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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Inside Job" by Charles Ferguson

See . . This . . Movie

Calling Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job" a documentary is like calling The Gettysburg Address a speech.

Bar none, it is the clearest, most succinct explanation of the Wall Street-engineered financial crash -- whose aftermath we are still very much dealing with -- that I have seen.

More than a movie, it is a public record -- a brilliantly spare narrative (with pictures!) explaining what happened, how, and who the principals were.

No Consequences

And still are.

As Ferguson correctly notes, the culprits are still mostly running things, with the exception of a handful of CEO's who were allowed to resign . . with eight figure golden parachutes (that would be between $10 million and $100 million).

"Inside Job" gets all the villains right -- people and institutions like Alan Greenspan, Goldman Sachs, Richard Fuld, Angelo Mozilo, AIG Financial Products, Robert Rubin, Phil Gramm, Larry Summers, and the credit rating agencies.

It also gets the much shorter list of heroes and good guys right: Brooksley Born, Paul Volcker, and Nouriel Roubini.

Ferguson also, I believe, correctly characterizes how history will perceive Barack Obama, at least when it comes to the economy: as the President who, instead of reforming Wall Street, recruited from and deferred to it (same as his predecessors, to be sure, but less acceptable from someone so identified with "change," in office when effecting real change was actually a possibility).


The only surprise, if you can call it that, is the spotlight the movie shines on the despicable -- albeit supporting -- role played by some of the nation's leading economists, in leadership positions at some of the nation's most influential universities.

Just like physicians who shilled for the pharmaceuticals without disclosing their lush consulting fees, people like Summers and Martin Feldstein (Harvard) and Glenn Hubbard and Fred Mishkin (Columbia) provided Wall Street with intellectual cover while getting rich serving as consultants, board directors, and academics-for-hire.

At least for me, watching "Inside Job" inexplicably conjured up emotions I recall from almost 40 years ago: a mixture of admiration, fascination, and disgust watching people like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin on TV conduct Congress' investigation into Watergate.

Echoes of Watergate

Watching them home in on the Nixon administration's deceptions, one got a sense that truth was finally being served, and that power was being wrested -- however painfully and slowly -- by the good guys from the bad guys.

Which also underscores the difference between Watergate and now: unlike the select Senate committee that Baker and Ervin served on, Ferguson is (only) a movie-maker.

Whether the indictment he so clearly lays out will be acted upon very much remains to be seen.

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