Barcelona was the venue for our first film forum of the year on November 23rd. Tamiko Ysa of ESADE’s Department of General Management and Strategy highlighted the main issues examined in ''Where to invade next?'', a documentary in which Michael Moore, the controversial director and master of satire, reflects upon the social needs of his country, the United States.
In keeping with the military mindset so familiar to US citizens, Michel Moore ''invades'', i.e. visits, the European countries with the best social, educational and labour ideas: Italy with its paid vacations for workers; France, where school canteens serve nutritious, educational food; Finland with its excellent education, regarded as the best in the world, where students are taught how to be happy; Portugal, where the legalisation of drugs has reduced drug trafficking; Norway, where open prisons have improved the reinsertion of ex-convicts into society; and Iceland, where equality policies have placed women on a par with men in the world of employment.
Brandishing his star-spangled banner and with his sense of humour as his visiting card, Moore visited these countries to ''steal'' the social measures that could remedy some of the fundamental issues affecting the welfare state in the USA with its university student debt of more than US$ 1.3 trillion, criminal recidivism of 60%, child obesity of 14%, a statutory minimum of zero days paid leave, zero weeks paid maternity leave, and a 20% wage gap between men and women in the same job.
The guest speaker, Tamiko Ysa, began by highlighting four core factors based on the insights offered by the documentary: the decline in social contact happening in today’s society, increasing inequality, the dwindling the middle class, and the accelerating shift towards egocentric outlooks that ignore the community. She then asked how new windows of opportunity could be seized in an attempt to change these four factors, and how all these concepts could be combined to achieve a return to collective, fair and moral values.
One of the first concepts emphasised in comments by the audience was the remembrance of the past found in certain countries. The documentary showed how Germany, for example, goes to great lengths to ensure that past mistakes and tragedies, such as Nazism, are not forgotten by society and do not happen again. Hence lessons can be learnt from countries like Germany which prohibits certain demonstrations that are not prohibited in Spain, for example, and allows a more transparent remembrance of the past.
The centralisation and dimension of states
Another important concept was centralization and public policies. The examples of Iceland, Portugal and Italy given in the documentary generated discussions about the benefits of the centralization of states and the implementation of small-scale policies by city authorities which could then be scaled up to a more global scenario. It was, however, pointed out that apart from Germany, most of the countries in the documentary were small, which makes centralisation easier and facilitates the management of issues. As one member of the audience said, “The US is made up of a lot of united States in reference to how difficult it is to control all the public policies of such a large, disperse country as the US. The importance of combining centralization with learning about the policies of other countries was also stressed.
The idea that nation states are in crisis and that the cities in many states have different opinions and alternatives, led to a discussion about the concept of nation cities. The cities of Ancient Greece, for example, managed themselves without any higher government. This could demonstrate groups’ ability to work as a community and have simpler administration in comparison with the difficulties facing states today as they attempt to manage the different needs of all their groups. It is, however, important to take into account the inequalities which the nation city model might create for inhabitants not living in cities.
Transparency and the need for a community spirit
Another important point in the discussion was the upsurge in geocentricism rather than community spirit, as exemplified by the recent elections of world leaders such as Donald Trump and increased support for Le Pen in French surveys, both of which reveal a shift towards more individualistic politics and away from collective needs. This led to an appeal for transparency and the need to unmask political partisanship. In the case of Iceland, the documentary clearly explained the totally transparent court case of the bankers accused of bankrupting the country and how they ended up in prison.
The discussion pinpointed the four fundamental needs highlighted at the beginning of the film forum – an overhaul of the collective mindset in order to prevent ever-weaker social contact, greater inequality, and the extinction of the middle class – which rounded up a film forum focussed on countries learning from each others and the need for a global rather than an individual outlook.
It might not be the best time to sing the praises of the achievements of old Europe, but there is no denying that many of its tried and tested socio-economic policies can still put the American dream to shame. In the USA, university student debt accounts for more than US$ 1.3 trillion, criminal recidivism stands at 60%, 14% of children are obese, minimum statutory paid leave is zero days, the amount of paid maternity leave is zero weeks, and the wage gap between men and women in the same job is almost 20%...
The creator of the box-office successes Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, etc… now brings you the best possible version of the welfare state. Michael Moore suggests that the countries with the best social, educational and employment ideas be invaded – and their ideas stolen for the USA.
Showing his unique sense of humour, Moore’s swag for the USA would include the food served at French schools, Slovenia’s free university education, the Norwegian prison system with no walls, Finnish schools with the best education in the world …
A satirical documentary that tries to explain that the military solution is not very effective for most problems. Perhaps other solutions are possible, like the ones he suggests. Plenty of food for thought.
We will be joined on this occasion by Tamiko Ysa of ESADE's Department of Strategy and General Management.
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