Sunday, April 29, 2018

DVDebut for Ilan Ziv's terrific television series, CAPITALISM: Get your economics lesson here!

The truism that history is written by the winners gets a kind of comeuppance in the finally-released-on-DVD-in-the-USA, six-part documentary series from 2014, CAPITALISM, by Israeli-born filmmaker Ilan Ziv (shown below) -- which, as you view and listen to this intelligent, thoughtful mix of economic theory and practice, will begin to seem more like history as written by the losers. As you might further expect, this is bracing and provocative stuff.

I don't know about you, but, like most Americans, for my entire early-into-middle-aged years, I'd been told (and pretty much bought as gospel) the tale that Capitalism was clearly the only intelligent choice for America and the world. The alternative, my god, was Communism, and we all knew how awful that was. The immense delight to be found in this Capitalism series is how smartly and succinctly it demolishes most of the would-be tenets of this theory, whether they come via Adam Smith and the "free" market, David Ricardo and Thomas Robert Malthus, or from everybody's favorite anti-Keynesian, Friedrich Hayek.

Jumping around consistently from past to present day, and from one country and one economist/historian/anthropologist to another, the series is a bit challenging in this regard, yet what it has to say challenges conventional wisdom in such intelligent and sprightly fashion, and with enough facts at its disposal to gut much of Capitalism's vaunted success.

The series begins with a very interesting history of the long (and still ongoing) search for how the economy really works. By the time the series is finished with Adam Smith and his famed tome, as one of our experts points out, "The elephant in The Wealth of Nations room is slavery."

The myths of the free market, free trade and the supposed total benefits of division of labor -- they're all laid to rest here. (The section on free trade and The Opium War, is particularly germane.) By the time we get to Karl Marx (above), his life and contribution, the series has included a good deal of humor, too. Funniest of all is a hilarious cartoon depicting Captain Capitalism fighting a Karl Marx disguised as Santa Claus, who has the kids on his lap ask for "world peace and an end to poverty." Oh, the shame of it! Another section includes the duel of lectures between Keynes & Hayek turned into a rap number (shown at bottom)

Along the way we learn the why and how "fictitious capital" is now referred to as "finance capital," as well as why the ideas of Hayek and his fervent disciple Milton Friedman have failed time and again to produce anything like a sustainable economy. We also hear from some of the usual suspects:  Thomas Piketty, Yanis Varoufakis (as we see and hear of the continuing Greek crisis), Ha-Joon Chang (shown below), Noam Chomsky and one fellow I found especially worth hearing for his quiet voice, measured tone, and perspicacious conclusions -- Abraham Rotstein (shown above).

Forget the nonsense of novelist Ayn Rand's economic theories: What I'd never noticed before is how incredibly shifty-eyed was Ms Rand. Watching her eye movements in the clips shown here is both telling and amazing.

Finally in Part Six, we learn of Karl Polanyi, via his daughter, Kari Polanyi Levitt (above) -- the ideas of whom regarding labor, money, land and particularly debt prove a fine way to finish these lectures. Boy, do I wish I could have seen an informative, thought-provoking series like this when I was in college, rather than being forced to read that crappy and boring Samuelson economics textbook we were given at the time. I would hope that today's students will be more fortunate. The way the world seems headed now, it's either change or perish.

From Icarus Home Video and running 320 minutes (divided into six 53-minute episodes), Capitalism becomes available to home video via DVD and VOD (via Amazon Instant Video and VHX) this Tuesday, May 1.

Update Note:
Ilan Ziv's CAPITALISM -- the complete six-part series -- will also be shown in New York City at Anthology Film Archives, as part of its Karl Marx on Film program, on Sunday, May 20 at 3:45pm, with a 45-minute intermission from 6:30-7:15.

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