Last night I watched Charles Ferguson's powerful and enraging documentary Inside Job, which lays out quite clearly the path that brought the country to financial meltdown. The meat of the story is nicely balanced between Matt Damon's narration, a set of clear graphs and captions, and the filmmaker's own tough questions to his subjects.
Starting with Iceland's laboratory-perfect financial experiment of deregulatuion and privatization that led to utter collapse as an amuse bouche, Ferguson then moves to the US, which took longer to achieve the same effect. After the deregulation of banks under Reagan, government was increasingly filled with senior executives from the finance sector as well as academic economists, all of whom seemed to agree on one thing: the need to further deregulate the incestuous system of investment banks, insurance funds, mortgage lenders, and credit ratings agencies. This envireonment allowed them to create the bubble that eventually triggered a worldwide economic collapse.
The movue gives us concise explanations of complex financial instruments like derivatives, CDOs, and credit default swaps, while the background of the story shows the industry's hard-partying world of drugs and prostitutes, as well as the obscene levels of compensation. Some of the most powerful scenes come in the footage of tough questioning from various congressional panels -- it almost looks as though someone might get in trouble.
But the punchline to the thirty-year joke is that not only were these criminally rich and morally empty financiers never forced to pay for their actions, they are still in power, both in the private sector and in government, with salaries and bonuses that are bigger than ever. Ferguson makes it clear that Obama's administration is just as deeply in bed with Wall Street as any Republican ever was. Plus ça change. Watching some of Ferguson's interview subjects try to evade his pointed and knowledgeable questions speaks volumes about their view of their accountability. They have no shame, and they have no regret.
Charles Ferguson has made a movie everyone should be forced to see.