The schoolyard bullies need supervision.

Inside Job

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            Charles Ferguson's Inside Job is strong, fair, and rational. The director tries mightily to untangle the complex architecture of the financial meltdown that has cost millions their jobs, their homes, and their savings. If you consider skipping it because it sounds boring, please think again. My blood is still boiling.
            Why does this documentary leave us sunk in despair? Because it confirms the certainty that there is no one left we can trust. The fact that much of what brought the economy to its knees was legal, not criminal, signals a financial sector run by ethical nihilists who will pursue every legal loophole to enrich themselves. Human nature, you say? Then bring back the stringent regulation that gave the industry forty years of reasonable corporate success before Reagan era deregulation. The schoolyard bullies need supervision.
            America's bubble of private gain and public loss was pierced by the collapse of Lehman Bros. and AIG. Banks merged into "too big to fail" behemoths; safeguards were overturned; regulation of derivatives was banned; This vacuum quickly filled with money laundering, defrauding of customers, cooking the books, and stuffing of the pockets of top officers with money. Larry Summers took 20 million as advisor to a hedge fund. Lehman's CEO took 485 million, the CEO of the failing AIG 315 million. Fired by Merrill, CEO Stan O'Neal departed with a severance bonus of 161 million.
            When Mortgages were bundled and sold to the bloated investment banks, lenders no longer cared if they were repaid. Goldman, Lehman, and Merrill were all players. Summers, Bernanke, and Geithner all stood against corrective measures and would play pivotal roles in the Obama administration.
            Absent limits on the impulsive risk takers, Wall Street plunged into personal pleasure. There was never enough: penthouses on Park, private jets (six for Lehman alone), vacation homes, art collections, drivers, private elevators, drugs, alcohol, strip bars, and prostitution - one private supplier within spitting distance of the stock exchange counted 10,000 men among her customers..
            Three ratings agencies made fortunes bestowing unwarranted ratings right up to two days before Lehman failed, later testifying before congress that these were merely "opinions", not guides for investors. The crowning disgrace is the corruption of the universities. Business school professors consult with companies. Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, takes $250,000 as a board member of Met Life. Larry Summers, back at Harvard, continues to rake in consulting and lecture fees.
            The presidents of Harvard and Columbia refused comment. You will appreciate the honesty of Raghuram Rajan who wrote strong warnings and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who spoke with disgust of the debacle.
            It used to be that respected academics could be counted on to be the conscience of democracy. Now they are reduced to being interchangeable components in the conflict of interest chain that links business/government/university. Credit Charles Ferguson with a superb investigation and give thanks that we still have a free investigative press to wake the sleeping citizenry.

 


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