Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Inside Job: A Review

"Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression. The thick clouds of tyranny have darkened the face of the earth, and enveloped its peoples."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 92)

Thick clouds of tyranny is an apt metaphor for the financial crisis of 2008 (remember that?) that really did envelope the people of the world, causing millions to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings. The award winning documentary "Inside Job" tells us how it happened. From the majestic mountains of Iceland to the hallowed halls of some of our most distinguished universities, "Inside Job" takes us on a journey into the heart of the crisis; human greed unchecked by the restraints of good government, or conscience. This is a movie that every American needs to see.

While much of the finance industry jargon may remain obscure to those unfamiliar with it, the film does a good job of breaking down the factors contributing to the crisis. These include the deregulation of the financial industry, a revolving door between Wall Street firms and federal agencies in Washington, perverse incentive structures that rewarded taking high risks with other people's money, refusal to listen to those who warned about an impending "Armageddon", corruption of economics as an academic discipline, and a whole lot of straight up lying.

One extraordinary thing you learn from the film is how frequently those whose ideas helped contribute to this and past financial crises were given responsibility for guiding government policy. This was true regardless who was sitting in the White House by the way. This strange tendency, in addition to the "bonuses" awarded to men whose decisions destroyed their own companies calls into question the idea that monied elites have what they have because they are somehow better or smarter than the rest of us. In my line of work, (I'm a social worker) when I make serious errors of judgment people get hurt or worse. I can guarantee you I would not get a bonus or be tapped for Secretary of Health and Human Services! Damn, I knew I should have went to business school.

Not so surprising is the revelation that risky and irresponsible behaviors extend beyond the Wall Street workplace. A therapist to Wall Street-types featured in the film wonders aloud how some of them can consume so much cocaine and remain functional. A madam whose offices are a few blocks from the New York Stock Exchange, describes corporate money spent on prostitutes and billed for made up expenses. There's another "perk" that doesn't come with most people's jobs.

The best parts of film are those moments when these captains of industry and/or academics are put on the spot in congressional hearings or by the film-maker. The lying, evasion and in at least one case, indignation, are as entertaining as they are enraging. Sadly, a bit of squirming before a camera is the worst some of these men have had to face before floating away in their golden parachutes.

As debate about how "broke" our federal government is and what to do about it continues, "Inside Job" is a timely reminder that maybe, just maybe, cutting Head Start is not our most pressing national problem. I encourage readers to get your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers together and watch this film as soon as possible. I'd love to hear from you if you do or if you've already seen it.

For those who accuse people who point out the injustices in our current economic system as fomenting "class warfare", this documentary is also for you. You may gain some insight into who is really engaged in class warfare, who is actually winning, and why.