and their grip on government
American documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson lays it on the line: the financial services industry is riddled with cleverly disguised pseudo-legal criminal activity. However, despite layers of specialised, complicated and interacting financial “products” and services, serious and determined investigation can without too much difficulty reveal that fraud is, indeed, fraud.
One also does not need to be a documentarian or a US federal investigator to uncover enough evidence to suggest that entire echelons of the industry’s personnel
are corrupt, and are motivated by one thing only: to enrich themselves at the expense of their country’s economy, and, in some cases, considering the transnational nature of modern finance, of the global economy. How the
industry came to be so corrupted and parasitic, and how senior executives continue to enrich themselves whilst
still surrounded by the debris of the global financial crisis (GFC), is one of the most astounding con jobs of the
last thirty years.
These are the messages of
Ferguson’s Inside Job, which was
hailed by some critics as “arguably the smash hit” of last year’s Cannes Film Festival1 before going on to win the Academy Award for best documentary feature in February this year, perhaps unexpected accolades for a film treating such apparently dry subject matter as political economy. Make no mistake, “political economy” is not a misclassification, and it is to Ferguson’s and coproducer Audrey Marrs’ credit that the everyday realities of economic–political relations and their consequences have been made accessible to a wide audience.
It would be easy to portray Inside Job simply as a film about the financial crash of 2008 – about economics made entertainment. Inside Job does indeed make riveting viewing, but the messages Ferguson conveys so clearly and, ultimately, so passionately behind Matt Damon’s dispassionate narration, are encapsulated in the director’s Oscar acceptance speech in Hollywood: “Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail and that’s wrong”. And there was resounding applause from the film universe’s
glitterati assembled for that august event – perhaps another unexpected-but-encouraging accolade.
Inside Job begins with an investigation of the collapse of Iceland’s three major banks in September–October 2008, which erased assets equivalent to seven times the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Except for this entirely appropriate, background-establishing case study, Ferguson’s interrogation homes in on New York and Washington, where the US financial system’s rot has (note use of present tense) its symbiotic cores embedded in Wall Street and Capitol Hill; in so doing, he highlights the disturbing fact that said rot is a crisis of politics as much as economics.
As the story behind the GFC unfolds, we learn that, while the bankers were the principal players, others had their snouts deep in the trough. Academic economists, paid handsomely by the financial services industry for biased and unsound research and analysis work, lent a veneer of intellectual credibility to the industry’s ideology of “market discipline” and self-regulation that loosened state safeguards and opened the door for banks to virtually
Original motion picture poster.