Tuesday, November 30, 2010

INSIDE JOB -- See It

Charles Ferguson’s film, Inside Job, is one terrific polemic. We all know what a polemic is, don’t we? A diatribe, invective, rant, tirade, broadside, attack, harangue, condemnation, criticism, stricture, admonition, rebuke. Derived from Greek polemikos, meaning “warlike, hostile.”  Well, Inside Job is all of those. But an enjoyable polemic, that is, to the extent that a film about an economic crisis can be enjoyable.

There’s probably little you don’t know that the film reveals. It’s appeal to me is just the completeness of it all, the connecting of the dots, the incriminating clips, the implicating documents, the squirming of the culprits, the delicious ambush interviews, the rounding up of all the usual suspects. This is what sustains your interest for almost two hours, and why 26 of the 27 top newspaper and magazine critics in Rotten Tomatoes gave it favorable reviews – an almost unprecedented near-unanimity. (The only critical rotten tomato was hurled by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, whose reviewer found it “incoherent.”)
Another service is that the film underscores the incompetence of all involved in this tragedy, as well as the venality of so many of the players. As to the ineptitude, it reminds me of my post a couple of years ago as the crisis was rising to its climax:

In 1983, screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy, Marathon Man, All the President’s Men, Princess Bride, et al.) wrote Adventures in the Screen Trade, a brilliant and entertaining analysis of the movie industry. His unforgettable takeaway line that summarized the entire 436-page book, the phrase that captured the essence of Hollywood, and now the single best explanation of why we’re in such a economic mess: “Nobody knows anything.” 



Who are the nobodies? Well, there are the CEOs, the Treasury, the Fed, the Congress, the Administration, the SEC, the other regulators, the journalists, the investors and the voters. Did I leave anyone out?


Actually, I left out academia.  One of the film’s contributions is pointing out how many of  the leading academics were unaware at best and wrong at worst on the impending economic collapse.  And it disclosed how many of them had really shocking (and undisclosed) conflicts of interest. (Conflicts? Do I hear ratings agencies?)

But my favorite incompetent – Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – declined to be interviewed. (I’ll bet that a bunch of others who went on camera wish they hadn’t.) It would have been interesting to hear him defend the rosy scenario he was making as head of the New York Fed in speeches throughout 2007, just a year before all hell broke loose. Some excerpted phrases about the strength of the economy and the financial system:

reduced concern about future fundamental risk…

…improved our confidence in the ability of markets to absorb stress…

…the capital positions of banks have improved

…reinforced expectations of future stability

…increasing comfort with higher leverage…

…the larger global financial institutions are generally stronger in terms of capital relative to risk..

…financial innovation has improved the capacity to measure and manage risk…


By the way, Geithner is still Treasury Secretary.

His last comment, on the so-called benefits of financial innovation, reminds me of one of the perceptive lines in the movie, made, I believe, by the head of the International Monetary Fund, who was pretty critical of everyone:

“Why is it that we pay financial engineers 4 to 100 times as much as we do real engineers? Real engineers make things.”

By the way, it's different in China. Is there a lesson to be learned?

Despite the New York Post review, go see Inside Job.







51 comments:

  1. You didn't feel frustrated? Infuriated? Helpless? Even the trailer makes me crazy. Aaaaaaarg! BTW, thanks for t he tip :)

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  3. Frederic A. RubinsteinNovember 30, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    I am delighted you not only made Inside Job your latest blog but gave it a wonderful review. The trailer you attached deserves its own award for tantalizing its potential audience.
    Any one who has not seen the movie should not avoid doing so out of concern that a rehash of the bungling, incompetence and hubris of the major financial figures depicted would be both frustrating and infuriating. Because the presentation by the director of the evidence of the "inside job" is so ingenious and persuasive in using the major players to indict and convict themselves seeing the movie can become a cathartic experience.
    Unfortunately most of the major players in the movie still remain unscathed and in positions to cause more harm to the economy so that the catharsis is greatly diluted .

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  4. Ben, Your review manages to outperform the trailer! The only thing more tantalizing is seeing that one of the 3 comments posted has been removed!
    Thanks for this write-up. We will surely go to see.
    Bernadette

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