Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of
justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of
righteousness, wickedness was there as well. I said
in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the
wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter,
and for every work.
Some documentaries, such as those by Michael Moore, are like diatribes delivered by an angry Jeremiah standing in the gate of the temple. Filmmaker Charles Ferguson also is an angry prophet, but the way in which he delivers his message is like that of a calm professor explaining a complex process, or a lawyer slowly building his case, assembling his evidence piece by piece and marshalling his arguments so that by the end we in his audience share his anger. The case he presents is damning, namely that a handful of men (largely) in government and Wall Street (there is so much moving back and forth that the two are almost indistinguishable) brought on the 2008 financial crisis that cost millions of people around the world their jobs and most of their savings and pensions—and despite their manipulations that amount to fraud, their crimes have thus far gone unpunished, except in a few cases of fraud so obvious that it could not be ignored.
Mr. Ferguson’s evidence, often presented in the words of the perpetrators themselves, as we see in numerous news clips, is damning. In what amounts to a financial history lesson, the film (after opening with an analysis of the financial meltdown in Iceland) takes us back to the Reagan era when the banking and financial regulations enacted by President Roosevelt and Congress, designed to prevent another Depression, began to be dismantled. The safeguards designed to protect bankers and financiers from their own greed continued to be removed during President Clinton as well. Mr. Ferguson spares neither Democrats nor Republicans.
The mind boggles at all of the terms and schemes carefully explained (Matt Damon narrates in a calm, steady voice—no shouting here): derivatives; the Real estate Bubble; sub-prime mortgages and loans; traders at Lehman and other firms hedging their investments by betting that they would fail while at the same time pushing those investments on unwary clients.
The guilt for the estimated loss of $20 trillion is spread through many sectors, including academia, many economic professors working with financial firms to devise and sell their devious schemes. The three main agencies that gave out high ratings all knew that many of the firms did not deserve them. The heads of the Federal Reserve and various Secretaries of Treasury were a part of what one person calls a huge “ponzi scheme,” and sad to say, the changes promised by candidate Obama were not brought about—when he became President he brought in the same Wall Street men who were a part of the corrupting process. The Securities and Exchange Commission raised no objections, not bothering to conduct investigations called for by the few voices crying in the wilderness.
There are many entertaining scenes in the film, such as the clip from C-SPAN in which Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) zeroes in on Daniel Sparks, head of the Goldman Sachs mortgages department, who kept promoting investments that its own traders described to one another as “shitty.” (Makes one grateful for emails that never go away!) Then there is the interview with the very large-bosomed Kristin Davis, billed as “the madam to Wall Street,” who provided for virtually all of the Wall Street firms call girls at $1000 a night and up” so that certain clients could have a good time on them. The expense was charged to computer maintenance and such. Also, it is fascinating to watch many some of the interviewees dodge and squirm or say “No comment” when the off-camera filmmaker asks a damning question.
The film presents a dismal picture of the Lords of the Universe who run Wall Street and the Federal government. Because we do live in a democracy Mr. Ferguson offers some hope, but only if we the people become informed and aroused enough to demand action. His film in which the case for financial reform (as well as for retribution) is so well made that it should become a tool seen by as many people as possible. Inside Job really is a movie that matters! A church group could have quite an experience with it, one that is both entertaining and a spur to “do something.”
1. Have you or someone you know been affected by the 2008 crisis? If so, how?
2. What surprised you most in the film? How does Oliver Stone’s Wall Street pale in comparison to the reality claimed by filmmaker Charles Ferguson?
3. What were the arguments for deregulation of the banking and financial industries (and still are by many politicians)? It is often argued that business can regulate itself, but does it? What is the flaw in the argument (for some of us based on our doctrine of the sinfulness of human nature)?
4. If you view this, as does the director, as a crime story, who are the major “villains” ? What positions of authority have they held, and in many cases, still do?
5. What role does Eliot Spitzer, himself once convicted of vice, have? Did you find this surprising?
6. There are a few heroes or prophets in the film. Who are they? Why were they not successful in their warnings?
7. Many of the figures interviewed are now well-paid college professors and presidents of prestigious universities (Harvard and Columbia) who see nothing wrong in what they did: how does this make you feel about their impact upon the next generation of students who will assume financial and governmental leadership tomorrow?
8.There is already considerable anger abroad, much of it among members of the Tea Party movement: do you think the anger is directed at the right targets? What do you think an aroused citizenry can do? What role might you take up?