What a Recession Feels Like

I rented from Netflix the documentary Roger & Me by Michael Moore. This is the first film by Michael Moore which made his name. Whether or not you agree with Michael Moore’s liberal point of view, the film offered a good reminder of what a recession feels like.

In case you haven’t seen it (the film was out nearly 20 years ago in 1989), it’s about the impact of General Motors’ closing of several auto assembly plants in Flint, Michigan. Michael Moore, a native of Flint, wanted to bring then GM chairman Roger Smith to Flint and show him the devastation of 30,000 laid off GM workers. The film showed how his repeated efforts failed to get Smith to come to Flint and how the workers and the town coped with the event.

Oh boy it’s depressing. Workers got laid off. They got evicted from their apartments when they couldn’t pay their rent. They took up other odd jobs. Even fast food restaurants wouldn’t hire former GM workers because they were not good enough at working in fast food. The wife of a laid off worker became an Amway saleswoman doing “color reading” for her customers. She later confessed in great horror that she had read herself into the wrong color! The scene of a former worker raising rabbits for a living and killing and skinning one on camera for meat and fur is absolutely shocking. I cringed and closed my eyes. Don’t let your kids watch that scene.

The film stuck me on a nerve because I worked in an auto plant before. The workers in the film looked very familiar to me. The so-called blue collar workers are hardworking. They care a lot about their families. Sadly, the site I worked in also closed a few years after I left. I wonder what happened to the workers.

The film reminded me of what a recession feels like. People lose their jobs and they can’t find a new one. Are we in a recession now? I don’t think so.

Rating: ***** (Excellent)

Have you been in a recession? What did it feel like to you? Do you think we are in a recession now based on your past experience?

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  1. Anonymous says

    Roger and Me is the one movie Michael Moore made that has any credibility.

    Fahrenheit 9/11 is total propaganda. In the process of shooting it, Michael Moore became the Democrats Election 2004 fan-boy, though the film didn’t stem the tide.

    I’d only suggest watching this film if you borrow it from the library – don’t give this propagandist any additional funding!!!

  2. Bradipo says

    It makes a big difference whether you lose your own job, or not.

    If you lose your job, it feels just like it looked in the movie. If you don’t, but friends or family members do–or if you’re constantly worried that you will–then it’s not as bad, but bad enough.

    On the other hand, if you’re in a secure job in a growing business (and lots of people are, even in a bad recession), then a recession doesn’t necessarily feel so bad at all. You get better service when you go to buy stuff (because you’re the only customer), prices are negotiable, if you’re a manager it’s suddenly easier to hire top people, etc.

    Philip Brewer

  3. Anonymous says

    Something interesting that I’ve heard brought up in the past: you, and most people who watch this film, indicate that the rabbit-killing scene is very hard to watch. However, it is rarely mentioned that the film also includes archival news footage of a man, mentally ill, being shot in the street by police. An odd juxtaposition of selective squeamishness? I just write this because I find it interesting, especially since my parents raised rabbits for meat and fur when I was a child (before my memories begin). They were quite poor and needed the cheap, quick source of protein as well as the little bit of extra income the fur would provide. However, I strongly doubt that even a small fraction of one percent of the American people would advocate shooting mentally ill people in the street as a source of food and to sell their skin for some extra income.

  4. Kristin says

    I recently rented this movie, as well. I remember when this was actually happening when I was in high school. Back then I wondered why all those people were so angry with GM? Why do they think GM owes them a living? Why don’t they just get another job? That’s a typical response from someone who still has their job and are not affected by a localized recession.
    Lesson learned: These folks were too dependent on GM, they had no emergency funds and limited job skills. Even with all of that, they would have taken huge losses on their homes, but at least they would have been able to move on.

  5. Strategic Investor says

    What happened to Flint was a depression, not a recession. It was a classic Michigan company town and when that company moved the plant, the primary source of income into the town was gone.

    Almost as pathetic as these scenes were the lame-brained ideas cooked up by the town for business development. Flint, Michigan – convention/tourist mecca. Right.

    Should have moved aggressively to seek additional investment.

    Instead, everything was blamed on GM who somehow “owed” these folks these jobs. Maybe GM should have spent more time building attractive cars and trucks instead of fiddling with “brand management” (remember the Cadillac Cimmaron?). Many other Flints might have been avoided had GM and the UAW been more aggressive in overhauling the company in this period.

    Having also worked in the industry, I suspect that Ford and then Chrysler and then GM will have to file for bankruptcy reorganization before they can turn things around. Especially since durable goods orders are dropping like rocks as people fight to pay their mortgage.

  6. Art Stone says

    Having lived in Flint Township at the time (doing computer work for GM/EDS – trying to keep Buick City alive), the film very much distorts reality. A block outside of the city limits, the Flint area was doing quite well with successful shopping areas on all sides and a sound economy.

    What killed the City of Flint was a city income tax and property tax disputes with GM – and an incompetent city government – like a police chief who routinely said things on TV like controlling crime was beyond his ability to control because of all of the people using illegal drugs. Prostitution was occuring right out in plain sight on Martin Luther King drive on the North Side of the city in the middle of the day. That doesn’t happen unless the police are allowing it to happen.

    Also, regarding the shooting of the mentally ill man – he was holding a loaded shotgun standing in the middle of Dort Highway. When rabbits start pointing loaded firearms at other humans, that might become an apt comparison.

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