Epistle to the Occupations

Millionaire Marxist Michael Moore was traumatized by questions addressed to him on CNN concerning his wealth. It doesn’t take much to reduce him to incoherence. Even with time to collect his thoughts, he is not entirely capable of lucidity. Yesterday he sent out an email titled “Life among the 1%,” reviewing his financial history. He revisits the moment in 1989 when he was paid $3 million for the rights to distribute his first film.

Nineteen-eighty-nine was a good year to become a millionaire. Ronald Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986 had reduced the top federal income tax rate from 50 to 28 percent. Moore recalls:

There were men in suits making many suggestions to me, and I could see how those without a strong moral sense of social responsibility could be easily lead down the “ME” path and quickly forget about the “WE.”

So I made some easy decisions back in 1989[.}

What were his decisions back in 1989? The excitement is intense, so Moore doesn’t leave us hanging long. Here they are, as the epistle relates the gospel according to Michael:

1. I would first pay all my taxes. I told the guy who did my 1040 not to declare any deductions other than the mortgage and to pay the full federal, state and city tax rate. I proudly contributed nearly 1 million dollars for the privilege of being a citizen of this great country.

The guy who did your 1040 — was that what we call an accountant? You decided to forego deductions. As a single guy without any kids, what did that cost you? Just curious.

Incidentally, it was a good thing you decided to make your tax “contribution.” You might have gone to prison if you hadn’t. Your friends in the government don’t look kindly on failure to make your annual tax “contribution.”

2. Of the remaining $2 million, I decided to divide it up the way I once heard the folksinger/activist Harry Chapin tell me how he lived: “One for me, one for the other guy.” So I took half the money — $1 million — and established a foundation to give it all away.

So the total combined effective federal, state, and local tax rate on your $3 million in income (with only a mortgage interest deduction) was 33 percent. Would you object to our aiming to get back to that today? Or do you think that would be immoral?

Now when you set up your foundation, did you deduct the $1 million you contributed to it in the year you made the contribution? And how did you invest the trust’s funds? Just wondering.

3. The remaining million went like this: I paid off all my debts, paid off the debts of some friends and family members, bought my parents a new refrigerator, set up college funds for our nieces and nephews, helped rebuild a black church that had been burned down in Flint, gave out a thousand turkeys at Thanksgiving, bought filmmaking equipment to send to the Vietnamese (my own personal reparations for a country we had ravaged), annually bought 10,000 toys to give to Toys for Tots at Christmas, got myself a new American-made Honda, and took out a mortgage on an apartment above a Baby Gap in New York City.

So you decided how to spend your money, and you spent it on the things that gave you the most satisfaction. You think you’re special, but you sound like a lot of your fellow Americans. That doesn’t get us to a million, but good for you. What about the rest?

4. What remained went into a simple, low-interest savings account. I made the decision that I would never buy a share of stock (I didn’t understand the casino known as the New York Stock Exchange and I did not believe in investing in a system I did not agree with).

So you put your savings into a demand deposit account in the bank. You seem awfully proud of that. Saving is indeed a virtue, lest you become a dependent on others.

5. Finally, I believed the concept of making money off your money had created a greedy, lazy class who didn’t produce any product, just misery and fear among the populace. They invented ways to buy out companies and then shut them down. They dreamed up schemes to play with people’s pension funds as if it were their own money. They demanded companies keep posting record profits (which was accomplished by firing thousands and eliminating health benefits for those who remained). I made the decision that if I was going to earn a living, it would be done from my own sweat and ideas and creativity. I would produce something tangible, something others could own or be entertained by or learn from. My work would create employment for others, good employment with middle class wages and full health benefits.

Well, as I said, even with time to collect his thoughts, Moore doesn’t quite achieve coherence. He thinks pretty highly of himself, though. He seems to think he is something of a model of rectitude.

So a few more questions: Do you apply the same standard that you apply to yourself to others? Do you support companies that that produce something tangible, something others could own or be entertained by or learn from? Companies that provide employment for others, good employment with middle class wages and full health benefits? Because your movies suggest that you hate free enterprise and love Communism. Try as you might, I don’t think you have fully resolved the internal contradictions of Mooreism.

UPDATE: I should add one footnote; thanks to the commenter below for reminding me. Peter Schweizer devotes an entire chapter to Moore in Do As I Say (Not As I Do). Schweizer reports that Moore’s foundation owns an extensive stock portfolio. The back of the book’s cover includes a copy of the foundation’s year 2000 Schedule D list of short-term capital gains and losses on stocks including Honeywell and, gulp, Halliburton. In a 2005 interview with Kathryn Lopez about the book, Schweizer noted that Moore is pathological on the subject: “How else to explain that he’s loudly proclaimed no less than three times that he doesn’t invest in the stock market because it’s morally wrong while quietly picking up shares in a whole host of companies[?]” I guess we can make that no less than four times…

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