[28 March 2011]
“Some things are worth fighting for,” notes narrator Matt Damon at the conclusion of Charles Ferguson’s Academy Award–winning documentary, Inside Job. They’re words with which few would disagree, although the things some people would fight for can vary to a drastic degree, as is evidenced by the greed and corruption, which led to a worldwide economic crisis, and the profit-hungry laissez-faire capitalists exposed by the film.
The year 2008 witnessed the worst financial fallout in modern history, raising unemployment rates and overall poverty to unprecedented degrees across the globe. Long-standing financial institutions collapsed and faith in the US economy dwindled. Ferguson’s second film, which grossed over $6 million worldwide, explores the oft-times confusing economic dynamics that ultimately led to this worldwide disaster through exceptionally revealing interviews with Wall Street and Washington insiders—many of whom were, in part, responsible for the crash (and tellingly, they squirm and equivocate as their actions are laid bare for them to explain)—as well as journalists, professors, and other politicians.
Treated almost like a crime story, Inside Job unveils a sordid world of the prosperous elite who take an almost unseemly pleasure in living lives of unscrupulous lavishness, from private jets and elevators and Park Avenue penthouses to prostitution and cocaine. And just like any other gang of addicts, this cartel of investment bankers, stock brokers, consultants, and CEOs did not care whom they harmed in order to fuel their hunger for larger and larger profits. “Banking became a pissing contest,” says Willem Buiter, chief economist of Ctitgroup, “’Mine’s bigger than yours’—it was all men that ran it, incidentally.” No surprise there.
Divided into chronological segments, the film unravels the intricate processes and Machiavellian machinations that led to the disaster and explains, using visual charts, how the complex world of credit default swapping, subprime lending, and the entire derivatives market operates and how it was ultimately doomed to implode. In a nutshell, Inside Job shows that, starting with the Reagan-era deregulation of Wall Street, financiers were allowed to defraud their own clients, such as investors of retirement funds, to make themselves enormously wealthy, even in the face of conflicting interest and warnings by the International Monetary Fund. Seeking short-term profits in risky investment schemes, these high-profile bankers ensured their own wealth even when they knew their investments were doomed to fail. Lenders preyed on their own clients’ ignorance of how such things as the mortgage market really operates in order to push, in their own terms, “shitty” deals so they could make a quick buck.
Eventually, in 2008, their self-created bubble burst, sending shockwaves throughout the entire international market, leaving millions of people broke and homeless. Of course, as one economist notes, “The men who destroyed their own companies and plunged the world into crisis walked away from the wreckage with their fortunes intact.”
What Inside Job does so well is show the enormity of this system, how it has infiltrated the government through excessive lobbying and campaign contributions, not to mention the world of academia by rewarding educators with high-paying speaking engagements and consulting positions, and how its overall effects have damaged people’s lives in all corners of the globe. “Since the 1980s, the US has become a more unequal society and its economic dominance has decline,” the film notes, showing how former President George Bush, under the advisement of these same corporate swindlers, such as Henry Paulson, reduced taxes on investment gains, stock dividends, and eliminated the estate tax, all of which helped the wealthiest Americans become wealthier. And now, “for the first time in history, average Americans have less education and are less prosperous than their parents.” Need more proof that the Reagan concept of “trickle-down economics,” which Bush and other neo-conservatives hold has sacred doctrine, simply does not work?
Barack Obama won the presidency on a platform of changing this system but, as the film shows, the same people who caused the 2008 crisis are still in positions of power both on Wall Street and in Washington (e.g., Obama’s chief economic advisor is Lawrence Summers, former chief economist of the World Bank, and long-time advocate of deregulation), which may explain why no criminal prosecutions have occurred since 2010. The movie urges the American people to take back their government before another economic catastrophe occurs, because, as has already been noted, “Some things are worth fighting for.” And, what has been shown by the sorts of documentaries appearing at the Oscars in the past few years, such as 2006 winner An Inconvenient Truth, 2009 winner The Cove, and 2009 nominee Food Inc., progressive ideology has taken a firm hold in domestic thought. The fight, it seems, may have already begun.
Inside Job not only won an Oscar, but won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Non-Fiction Film and the New York Film Critics Circle Award in the same category, as well as receiving nominations for best documentary by ten other organizations.
The DVD/Blu-ray has already sold over 100,000 copies. It features deleted scenes (mostly interviews that had to be shortened for release) and a film-concurrent commentary with Ferguson and producer Audery Marrs that provides some fascinating details as to how various shots were acquired and some behind-the-scene scoops on the reaction of some of the “less-cooperative” interviewees both during their interrogations and after the film’s release (needless to say, most were not happy). It also provides a short film, The Making of Inside Job, in which Ferguson explains, in simple terms, that the entire 2008 debacle was “a bank robbery,” pure and simple, except “it wasn’t one that wasn’t committed by people coming into the bank, but the president of the bank.”
As a whole, the DVD allows the viewer further details and more up-to-date revelations, which, alongside the film, provide a comprehensive understanding of what happened—and is still happening—in the American economy and government. Inside Job is not just an exposé on a historical event, but a warning to the American people: What happen once could easily happen again, especially if the same people continue to run the show ... and, perhaps next time, it could be even worse.