Until I saw Charles Ferguson’s documentary film “Inside Job,” I thought Simon Johnson and James Kwak’s book “13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown“ provided the best introduction to the causes for the current economic calamity facing our nation and the world.
“13 Bankers” provides the details, and everyone knows that “the devil is in the details.” But the book speaks more to the head than the heart.
“Inside Job,” which recently won the Oscar for best documentary, communicates to the heart. Frankly, this documentary delivers a shock at the sense of injustice that paper and ink will never be able to duplicate.
For 69 riveting minutes, the unconscionable arrogance, heartless complacency, intransigent incompetence and larcenous greed of America’s still-unregulated finance industry is on full display.
The camera never blinks when ethically averse academics, bungling bureaucrats, exorbitantly compensated incompetent executives and pandering politicians are questioned about their roles and responsibilities in this crisis.
It quickly becomes apparent that none of the perpetrators or bystanders shows much inclination to look at themselves through the eyes of the victims, whom they knew would be viewing them through the lens of the camera.
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“Inside Job” examines the systemic corruption of the entire financial services industry from at least five angles.
1. The documentary recounts the decades-long movement to deregulate the finance industry.
2. It describes the development of the derivatives that disguised risk from investors, permitting bankers to reap huge fees packaging and selling subprime mortgages. At the same time, some of the bankers were betting that their own collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) would fail – thereby ensuring that they could reap huge rewards for themselves if unwitting taxpayers were required to bail out “too big to fail” financial institutions.
3. “Inside Job” unveils the revolving door between the finance industry and government regulators.
4. It explains the egregious conflicts of interest that affected the credit rating agencies and the academics who were supposed to be monitoring the finance industry.
5. The documentary examines the escalating influence that finance-industry money is exerting on political processes, which is why the countdown to the next financial Armageddon has already begun.
Most tragic is the damage to democracy and the American dream revealed by “Inside Job.”
Despite the cosmetic changes that have been enacted under the current administration, the economic system remains firmly in the hands of people who are oblivious to the hardships of unemployment and deaf to the struggles of working-class Americans.
As the documentary shows in its examination of Obama administration appointees and policies, Wall Street’s takeover of the U.S. economy continues unabated.
Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, president of the Norman, Okla., chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and host of “Religious Talk” on KREF radio. He blogs at Mainstream Baptist.