by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on March 2, 2006.
Keya Lea Horiuchi gave up teaching in Montrose to travel the world and film interviews for a documentary, now called Growing Democracy (growingdemocracy.com). Her basic story is that corporations are bad: Corporate-owned media misinform Americans, corporations such as Halliburton initiated the war in Iraq to make money, and corporations screw up medical care. Horiuchi answered questions following a Feb. 23 screening in Denver.
Because corporations have captured governmental agencies, Horiuchi argues, the solution is to increase the power of governmental agencies over the economy. The idea that these new powers also would be captured by special interests seems never to have occurred to our filmmaker, but maybe if we all hold hands tightly enough, centralized state control of the economy will work out just fine, this time.
"It's about getting information," the web page tells us. If people have information about how some foreigners think Americans are ignorant and silly, how other industrialized nations have state-controlled health care, and how darn much money corporations make and how much they spend lobbying, then we can "facilitate dialog," "get in contact with [our] Congressional representatives," and control "legislative power."
But Horiuchi's legislative controls would further disrupt the economy and reduce our power to make economic decisions as participants in the market. Horiuchi never once contemplates the possibility of restoring the political system to something that protects individual rights, including rights to control one's income and exchange goods and services voluntarily.
I met Horiuchi in Denver in October 2004 and she agreed to give an interview. She gave me the impression that the purpose of the film was to explore perspectives about the U.S. among people around the world. This could have turned into an interesting project, if Horiuchi had examined poll data and looked at the ways people develop their opinions. But she decided to make a documentary about U.S. policy instead, which makes her interviews with random people irrelevant. Horiuchi filmed one documentary and edited an entirely different one.
The web page claims that "people in the United States often only talk to people that have similar ideas." Horiuchi offers no evidence that that's more true of people in the U.S. than of people elsewhere, but it does seem to be true of Horiuchi. She easily could have found intelligent people to defend the war in Iraq, yet instead she offers random rantings. She easily could have found intelligent people to criticize state-controlled health care and defend market health care, yet apparently she couldn't be bothered to offer both sides of that debate. Growing Democracy is less a documentary than a left-wing echo chamber.
Horiuchi accuses big TV news shows of excluding relevant information (without showing representative clips), yet she also massages material to fit her preconceived notions. For example, in the rough cut of the film that Horiuchi presented, she included my comment that supporters of the war in Iraq argued that the action would create a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. What Horiuchi did not include is my critique of neoconservative "democracy building."
At the screening, Horiuchi argued adamantly that the war was the result of U.S. corporations seeking monetary gain through weapons and building contracts. Of course, I recognize that special interests captured some war money, but I view this as a consequence of the war, not a fundamental cause of it.
Horiuchi is thus blind to ideology, even her own. Her case rests on an essentially Marxist view of economic determinism -- financial interests dictate one's beliefs and actions -- which leads her to conclude that, if only we can "democratically" control the money, people will then naturally act intelligently and in their best interests. But the policies that Horiuchi favors are the manifestation of the ideology of statism.
Horiuchi is particularly interested in imposing government-controlled health care. Yet, in her documentary "about getting information," Horiuchi omits most of the relevant information. She includes statistics about relative U.S. costs, hospital admissions, number of doctors and life expectancy. Yet she doesn't look at the relative availability of high-tech equipment, the type and quality of treatment in and out of hospitals or causes of life expectancy.
Horiuchi also avoids any serious critical look at state-controlled medicine. Arguments against it, such that it results in waiting lists, are dismissed by Horiuchi's film with the claim that, well, the U.S. system also has problems. Yet Sally Pipes, a Canadian sure to be automatically dismissed by Horiuchi because Pipes works for a U.S. market think tank, writes in Miracle Cure that Canada's system is plagued by "old and inadequate equipment, intolerable waits for treatment, and disaffected physicians."
The U.S. system is hardly a market one (as Pipes summarizes). The national government pushed health insurance into the employer-pay system and then into so-called "managed care." Now government spends nearly half of all health-care dollars, according to Pipes, and imposes all kinds of burdensome and costly controls on every aspect of medicine, including insurance.
Horiuchi's central strategy, then, is to blame the allegedly "privatized" economy for the failures of state controls, in order to rationalize more state controls. It's a game as old as socialism.