Making the Grades
Calling it a burst bubble seems so benign. For those who lost their jobs, homes and life savings in the 2008 financial crisis, it was more like a nuclear meltdown with a huge mushroom cloud. While the floor fell out from beneath the feet of many average people, the guys at the top of the food chain (those who jiggered the numbers and let bad credit lead to the collapse) seem to have escaped unscathed, even receiving huge bonuses for what looks to be bad behavior.
It’s these top dogs and their reckless actions that come under scrutiny from filmmaker Charles Ferguson in his Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job. Interviewing executives (at least those who agreed to meet with him), financial analysts, professors, lawyers and government officials, Ferguson attempts to trace the decisions that led to the monetary implosion.
In hindsight, it seems obvious the crisis was coming. (Ferguson finds plenty of people who warned of impending trouble.) But in the heady days leading up to bank and business failures, those who had responsibility for the financial health of the country and in large part the world, appear to have been intent on squeezing millions and even billions out of investors by encouraging bad loans and at times betting on the failure of those loans. Unfortunately, Ferguson says, government agencies put in place to monitor these businesses also bought into the gamble, refusing to force the investment companies to check themselves after deregulation took place.
The filmmakers have edited this piece well to further their point, highlighting the evasive answers and uncomfortable body language these officials display when coming under the gun of senatorial inquiries and the camera. Narrated by Academy Award winner Matt Damon, the film also details the lavish lifestyles, prostitution use and illegal drug habits of some of those high rollers. While brief strong language, the discussion of executives’ unethical and immoral business practices and the depiction of illegal drug use may dissuade some parents from showing this production to their older teens, the messages about broken trusts, unchecked greed and the difficulty of investing wisely are strong.
Understandably documentarians tell their story they way they see it and Ferguson argues his opinion well. However if audience members hope to see justice done and things set right for the future, they’ll be disappointed. While Ferguson suggests that Obama promised reform, he also proposes that the new government has done little to ensure a similar financial disaster doesn’t happen again. Or that those who rake in millions and billions of dollars, often at taxpayers’ expense, will ever have to pay their fair share into government coffers.
As one interviewee stated, “Nothing comes without consequence.” Unfortunately those involved in the financial tinkering are not the ones who appear to be paying the price.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Inside Job.
What roles do risk and caution play in investing? What impact did one-upmanship have among these company executives? Is there any way to justify their apparent greed?
Should a documentarian try and show both sides of a story in his or her film? Does this director present a balanced argument? Is there a balanced argument to present? Why would some people refuse to be interviewed?
Do you believe there is any way to bring those who are responsible for the crisis to justice? How would that happen? Who would have to be involved? Is there anything investors can do to ensure their ventures are relatively sound?