Great recession no accident, it was an inside job

To most people, the economic crisis of 2008 defied sanity. How could the world’s most powerful nation — with the rest of the globe right behind it — stand on the brink of financial collapse due to a few dodgy deals and bankruptcies?

Naming names: Jeffrey Lane was vice-chairman of Lehman brothers from 2003-2007

Naming names: Jeffrey Lane was vice-chairman of Lehman brothers from 2003-2007

Inside Job 4 stars (out of 4) Rated: G

To most people, the economic crisis of 2008 defied sanity.

How could the world’s most powerful nation — with the rest of the globe right behind it — stand on the brink of financial collapse due to a few dodgy deals and bankruptcies?

Even John McCain, then the Republican candidate for U.S. president, admitted during the campaign he’d only just learned about “derivatives,” the daisy-chain of accumulated debt that many blamed for the money meltdown.

The cost of the crisis to date is more than $20 trillion worldwide, with millions of people losing their jobs and homes. The end is still far from sight, but thanks to Charles Ferguson, a filmmaker and journalist par excellence, the beginning is now much more in focus.

Inside Job is Ferguson’s masterful account of the roots of this sorry affair.

It should have you leaving the theatre in the same angry mood that fuelled Toronto Mayor-elect Rob Ford’s “Stop the Gravy Train!” mantra. Even more so, because the “gravy” here is so much thicker, hotter and smothering.

What Ferguson does, on a grander scale, is similar to the public service he performed by exposing the Iraq War quagmire in his Oscar-nominated 2007 doc No End In Sight.

Inside Job names names, points fingers and takes no prisoners in its scathing dissection of what Ferguson persuasively calls “a completely avoidable crisis” — one sparked by the greed and malfeasance of financial cowboys and their stooges in politics and academia.

Where other films have played the Great Recession for bitter laughs (Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story) or overripe drama (Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps), Inside Job approaches the topic as both a detective story and a history lesson.

The problem didn’t just start with a few dodgy deals and bankruptcies and it didn’t begin in the fall of 2008. Like the breached levees that flooded New Orleans three years earlier, it was an accumulation of misjudgments, erroneous assumptions and deferred remedies that brought Uncle Sam to his knees.

Ferguson dates the crisis back 30 years, to the presidency of Ronald Reagan and his “Reagonomics” policy that put unfettered corporate enterprise ahead of prudent oversight.

Government regulations of banks, lenders, insurers and traders put in place after the Great Depression of the 1930s began to be lifted under Reagan, a policy that continued under the administrations of Bill Clinton and both the elder and younger George Bush.

Freed from their government shackles, Wall Street capitalists and their enablers piled escalating debt upon citizens. They did it through such risky practices as subprime mortgages, in which blue-collar incomes were magically levered to purchase million-dollar homes.

The people doing this sleight-of-hand were able to keep it going for years through such dubious financial instruments as a “credit default swaps (CDS)” or “collateralized debt obligations (CDO)” that passed the increasingly toxic risk along.

Eventually, there was no one left to pass it to, which is why global investment house Lehman Brothers suddenly toppled in the fall of 2008.

Ferguson puts a face on the drama through interviews with many of the people in the U.S. and abroad who were actively involved in the crisis, or who saw it coming.

Actor Matt Damon provides narration that binds the economic lessons with human sagas that are often savagely entertaining, while the highly-paid weasels attempt to justify their perfidy.

None of this happened by accident, Ferguson shows.

Many of the corporate perpetrators bet against their own shareholders so they could profit from the disaster they knew was coming.

Worse still, none of these bandits have been prosecuted or jailed and many still hold high office in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, whom you’ll remember as the people’s favourite agent of change in that presidential contest of 2008.

Obama now presides over what financial whistle-blower Robert Gnaizda astutely calls “a Wall Street government,” where villains of the Great Recession are in charge of making it all seem like it never happened — except for those lost trillions of dollars and millions of jobs.

Inside Job is the exposé of the decade. It’s guaranteed to educate and entertain, but most importantly, to enrage.

Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.