"Inside Job," a documentary film directed by Charles Ferguson, narrated by Matt Damon.


By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith

"Inside Job" won the Oscar for the 2010 Best Documentary Film.  Acceptin his award, director Charles Ferguson gave a short - - and the only - - political speech of the evening when he said that not one of the perpetrators of the greatest financial scam in the last fifty years was charged or is in prison for the crimes they committed against homebuyers and investors.   If the documentary is not in theatres, please get hold of a copy and see it now.  Democracy Now! is offering it as a gift in their pledge drive, too.  Ferguson had made one of the best anti-war documentary films “No End in Sight” a couple of years back, which I reviewed [in Socialst Action News].   He has come up with another winner.

“Inside Job” tells chronologically how the biggest banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies and other behemoth financial institutions like Lehman Bros and Goldman Sachs screwed every day, ordinary working people like you and me - - taxpayers - - in a Ponzi scheme that makes Bernie Madoff’s rip-off look like kindergarten. It took white collar crooks, with the backing of the US government, thirty years to pull it off, starting when Reagan deregulated financial institutions. The head honchos raked in billions, leading, on September 18, 2008, to the biggest financial collapse since 1929.

Many books have been written on the subject, such as interviewee Charles Morris ’s “The Trillion Dollar Meltdown,” yet few are willing to pore through these seemingly dry tomes about finances and economics. So, here’s this movie where you can sit down in front of a giant screen with a bucket of popcorn and a mega cup of fizzy, to watch and listen as the story unfolds in a straightforward, lucid but scary manner, narrated by the measured tones of Matt Damon. Ferguson utilizes easy to grasp graphics not only to explain terms such as profit-making CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and CDSs (credit-default swaps) but also to show how “money” moves around enabling these company heads to walk away with millions of their investors’ cash.

For interviews, director Ferguson was well-armed. He did his homework. He studied, read documents and the books we didn’t want to. Watching interviewees sweat, squirm, tap dance and backpedal is satisfying. Not as satisfying as seeing them in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs. He interviewed Lehman Brothers’ head, Dick Fuld, and others who did lose their jobs and/or companies, yet still made millions. Refusing his requests for interviews were former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and head of Goldman-Sachs; Alan Greenspan, and Ben Bernanke, as well as some of the investment-bank executives who made millions from CDOs.

Ferguson tracked the careers of Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Hank Paulson, and Alan Greenspan; he included clips showing them working in or with the US government and/or presidents in some capacity or other, since Ronald Reagan. Of Summers, Ferguson wrote in an article for the SF Chronicle, early October, “Rarely has one individual embodied so much of what is wrong with economics, with academe, and indeed with the American economy. In [my] film, "Inside Job," which takes a sweeping look at the financial crisis, I found Summers everywhere I turned.” Larry Summers will soon resign as director of the National Economic Council and return to Harvard early next year.

Ferguson also interviewed economic professors from noted universities, some who warned early on of the imminent collapse. As early as 2005, Raghuram Rajan, the chief economist of the IMF spoke of the danger to an audience which included honoree Alan Greenspan, retiring as chairman of the US Federal Reserve, and Larry Summers. Of course, he was ignored and criticized. Some academic economists were paid hundreds of thousands of dollar to write articles in financial rags declaring that shaky companies were actually solvent, while teaching students economic models that showed otherwise. Ferguson asked if they didn’t see a conflict of interest.   No.

The collapse went global. Ten million Chinese workers lost their jobs, exports collapsed. “They fell off a cliff.”  Ferguson includes film clips of shuttered factories and the desperation of the thousands of unemployed in many countries who now have no means with which to feed, clothe and house their families.

Remember those real estate company TV ads showing happy couples - - usually black and Latino - - expressing joy when signing papers that would make their American Dream of owning a home come true? Now, all those thousands of homes have been foreclosed, and for tens of thousands of men, women, and children that dream has become a nightmare. When the bubble, which grew from thirty billion to 600 billion in just ten years, burst in 2008, Alan Greenspan and good ol’ “W’” told the world it was because too many unqualified people signed mortgages for homes they couldn’t afford. They couldn’t pay their loans and mortgage companies couldn’t lend anymore money (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ran out.), so those first-time homebuyers were responsible. Ferguson shows a clip of a tent city in Florida for affluent-looking white people who lost their homes and their jobs, yet the head of bailed out insurance giant AIG receives one million a month in retirement pay. We taxpayers had to fork over 700 billion dollars so George Bush could bail out Lehman Brothers otherwise the world would come to an end.

Ferguson interviewed Eliot Spitzer, who, as attorney general of New York, investigated financial industry fraud in 2002. Ironically, his takedown for engaging the services of a prostitute doesn’t compare with the hooker, drugs, and expensive evenings that were part of the rewards from illegal Wall Street shenanigans. The filmmaker interviewed a heavily made-up, zoftig blonde who contracted prostitutes for these guys, and showed videos of them (faces obscured) entering luxury hotels with their “dates.” Their flunkies, Spitzer told Ferguson, said that they hid the costs in “phony expense chits.” Spitzer feels these underlings could possibly testify against their bosses - - one way to get them to “pay.” However, he demurred, he might not be the most appropriate person to suggest such a course.

According to Marx, capitalism will inevitably lead to ruin in accordance with certain laws of economic movement. These laws are "the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall," "the Law of Increasing Poverty," and "the Law of Centralization of Capital." Small capitalists go bankrupt, and their production means are absorbed by large capitalists. During the process of bankruptcy and absorption, capital is gradually centralized by a few large capitalists, and the entire middle class declines. Thus, two major classes, a small minority of large capitalists, and a large proletarian majority are formed. [from Wikipedia.]

However, as the two so-called wars grind on, some predict they will end up costing some trillions of dollars. Unemployment numbers continue to rise; state and federal government cuts funding for public housing, services and education; businesses and factories close; more people are now or soon will be poor - - poor and homeless. The rich get richer on the backs of the poor. Now, even when there are no jobs, the rich still get rich - - and the poor get even poorer. It’s prison or the military - - or the streets. At least in the military, for those aged 18-40, you get shelter, clothes, and food; for everyone else- - prison for the same amenities. So far, no one has been prosecuted or arrested for the Wall Street crimes; the wrong people are in prison.

Though Obama promised in his inauguration speech to clean house, he retained all the criminals left over from the Bush administration, replaced Greenspan with Bernanke, and worst of all, brought in Larry Summers. As Matt Damon narrates: “the men who caused the crises are still in power.” Ferguson ends his film with a shot of the Statue of Liberty and Matt Damon’s voiceover assuring us that Americans are strong and full of hope; these crimes will not go unpunished - - or some such drivel. I felt like throwing my empty bucket at the screen.

An adaptation of this review appeared in Socialst Action News in November 2010.  http://www.socialistaction.org/