Inside Job: Hustling Main Street

THE FILM THAT COST OVER $20,000,000,000,000 TO MAKE.

insidejobThere are few things that members of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements agree on. They don’t see eye to eye on social matters, for instance. But there is one issue where they do agree to a large extent, one that spawned both grassroots movements. Neither group wants to see Wall Street stick it to Main Street and get away with murder. Regardless of political color you are likely to find this documentary positively infuriating.

This is the story of how the financial system came undone in 2008. The movie is divided into several parts, going from “How We Got Here” to “Where We Are Now”. Before that, there’s a prologue explaining how a well-to-do country like Iceland became more or less bankrupt. In the words of the filmmakers, it’s all about deregulation.

Three small Icelandic banks were allowed in 2001 to enter an international stage. Regular citizens benefited greatly – until the recession struck, which hit Iceland particularly hard since its economy had come to be built on a pile of debt. As this, shall we say, shitstorm was growing in intensity, American accounting firms found nothing wrong with the Icelandic economy. That’s a pattern that would repeat itself over time, as the filmmakers show. Very pedagogically, they explain how the recession began in the U.S. and trace its origins back to President Ronald Reagan. He was the first man in the White House to break the regulations that controlled the financial sector, giving rise to a few firms that became very wealthy and powerful.

In the 1990s, derivatives, a financial trading tool, became widely used and attempts to regulate them failed. This increased risk-taking led to collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), a potentially toxic mixture of mortgages, loans and debts that could be traded. The most dangerous part of a CDO could be a subprime loan that gave people who could not afford it the means to buy a house. When the bubble finally burst, everybody had been asleep at the wheel, including three regulatory agencies that kept giving CDOs AAA ratings.

Mourning a system
Director Charles Ferguson, who previously made the powerful Iraq War documentary No End in Sight (2007), mourns a system that worked just fine for 40 years and lines up a number of scandals and crises caused by deregulation. But in the end, Democratic administrations are as much to blame as rightwingers, including Barack Obama who is entirely at the mercy of former Wall Street bankers and their guardians, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Larry Summers who fought banking restrictions as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary. In a fascinating and smart way, the filmmakers present graphs and facts that point out the dangers of allowing banks and financial institutions to speculate with our savings – without adult supervision.

Some of the recession’s worst offenders,CEOs and chairmen of companies like Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs, refused to be interviewed, but plenty of other economists and businessmen explain to us the sordid details of the crisis… and some of the apologists find themselves in a hot seat, such as Glenn Hubbard, a supply-side economist who turns nasty as soon as the filmmakers address his wildly inappropriate ties to major firms.

The last image is of the Statue of Liberty, shot from a helicopter. The scene is accompanied by Matt Damon’s voice proclaiming that “some things are worth fighting for”. A rallying cry, indeed. Too bad that tea partyers are not prepared to hit those who got away with murder where it hurts.

Inside Job 2010-U.S. 109 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs. Written and directed by Charles Ferguson. Narrated by Matt Damon.

Oscar: Best Documentary Feature.

Last word: “Unfortunately, [working on this film] made it clearer to me that America really has changed a great deal in the last thirty years. One aspect of that change has been this extraordinary growth in the power of the financial sector and also the growth of this ultrawealthy class. There’s now an extraordinary concentration of wealth and financial power in a way that was not true thirty years ago. The financial crisis was in many ways a result of that change.” (Ferguson, The Progressive)

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