Where to Invade Next

I saw Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next” this weekend. Like his other films, it is a critical indictment of American society. It is also highly selective, as the programs discussed in the countries he visits are “cherry picked.” All the countries have major problems, but Moore ignores them, picking “the flowers, not the weeds,” as he says.

In the film Moore compares the social policies in several countries, mostly European, with those in America. He begins by visiting Italy, where the sun always shines and the people have beautiful tans. He learns from a middle age couple that the companies where they work provide them with four weeks of paid vacation. National and local holidays add even more paid vacation days.

While still in Italy, he visits a Ducati motorcycle factory and a clothing manufacturer that bestows five months paid maternity leave and two-hour lunches. We see workers returning home to a three-course lunch, wine included, with family and friends. How they ever get any work done in the afternoon is a mystery to me, but the CEOs of both firms assure us that the two-hour lunches lead to more contented and productive employees.

Moore moves on to France, where once again we are told that long and healthy lunch breaks are good for school children. In Finland, where everyone seems to speak beautiful English, we are informed that Finnish schools have virtually eliminated homework and standardized testing, as well as providing more free time. In a recent comparison of math, reading and science skills among 15-year olds, Finland ranks number one among developed countries, while the United States ranks among the lowest.

On to Slovenia, a country that is rarely heard from, where college education is virtually free. Moore speaks with several American students who have enrolled in colleges there to avoid the prohibitive costs of tuition, room and board of colleges and universities in this country. However, we don’t find out about the courses offered or their outcome, including graduation rates and subsequent employment of the students who attend college there.

Moore moves on to Germany where there is free health care, as is true elsewhere in most European countries. He spends a fair amount of time in school classes where the study of the Holocaust is required. Moore then laments that there is no requirement in schools of this country for studying the way we have treated Native Americans or the long history of slavery either.

In Norway Moore is startled to learn that prisons are organized around rehabilitation rather than retribution. Prisoners are housed in studio apartments equipped with a bathroom, television, and cookware including knives. No one is locked up in solitary confinement and the maximum sentence is 21 years. Prisoners have considerable mobility within the grounds; you get the impression that Norwegian prisons are not that much different from a small society.

In Iceland, a country of about 320,000 people, where the financial crisis crippled the economy, the country has largely recovered with the help of tourism. Moore comments that the one bank that didn’t fail was run by women. This leads to a lengthy treatment of the many virtues of female leadership.

Moore intends the film to be an exercise in finding solutions to the many problems facing this country. In this sense the film has a positive message, although it deals in obvious generalities about the merits of European countries. (The film was made before the current migration crisis there.)

The film also ignores the many efforts to solve our problems, as well as the difficulties we have in adopting new, large-scale programs in one as big and diverse as ours. Small, relatively homogeneous societies have several advantages compared to large, multi-state countries in introducing and experimenting with new programs.

After seeing a preview of the “Where to Invade Next” a friend of mine announced rather boldly, that she will never see the film. That is a problem with films like this. The audience, like the subjects in Moore’s film, is also going to be highly selective.

After the showing I attended, the assembled crowd burst out with wild applause. That surprised me, although I guess it shouldn’t have.