In 2008, the collapse of the multi-billion dollar financial service company Lehman Brothers triggered a global recession that plunged hundreds of thousands of people into unemployment, left thousands more homeless and destroyed the earning prospects of more than one generation. After watching the US economy fall apart seemingly overnight, it seemed that no-one could answer one simple question – how has this happened? Charles Ferguson’s documentary finally explains the truth behind the catastrophe; a tale more shocking than any Hollywood thriller. Really.
Organised into five parts, Inside Job calmly, concisely and without any assumed knowledge takes us – with the participation of over 40 interviewees from both sides of the crash – through the last twenty years of the American financial sector. Beginning in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan announced new legislation allowing trading to happen on a far larger scale and with less regulation, America’s privatised banks quickly grew larger and larger, trading dizzying amounts of money without any real reining in from the State. Serving customers quickly took a back-seat to the real goal; making money, money, money, and banks happily doled out predatory loan after predatory loan to trusting clients, knowing full well that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the increasingly demanding payments. Realising they could bet against their own loans, these massive companies actually made money from their own clients’ collapse. As the housing bubble grew, as leverage limits were lifted again and again to allow banks to risk up to and over 30 times their actually worth, Wall Street traders enjoyed insane bonuses, high-class prostitution rings and never-ending, boys-club competition. Many financial experts tried to alert the heads of the biggest banks of the world and the American government to what they saw as an inevitable crash. No-one listened.
It’s all too easy, upon dealing with a disaster of this scale, to put the reasons behind it down to things we cannot understand. When dealing with the terrifyingly complex financial sector in particular, it’s much simpler to assume that the reasons behind serious, unexpected problems are out of the lay-person’s understanding. What is so marvellous about Inside Job is that it refuses to get bogged down in high-rollers’ jargon, smoke-screens or finance-speak. It presents the facts calmly, clearly and lets those responsible dig their own graves at interview. And what is more, the further we get into Inside Job, the more evident it becomes that those at fault pray we we will never try to understand what happened.
Charles Ferguson’s probing but never obtrusive questions to the men responsible for this utter catastrophe are at first met with patronising smiles, then gradually, as more and more facts are pressed upon them, with angry confusion and finally, with aggressive panic. Many of them, these people who run the most powerful countries in the world, are simply unable to answer the simplest questions about their actions; upon being asked why he left his position on the Board of Governers of the Federal Reserve in 2008 as the world’s economies were collapsing around him, finance professor Frederic Mishkin, silent for a few seconds, finally states “well, my text book needed editing.” Chilling doesn’t even begin to describe it.
By far the most frightening thing about Inside Job is just how pervasive the influence of these pleasure-seekers still is. Many of them simultaneously holding terrifyingly high positions in universities, billion-dollar companies and the US government even after the crash, it’s the lack of retribution upon these millionaires that boils you from within. And perhaps most frighteningly of all, it seems that the Obama administration has done little to nothing to counteract the damaging legislation that began it all, or oust those responsible. Why not? Robert Gnaizda, staunch adovocate for social justice, smiles grimly as he states his belief – “It’s a Wall Street government.” Go, go and watch it, for all our sakes.