreweries across the state and employing 37,000 people; a proliferation local art fairs and music festivals aimed at building community awareness and civic engagement, high tech manufacturing start-us that focus on robots and wind and solar technology and the development of a specialized medical research center in Grand Rapids. In all these endeavors, there’s a strong expectation that new physical plants will be sustainably constructed and adhere to triple bottom line principles.*

The decision to showcase the Big 3 auto companies, which still employ one out of seven Michigan workers, mystified me. A GM executive talks about the failure to innovate and “complacency” over consumer needs that led to their bankruptcy and bailout in 2008. He doesn’t mention the 30 million vehicles GM recalled in February 2014 due to faulty ignition features that caused cars to catch fire – nor that GM knew about the fault for a decade before issuing the recall.

Although there’s brief mention of the Detroit seniors who’ve had their pensions cut as the city’s 2013 bankruptcy, the film fails to examine the tragic effect of these cuts on their lives. There’s also no mention of the tens of thousands of Detroit residents who’ve experienced water shutoffs nor the city’s condemnation by UN human rights.

View the film free at Exported from Michigan

*Triple bottom line principles place people and planet before profit.


A Film About Economic Democracy

Can We Do It Ourselves? A Film About Economic Democracy

Patrick Witkowsky, Jesper Lundgren, Andre Nystrom and Nils Safstrom (2015)

Swedish with English subtitles

Film Review

“Economy democracy” describes a system in which workers control the workplace and determine the policies under which it runs. The workers cooperative is the best known model of economic democracy.

The filmmakers begin by differentiating capitalism from a free market economy and economic democracy from socialism – as many people confuse these terms. Under capitalism private capitalists own the capital to run a business and enter into a rental contract with workers to perform the labor. Under this system the capitalists own and control the business and keep all the profits.

With a worker cooperative, workers own and control the business and enter into a rental contract with labor to provide capital. They pay the capitalists for using their money but maintain ownership of the business and control of production. They also decide how profits will be distributed.

Under socialism, the capital is “socialized.” Theoretically this means workers own an equal share of the entire economy. In practice, this has generally translated into state control of the workplace, as opposed to worker control.

This film focuses on the day-to-day operation of two 30-year-old American cooperatives. The first is Massachusetts-based Equal Exchange, founded in 1986. The second is New York-based Cooperative Home Care Associates. The latter was founded in 1985 and has 2,300 member-employees.

The filmmakers also interview various academics, activists, business leaders and trade unions officials regarding their research and experience with cooperatives.

The part of the film I found most interesting was an analysis of how monopoly capitalism distorts the free market. Our present economic system actually consists of three markets: the consumer (goods and services) market, the labor market and the capital market. Only the consumer market operates democratically, in being driven by consumer choice. The goal of economy democracy is to democratize the labor and capital markets, which are controlled at present controlled by a tiny capitalist elite.

Because workers have virtually no say into their work and receive minimal direct benefit from it, capitalists must use the fear of being fired to force them to work. This is only possible in economies with high levels of unemployment and poverty. Historically the corporate elites have deliberately manipulated monetary and fiscal policy to keep unemployment rates high.

Once workers own and run their own companies, unemployment and poverty are no longer necessary to motivate them. Thus full employment is one of the most important benefits of economic democracy.