Capitalism: A Love Story examines the impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans (and by default, the rest of the world). The film moves from Middle America, to the halls of power in Washington, to the global financial epicenter in Manhattan. With both humor and outrage, the film explores the question: What is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism? Families pay the price with their jobs, their homes and their savings. Moore goes into the homes of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down; and he goes looking for explanations in Washington, DC and elsewhere. What he finds are the all-too-familiar symptoms of a love affair gone astray: lies, abuse, betrayal…and 14,000 jobs being lost every day. Capitalism: A Love Story also presents what a more hopeful future could look like. Who are we and why do we behave the way that we do?
The film alternates between a fierce critique of the status quo, personal portraits of the suffering caused by the recent economic crisis, and comical social satire. The film begins a series of security footages of bank robberies (one of the robbers was even on a crutch) accompanied by the song "Louie, Louie". Moore then uses an Encyclopedia Britannica archive video to compare the modern-day America with the Roman Empire. The film then depicts home videos of families being evicted from their homes, as well as the "Condo Vultures", a Florida real estate agent whose business flourished with the increasing number of foreclosures.The film then cuts back to the past "golden days" of American capitalism following World War II. The film then shows part of a July 15, 1979 speech by President Jimmy Carter (known today as the "Malaise" speech) about America's "crisis of confidence" and warning Americans of the dangers of "self-indulgence and consumption" (which almost no one wanted to listen to). In the following Reagan years of the 1980s, where the policies of Don Regan "turned the bull loose" for free enterprises, corporations gained more political power, unions were weakened, and socioeconomic gaps were widened. The film then cuts to the Luzerne County court scandal, Captain Sullenberger's congressional testimony regarding airline pilots' poor treatment, and the expose of "dead peasant insurance" policies that have companies profiting from the deaths of their employees. Moore then interviews several Catholic priests, including Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (Archdiocese of Detroit), all of whom consider capitalism contrary to the teachings of Christianity. The film then presents a mockery of what would happen if Jesus was a capitalist who wanted to "maximize profits", to "deregulate the banking industry" and wanted the sick to "pay out of pocket" for their "pre-existing condition", in contrast with several news pundits who proclaim the success of various capitalist enterprises as being a "blessing from God."The film then features a leaked internal Citigroup memo happily declaring the United States a "plutonomy" (a society "where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few"), with the top 1% of the population controlling more financial wealth than the bottom 95% combined. The same report also raises the concern of "societies demanding a more 'equitable' share of wealth". Moore then interviews Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore (no relation), who believes "capitalism is a lot more important than democracy". The film then cuts to co-determination worker cooperatives like Wisconsin's Isthmus Engineering and California's Alvarado Street Bakery, which are owned and run democratically by their employees, as alternative models to the current capitalist system.After referring to Dr. Jonas Salk, who selflessly gave away the patent of the polio vaccine for the public good ("Would you patent the sun?"), Moore wonders about how the brightest of America's young generation are attracted into finance instead of science. Moore then goes to Wall Street seeking technical explanation about derivatives and credit default swaps, only to be advised "don't make any more movies". Eventually Marcus Haupt, a former VP of Lehman Brothers, agrees to help but fails at clearly explaining these terms. Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff similarly fails ("Sorry… I apologize… These are pretty exotic"). Moore eventually concludes that the complex system and terminology are merely there to confuse and "get away with murder", and Wall Street is just "an insane casino".Moore then explores the role of Alan Greenspan and the U.S. Treasury in leading up to the United States housing bubble that devastated the American middle class. Moore also interviews a former employee at Countrywide Financial responsible for their VIP program for "FOAs" and details how many members of Congress and political figures received favorable mortgage rates under the program. Moore then discusses with William Black, who analogizes the situation to the build-up of the collapse of a dam. The film then shows the series of events leading up to the passing of 2008 bailout proposed by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (also the former CEO of Goldman Sachs). Moore then speaks with several Members of Congress, with Ohio congresswoman Marcy Kaptur supporting Moore's comment that the passing of the bailout is a "financial coup d'état".Moore interviews Elizabeth Warren, the head of the US Congressional Oversight Committee, the government agency serving as a watchdog for Congress' wrong-doing and investigating Congressional "oversights" (mistakes). He asks her, "Where's our money?", referring to the $700 billion bailout money which Congress gave to the big banks and Wall Street investment companies. There is a dramatic pause and Warren replies, "I don't know." Advised by Warren to contact Paulson's office for answer, Moore's call is promptly disconnected upon recognition of his identity. He then goes to Wall Street demanding to "get the money back for the American people", but is denied entry into every office building of the major banks.The film then shows the events leading up to the 2008 U.S. election, where branding of capitalism and socialism occurs as part of the scare campaign, and Moore expresses hope that the election of Barack Obama might turn things into the right track. The film then contrasts the present economic reality in America with the policy of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who supported the Flint Sit-Down Strike in 1936. Moore also includes a long-lost archival footage of FDR calling for a Second Bill of Rights that would guarantee all Americans "a useful job, a decent home, adequate health care, and a good education."Moore discusses his own spiritual beliefs as a Catholic, and questions whether Jesus would belong to a hedge fund or sell short. His conclusion, which he elaborated on in more detail after the film's release, is that "you can't call yourself a capitalist and a Christian, because you cannot love your money and love your neighbor."The documentary features a number of positive portrayals, which include bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren, Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans, who put forth a moratorium on home evictions, and Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, who on the floor of the US Congress encouraged Americans to be "squatters" in their own homes, and refuse to vacate.The film closes with Moore placing police lines around numerous banks, and lastly, Wall Street itself. Moore's closing remarks are the following: capitalism is an evil which can only be eliminated, in its place, a better system is that of democracy – rule by the people, not by money, and asks all those who support his beliefs to "speed it up", mimicking the famous phrase said by Don Regan to Ronald Reagan during one of the latter's speeches.