Move over, Michael Moore. There’s another troublemaker in town and his name is Charles Ferguson. Ferguson’s powerful and infuriating new documentary, Inside Job, opened at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday just in time to remind you of who’s financing those fancy yachts parked offshore. Crooks, that’s who!
Ferguson delves into the global financial meltdown of 2008 and patiently explains the pattern of corruption, lies and double-dealing that brought the US Treasury to its knees. Cheerfully dispensing with the “he said, she said”, “on the other hand” twaddle that passes for MSM objectivity, this filmmaker embraces advocacy journalism and the result is bracing. Deregulation of the financial markets has been a disaster, Ferguson argues, allowing investment banks to amass other people’s money and gamble it away on deviously constructed financial instruments. Although his central points are familiar to any regular reader of Paul Krugman’s columns, for example, the clever graphics and disturbing interviews with economists, government officials, and financial analysts illuminate the extent to which we live of, by and for Wall Street. Goldman Sachs wins, everybody else loses.
Far from sacrificing entertainment to the cause of instruction, the film manages to keep viewers’ attention with startling tidbits such as the interview with the owner of a high-class “escort service”. Oh yes, half of her clientele was composed of Wall Street high-rollers, paying $1000/hour for their comfort women. Stealing money from retirement funds is stressful! A guy needs to relax! But sometimes a guy needs a little chemical help to work those long hours. “It amazed me how much cocaine these guys could do and still function”, remarked a therapist specializing in the angst of Wall Streeters.
The cozy relationships between financiers, government officials and ratings agencies have been amply covered elsewhere but Inside Job also draws attention to how Wall Street has corrupted academia. The same professors cheerleading the cause of deregulation in their Ivy League classrooms were also sitting on the boards of directors of major financial institutions and pulling down huge speaking fees from industry groups. Nice work if you can get it.
Ferguson sees little change under the current administration. Obama has kept the same names as previous administrations, all deeply implicated in the crash. It’s too bad that the filmmaker couldn’t get Larry Summers, Laura Tyson, Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner to talk on camera but I’m sure their lawyers would have advised against it. He ends by calling on us, the public, to take our country back from the scoundrels who have looted the Treasury. Let’s hope we heed his call.