Friday, November 5, 2010

Charles Ferguson's INSIDE JOB, or "WTF economy?"

Inside Job is designed to make the viewer in the audience angry. That is most viewers at any rate. Perhaps if one is going into the movie and is in the top 1% earning class of Americans, then maybe it will seem like malarkey and that it's an unfair portrayal of the current economic landscape. For everyone else who may still be wondering a big "WTF" about what went on with the downfall of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns and AIG and (worst of the log arguably) Goldman Sachs, Charles Ferguson's film is not just essential viewing, it's all but a call to arms. How does one react at the end of this movie? It loads up the facts and makes its message loud and clear: over the past thirty years, de-regulation and the incentivizing for Wall Street and the economic giants and banks made the worst come out in Americans - that is, those who had the power and resources to do something about it.

The movie goes through a few chapters, starting with the setting-the-stage for the events of the 2000's and the economic rise for the Wall street bankers and the like. It's clear, at least from the film's point of view (which is hard to see different in its factual basis) that Ronald Regan's sweeping de-regulation - the guy had Donald Regan, former head of Merill Lynch at the top with him as Treasury Secretary for Pete's sake - changed the landscape of the economy. Suddenly people at Wall street (or for that matter people who worked at Morgan Stanley) could make money, LOTS of money. This continued on into the 90's as Clinton kept up the financial ease for more cronyism and shady dealings, leading up to the Glass-Steagall Act being repealed in 1999, that just opened up MORE of the worst to an already greedy upper-class public.

That's the operative word here: Greed. One only has to see what happened with derivatives - which, finally, even after what Michael Moore tried to uncover in Capitalism: A Love Story, is a little clearer
as a concept, if still insane to understand goes on - and how it is quite a clever, wicked cooking scheme. Topping it all are the CDOs (or Collateralized Debt Obligations, which are not quite as complex as it
might sound from those words), which is set up for speculators to make money, lots of money. I wish I could explain it for you like the film does, but it's not quite possible: watching it you get the sense like
from a wonderful, patient and finitely interesting professor explaining how the financial crisis happened, in most part to the mortgage shenanigans. In short, a company like Goldman Sachs made a boat-load
(billions of boats and loads) with the ideal that Max Bialystock had in The Producers: how to make more money with a flop than a hit - in this case betting against crap mortgages. In a way the worst the mortgages went, the more money they could make. It was win-win for them, lose-lose for anyone with a bad mortgage-dealer with a predatory lender.  Keep that word in mind, 'predatory'.

One of the interviewees makes a great analogy midway through the movie to an oil-ship: there are compartments set up so that the oil doesn't go sloshing about, that if there weren't any compartments things would get bad enough to tip the ship over. Deregulation set the compartments on the ship to just flow and flow around. Regulations? Pshaw - not even on bonuses, the Wall-Street and bankers say. What's remarkable in Ferguson's film is how so many people at the top- and, sadly, many people in Obama's financial team right now- were crooked or feigned ignorance (or, holy shit, still do) at the financial collapse. It is the story of a house of cards, only one that reached out into the global economy. And most shocking is to see how there were chances to try and stop... no, that's too strong a word, maybe curtail or lessen the blow of the eventual tsunami hitting the public at large, and people (i.e. Hank Paulsopn) who could do things did nay a thing. There is some incompetence, to be sure, but a lot of it is not the work of stupid people. It's just blind greed; one can see the connection that is made when a doctor points out when the chance to make money is introduced to the brain of such people it's stimulated the same way it is by cocaine. Oh, and lest not forget that, and the hookers.

What one comes away with is a total lack of hope for the economic landscape. This isn't even like a Waiting for Superman where there is some minor attempt at the end to show how hope can be seen for the future of a flailing facet of life. But how can there be change when the people that should be regulating the banks and financial people in charge- the US government- does little, or sometimes not much at all?  (Ferguson does leave out some of Obama's more significant financial reform points, but for the sake of the argument of the film, and those in his cabinet, his argument still has validity) One can almost feel the urge to throw rocks at people who aren't really there when it comes time to show what happened to these f***ers at Lehman and Goldman and AIG - they got patted on the back, got their bonuses, and went on their way. Just the idea of the bonuses still keeps me like Lewis Black on a
Vodka-Red Bull combo hours after the end of the screening.

Now, I go on about what the movie shows, but how about how it's shown?  Like No End in Sight, Ferguson, who was mostly a political writer and technology expert before getting into films, has a natural knack for intellectual inquiry but also the keen ability to make things approachable for John-Q public. There's some musical montages (a wonderful opening title sequence has shots of NYC put to Peter Gabriel's Big Time, and the Hamptons put to New York Groove), so there is a little of the Alex Gibney feel. At the same time as there is very helpful narration from Matt Damon, all detailed (and with good graphs and charts, almost like a live-action political science books that is neither too low nor too high in scope for viewers), we get the interviews where Ferguson, knowing just the right things to ask, goes as objectively/journalistically as he can until they take him to the point of going "You can't be serious".

There's either people who are either very forthcoming and insightful (i.e. Barney Frank, Elitot Spitzer), or not at all (such as anyone from former Bush/Clinton administrations, or former banker-people, such as
Frederic Mishkin. Seeing a little worm like him (and there's no dicing it, he squirms on a hook he doesn't get himself off of) is just further proof of how clueless and/or arrogant, they all were. Ferguson doesn't
do any pranks ala Michael Moore, though by the end one sees that Moore's "gag" at the end of his film of cornering off Goldman Sachs with crime-scene yellow tape isn't that far off of an idea.

And in the end, I was actually more engaged, more enraged, than I was by Moore's film, or by any real serious look at the financial crisis of 2008 in general. It may not have a lot of the more personal perspective of Capitalism, but it covers such important ground that I, not quite a casual observer of the crisis but far from an expert, felt like I got the fullest and fairest picture on the causes and effect of the
meltdown. As Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is screened now in Economics classes and CNBC, this has to come next, and if anything is more like the Kill Bill to that movie's Reservoir Dogs.  This IS the Big Time.  The guys at Enron, some of the greediest fucks there are, would look at Lehman
brothers and Goldman Sachs and AIG in awe. And we should too - awe at their continuing and (now) more empowered existence. And grief.

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