Wall Street/Maim Street

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Rob DeWalt The New Mex­i­can

In­side Job, doc­u­men­tary, rated PG-13, Re­gal DeVargas, 3 chiles

I watched this film twice, just to con­firm my sus­pi­cions that 1) the fi­nan­cial world is in­ten­tion­ally con­fus­ingly com­plex, and 2) that strange sound in the back­ground dur­ing both screen­ings was in­deed me chew­ing the in­side of my own face off in ut­ter dis­gust at that world.

Di­rec­tor Charles Fer­gu­son, who earned an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for his No End in Sight doc about the al­lied oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq, re­turns with this scathing ex­posé about the on­go­ing eco­nomic blood­bath. If you’ve been led to be­lieve that global fi­nan­cial mar­kets took an un­ex­pected dive in 2007 and 2008 and that re­cov­ery/re­form un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­naled a needed change in Wall Street and Washington, D.C., at­ti­tudes, then you need to watch this film twice, too. You won’t like what you learn, but you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate the les­son — how­ever blandly it’s de­liv­ered by Fer­gu­son, with an on­slaught of bar charts and other graph­ics and dry nar­ra­tion by Matt Da­mon.

Fer­gu­son launches his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the world­wide dereg­u­la­tion shell game in Ice­land, where a care­less and greedy bank­ing sys­tem cre­ated an out-of-con­trol bor­row­ing cul­ture

in 2007 that left the coun­try’s econ­omy in ru­ins. At the same time, Amer­i­can ac­count­ing firms and credit-rat­ing agen­cies de­clared Ice­land’s bank­ing sys­tem sta­ble and, to quote Da­mon’s sar­cas­tic voiceover, “won­der­ful.” Ap­par­ently, what’s good for Ice­land is good for the United States — and has been for quite some time.

Cue Peter Gabriel’s song “Big Time,” with the lines, “I’ve had enough, I’m get­ting out to the city, the big, big city / I’ll be a big noise with all the big boys, so much stuff I will own.” Af­ter the New York City sky­line comes el­e­gantly into view, the film cuts to David H. McCormick, who held a se­nior po­si­tion in the trea­sury depart­ment dur­ing the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Would you sup­port le­gal con­trols on ex­ec­u­tive pay?” Fer­gu­son asks him. “Um … no, no I would not.” And so be­gins a re­veal­ing and frus­trat­ing story of how greed, ig­no­rance, nepo­tism, back-pat­ting, and bad pol­icy led to one of the worst eco­nomic crises in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Ice­land’s re­cent bank­ing woes, we learn, amount to chump change com­pared to what has oc­curred in the United States over the past 30 years. The film’s glut of iden­ti­fy­ing cap­tions, bill ti­tles, dol­lar fig­ures, and graph­ics boil down to a rather rote but well-or­ga­nized de­scrip­tion of how it all hap­pened, from the sav­ings and loan scan­dal of the 1980s, to Clin­ton-era dereg­u­la­tion, to the sub­prime bub­ble and bloated Bush II-era de­riv­a­tives mar­kets that fol­lowed, dur­ing which many fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions were plac­ing bets on the fail­ure of loans they told their own clients to in­vest in with con­fi­dence.

“When you start think­ing you can cre­ate some­thing out of noth­ing,” says Singapore Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong, “it’s very dif­fi­cult to re­sist.” In­side Job pro­vides many ex­am­ples of this, high­light­ing the com­plic­ity and blind faith of politi­cos and fi­nan­cial lead­ers over the past three decades. A rogues’ gallery of co-con­spir­a­tors emerges through one-on-one in­ter­views, with the oc­ca­sional sub­ject ask­ing for the cam­eras to be turned off and, in one case, dar­ing Fer­gu­son to con­tinue his con­fronta­tional line of ques­tion­ing. “You have three min­utes. Give it your best shot,” says econ­o­mist Glenn Hub­bard, who helped man­u­fac­ture the con­tro­ver­sial 2003 Bush tax cuts that played a ma­jor role in the re­cent midterm elec­tions.

There are some awk­ward mo­ments in the film’s in­ter­view seg­ments, such as a scene with for­mer New York at­tor­ney gen­eral and gover­nor Eliot Spitzer, who re­signed in dis­grace as gover­nor in 2008 af­ter be­ing tied to a pros­ti­tu­tion ring. Af­ter a nar­ra­tive de­scrip­tion of a Bloomberg.com ar­ti­cle sug­gest­ing that pros­ti­tu­tion, strip clubs, and il­le­gal drugs ac­count for 5 per­cent of de­riv­a­tive ex­ec­u­tives’ busi­ness ex­penses, any­thing Spitzer has to say loses its cred­i­bil­ity. (Which re­minds me: “Obama ma­mas,” you’re not go­ing to like what you dis­cover about the pres­i­dent through­out this film — al­though it doesn’t in­volve a hooker and an ounce of blow, if that’s any con­so­la­tion.) Spitzer’s ap­pear­ance serves the pur­pose of re­mind­ing au­di­ences that al­most no­body’s hands ap­pear to be clean within the in­ner cir­cles of this on­go­ing de­ba­cle.

The rea­son it re­mains on­go­ing may be one of this film’s biggest eye-open­ers. Re­mem­ber Hub­bard, the ar­chi­tect of the 2003 Bush tax cuts? He’s also the dean of Columbia Busi­ness School. Hub­bard and a host of oth­ers in po­si­tions of un­fath­omable aca­demic power are ex­posed as present-day cheer­lead­ers of busi­ness philoso­phies that led to the eco­nomic cri­sis in the first place. Dis­cov­er­ing that these men are charged with shap­ing the fi­nan­cial minds of the fu­ture while reap­ing huge con­sult­ing fees from cor­po­ra­tions that owe Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers a tril­lion-plus-dol­lar pay­back (not to men­tion an apol­ogy) is enough to make even the most cau­tious in­vestor hit up Google for in­struc­tions on torch-build­ing and cas­tle-storm­ing. Re­mind your­self while watch­ing this film that this is all ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing right now, while the same cor­po­ra­tions con­tinue to dole out ob­nox­iously large bonuses to their board mem­bers — as the na­tional job­less rate hov­ers at around 10 per­cent.

Work­ing desperately to pre­serve the sta­tus quo: Henry Paul­son, Ben Ber­nanke, and Tim Gei­th­ner

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.