Remember The Producers? Zero Mostel plays a small-time theatrical producer who realizes he can make a ton more money on Broadway with a flop than a hit. All he has to do is raise a few thousand percent of production costs from a bunch of small investors willing to be suckered into sinking their life savings into what they're told is a sure thing. As soon as the show folds on opening night with no profits to divide, investments are written off as a bad bet, investors get skunked, and the shyster perps walk away with all the dough.
This is essentially the same scenario by which the American financial services industry crashed the U.S. economy and fomented international financial collapse in September 2008, according to Charles Ferguson's cogent, clear-headed documentary Inside Job.Operating on the principle that we, as a people, can't get even unless we get good and mad, Ferguson's succinct and important film scrutinizes the unholy alliance of powerful banks, insurance providers, savings and loan companies, financial rating services, and Wall Street insiders placed inside the Treasury Department, and the 30-year process by which they all conspired to ruin the American economy and bilk U.S. tax-paying citizens out of billions in the name of corporate greed.
Inside Job is beautifully shot by Svetlana Cvetko and Kalyanee Mam; the golden aerial cityscapes of New York City at dawn are as ravishing as the pristine, unspoiled fairy-tale wilderness of Iceland in the film's prologue. A tiny nation with a healthy economy, low unemployment, clean energy, and self-sustaining food production, Iceland experimented with deregulating and privatizing its banks. In short order, Iceland's three tiny banks had borrowed three times the nation's annual income, plots of wildlands were sold off to international developers, and the banks collapsed: unemployment tripled in six months.
It took longer for illegal and immoral greed-is-good Wall Street banking policies (staunchly supported at every turn by the U.S. government) to destabilize the American economy, but the results have been no less devastating. While, banks were once forbidden to speculate with investors’ money, that changed during the Reaganomics 1980s when investment banks went public and deregulation began.
Ferguson clearly charts the downward spiral of economic stability in direct proportion to the insane rise in profits within the financial industry—from the Keating/Savings and Loan scandal of 1982 to the rise of its architect, Alan Greenspan (Chairman of the Federal Reserve through four successive administrations); from the various speculative “bubbles” in the tech sector and housing, to the shady “Derivatives” market; from “predatory lending” on subprime loans bogusly rated Triple-A by ratings agencies paid off by the banks, to misleading papers delivered by university economists also employed as “consultants” to the banking industry.
Alongside the litany of fraud, cooked books and tax evasion (and evidence of financial players spending fortunes on sex, drugs, Lamborghinis and lobbyists), Ferguson offers this disturbing factoid: for the first time in our history, the current generation of young people will be less educated and less prosperous than their parents. Meanwhile, even now, the inmates are still running the asylum, with many disgraced financiers now operating from within the Obama Administration.
Most infuriating, in The Producers analogy above, the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, savings and futures aren't even the equivalent of the small investors. (Those would be smaller loan companies buying up bad loans from even more shark-like larger loan companies.) Working citizens are merely collateral damage, too far down on the food chain for corporate America to even notice. Yes, people who buy what they can't afford share much of the blame when that house of credit cards collapses. (And, unfortunately, Ferguson doesn't really address the “me too” culture of greed that sprang up like toadstools during the housing boom frenzy to convince everyone that they deserved to have it all, right now.)
But not everyone caught in the financial crossfire was attempting to live beyond their means. When suddenly jobless and homeless taxpayers are living in tent cities while the corporate thugs who robbed them of everything continue to draw multi-million-dollar salaries as Wall Street consultants and DC policy makers, it's time to get very, very mad.
★★★1/2 (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>
Written by Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt. Directed by Charles Ferguson. A Sony Classics release. Rated PG-13 110 minutes.
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