The Best Movie You Haven’t Heard Of: Inside Job

Here are the ratings (% who liked) from Flixster for some of the movies playing this weekend:

90%            The Social Network

88%            Inside Job

81%            Unstoppable           

78%            MegaMind

78%            Jackass 3-D

77%            Red           

75%            Skyline

65%            Due Date

65%            Morning Glory

64%            The Next Three Days           

54%            Saw 3D

You know The Social Network. But how about the #2 movie, Inside Job? Ever hear of it?

96% of the critics liked it. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 96%.  It’s narrated by Matt Damon. Feeling out of the loop yet? Why haven’t you heard of this movie?

More on obscurity later, but here’s the official synopsis:

‘Inside Job’ is the first film to provide a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused… ‘Inside Job’ is the first film to provide a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse.

Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia. It was made on location in the United States, Iceland, England, France, Singapore, and China.

There has been no shortage of books and articles about the meltdown. But most of those have had a reporter’s flavor to them—here’s what happened, then here’s what happened next.  I felt that no one had really pulled it together with a narrative theme and the data to back it up. Until this weekend, that is.  

The theme is now clear. Bad things happened. They were not an accident. They were the results of bad people behaving badly. They knew what they were doing. They did them anyway. And to this day, they refuse to acknowledge responsibility.  The issues of trust that became so manifest were not just about systems and markets; they were inescapably about people as well.  It’s one thing not to trust a system; it’s yet another to not trust those who inhabit it.

Think of this movie as what Michael Moore would produce if he had a PhD in economics and a career as a Federal Prosecutor. It’s the project of Charles Ferguson, who in fact does have a PhD in political science from MIT (he has also consulted to the White House and the Department of Defense, was a Senior Fellow at Brookings, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations).

You may know Ferguson as the director of No End in Sight, a powerful documentary about the Iraq war. He’s confident enough to interrupt an economist and say, ‘You can’t be serious about that. If you would have looked, you would have found things.’ Or to tell a former Bush administration under-secretary of the Treasury, “Forgive me, but that’s clearly not true.”

Here is a review by A.O. Scott, in the New York Times.

Boston.com calls it “a masterpiece of investigative nonfiction moviemaking — a scathing, outrageous, depressing, comical, horrifying report on what and who brought on the crisis.

Here’s Kenneth Turan’s review in the LA Times.

Go see for yourself; see the trailer here.  

The Role of Ideology in the Meltdown

There’s much to say about this documentary; I’ll limit my thoughts to just one—the role of ideas in the meltdown. 

In this day and age of neuro-explanations and insistence that only measurable behavior is relevant for management, the role of ideas gets pooh-poohed. Big mistake. 

I’ve written before about the power of strategic doctrine taught in business schools to negatively influence our general business thinking. But after seeing this documentary, I’m newly persuaded. Ideas have huge power: especially when those ideas happen to greatly serve the economic interests of patrons.  

In the pharmaceutical industry, it’s become well accepted that a researcher or writer who takes money from a drug company is at the very least subject to rules of disclosure. Failure to do so constitutes an immediate presumption of conflict of interest.

Yet somehow, we have never held our nation’s leading economists and business school faculty to the same standards. One of the most eye-opening aspects of Inside Job for me was to put this issue front and center. 

Some of Fergusons’ hardest-hitting interviews are with the elite heads of academic institutions: Frederic Mishkin, a former Fed governor, now at Columbia Business School; his boss Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush; John Campbell, Harvard’s economics department chairman; and fellow Harvard economist Martin Feldstein

They come off, respectively, as incompetent, blustering, inarticulate, and smug. None of them seem to have noticed a disconnect between their laissez-faire ideas and the disasters engineered by those who quoted them; much less any sense of impropriety at the comfortable financial relationships they shared with those very firms. 

Somewhere there is a researcher at Harvard Medical School screaming at the injustice of his not being published in NEJM because of some disclosure requirements, while his academic counterparts in business and economics were happily and openly opining on the health of the Icelandic banking system and the liquidity of the US subprime mortgage market, all the while getting very well paid. (Note: b-school profs provide functional consulting services to companies all the time; I don’t see that as an issue. This is vastly different; more another time). 

Results of the Meltdown

Ferguson touches clearly, albeit briefly, on one enduring outcome of this decades-long debacle–the increased gap in the US between the haves and the have-nots. 

In 1976, the richest 1% of Americans had 9% of the income. Now they have 24%. From 1980 to 2005, 80% of the gain in income went to the top 1%Guess what industry disproportionately accounts for that gain?

But the most significant casualty, I think, is a great old American belief: the belief that you can make it here in the good old USA, land of opportunity, where anyone can be what they want. You don’t have to be limited by the circumstances of your birth, like in all those Old World countries.

Sorry: no longer true. By one study, it is harder for someone to get ahead now in the US than it is in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and even France. Only Italy and the UK are more class-bound, and I’ve seen other studies where even the Brits are less class-bound than we are. That decline in opportunity is another result of greater income disparity. Again, one of the legacies of the financial industry. One trust expert states very clearly that a key driver of low trust is high income inequality.  And here’s a good explanation of just why that is true.

You may disagree with a lot of what I’ve said here. You may think this movie won’t change your mind; and since it’s extremely hard to change people’s minds, you may be right. But if so, may I suggest you owe it to yourself to see it—if only to write back and point out the flaws in the movie.

7 replies
  1. James A. Boyd
    James A. Boyd says:

    Powerful, powerful stuff Charlie.  Thank you for your comentary. Now I have to find and view this movie.

    But, why is your blog my first introduction to this movie?  Why haven’t I ever heard of this movie or seen any marketing/ads about it?  I am not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch, but is the general media afraid of what this movie implies/says?

    Jim.

    Reply
  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Jim,

    An interesting question indeed: why haven’t we heard of this movie?

    It’s tempting to go down the following route:

    –The top two theatre-owning companies in the US are:

    1. Regal Entertainment (Knoxville TN), 6800 screens, NYSE-traded, symbol RGC: and
    2. AMC Entertainment (Kansas City MO), 5300 screens, privately held
    3. Cinemark Holdings (Plano TX), 3800 screens, NYSE-traded, symbol CNK.

    The two publicly-traded companies are likely sensitive to the feelings of lenders, investment bankers, and analysts.  Which means they might not like to incur the displeasure of some of the very companies Ferguson hits on.  And I’d make a wild guess that companies HQ’d in Knoxville, Kansas City and Plano are slightly more likely to be favorably inclined to the conservative-slash-Republican-slash-right-leaning side of things, and view this movie as the opposite.

    Tempting, as I said.  But I believe even more strongly in two things: one is never assume conspiracy when simplicity is a reasonable explanation.  And when in doubt, look where the money is.

    From that perspective, first of all, documentaries hardly ever make money (Michael Moore is the big exception). 

    Secondly, the big trends in the cinema industry are 3-D, IMAX, special effects, and dining-in-theater.  This movie offers none of that.

    Thirdly, the most likely demographic for this movie–unfortunately–is older (much), educated (maybe over- ), and politically left-leaning.  Not your core movie-going audience; not even likely to drop big amounts on caloric blandishments in the lobby.

    The most likely explanation is simple: unless Ferguson can drop millions on PR, and/or unless the public makes his movie a write-in favorite (a la Snakes in Planes), it’s just simply too small a market.  And yes that’s a shame.

    All in all, this is likely to stay a big hit in the small art-house circuit.  Fortunately, there are a few of those, and they do us all a great public service.  In New York right now, the movie is only playing in three theaters: Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, the Angelika downtown, and Kew Gardens Cinemas in Queens. Shout-out to the three of them.  Those of you outside NY, call your local cinema and tell them you’d like to see it. 

     

    Reply
  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Basically, what I get from this is that, respectfully, it’s simply more information, albeit information that is sobering, more eye-opening, perhaps; perhaps more indicting, etc. But, more information, nevertheless.

     

    What this information tells me is (nothing  new): we are experiencing dis-ease in the sense of the dysfunctions that exist in many of our businesses, in our social, financial and political systems and the like.

     

    This “new information” will tug on the sleeves of those who want to treat the “symptoms” of the dis-ease but until and unless we treat the core issues underlying the dis-ease, not much will change. More talk and more new information. The dis-ease will fester and maybe end up killing the patient Hmmm.

     

    We take our cats to a vet who practices osteopathy and intuitive medicine – completely non-Western stuff.

     

    A Western vet would have suggested that Annie have her infected tooth removed. Our vet used an instrument to remove some plaque that caused the infection and then said, “Now let’s see what’s  underneath  the infection….” And proceeded to work energetically manipulating Annie’s kidneys and bladder and, yes, emotions and fears (core isssues) she experienced that caused the symptoms. (animals are sentient beings) that . Any Chinese doctor or one who practices Eastern medicine would understand in a flash.

     

    Core issues create the symptoms we too often mistake for the dis-ease (ah, western medicine at its finest).  Annie’s been fine for months. This country, not so much.

     

    New information arrives daily. What to do or not do about symptoms fills the media daily and convinces many folks (many of whom are themselves in denial about the core issues creating the dis-ease)  that talking is tantamount to actually doing something. Healing the core issues that have been creating the dysfunctions and exacerbating our (country and society’s) symptoms is a step few are willing or able to  take.  So, we  just pass the popcorn and watch the show and have some vicarious experience that we interpret as creating change.

     

    What’s really, really, really underneath the dysfunction, underneath the symptoms like mistrust, etc.?

     

    Reply
  4. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Ah, the cathartic release of talking vs doing something. Charlie, I’m guessing you run into this in your business practice, too: "Let’s do some training. Let’s hold a meeting. Let’s put up posters. Let’s congratulate ourselves for being proactive. But let’s not do anything really threatning like actually changing anything."

    If you’d ever care to talk about how you help clients move from talk to action in the work you do, I’d love to hear your insights. (And that goes for you, too, Peter, as it sounds like an area you work with, too.)

    Peter, as far as the root causes of societal dis-ease (vs symptoms) goes, what I can’t figure out is how anyone can get past the corrupting influence of money, and short-term thinking, to address the root causes in a healthy and productive way. I suspect that where I get hung up is in looking for solutions that are scalable: maybe scalability is a red herring, and it’s about doing what you can, on any scale, and letting that be better than doing nothing.

    Reply
  5. Barbara Garabedian
    Barbara Garabedian says:

    I echo your thoughts, we should recommend the movie to all our tweeting & social media "friends".

    Charlie, I buy into all of your logical reasons in your response to Jim.  All that said, its more fun to go w/ the conspiracy theory.

    There have always been "unfair practices" within the movie industry’s history based soley upon financial and /or political expediency. Aside from the notorious  ‘Black List" & McCarthy hearings & the Studio System’s cover-up of numerous illegal activities, there have been numerous books that never made it to the silver screen because of political pressure. The book, "The Fourty Days of Musa Dagh", is a classic and was one of JFK’s favorites. After numerous attempts w/ adequate financial support, its never made it to the silver screen.  At the request of Turkey, our State Dept. consistently intervens and helps to block production. It seems we don’t want to upset a good ally (w/advantageous geographical appeal), w/ a movie depicting the Armenian genocide –  because contrary to numerous global media, Red Cross and countless other 1st hand accounts, Turkey consistently denies & maintains that a genocide ever occurred. 

     

    Reply
  6. Bruce
    Bruce says:

    So some of the demographic would be slightly left leaning? Getting the truth from someone who is,  or has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations is way too much for me to swallow. 

    Is George Sorros even mentioned in a negative light in this documentary? I doubt it, but having not seen it, I don’t know for sure.

    Thanks just the same, but I think I will pass.

    Reply
  7. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Bruce,

    Check your spelling.  Soros is with one R.

    Now check your stereotypes.  The Brookings Institute probably qualifies as left-leaning, though you didn’t mention that.  But the Council on Foreign Relations is "way too much to swallow?"  The John Birch Society agrees with you, but given all the CIA and State Department members of the CFR over the years, most people would say it qualifies as solidly mainstream. Certainly it’s had more than its share of left-wing critics.

    Soros is indeed quoted in this documentary, if that’s a litmus test for you.  You can always go to Glenn Beck to hear Soros described in a negative tone. (And if you’re interested, you can read the New Yorker on how egregiously Beck misquoted the original New Yorker story on Soros).

    But don’t believe me: read Wikipedia’s entry on the Council on Foreign Relations.  Unless you think Wikipedia is another left-wing conspiracy. (I’m still finding it hard to get past your ‘way too much to swallow’ of a PhD in PoliSci from MIT because he’s on the CFR.  Breathtaking.)

    But never mind all that: let me ask one question.  Can you even conceive of a critique of Wall Street that you wouldn’t automatically label "left wing"?

     

     

    Reply

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