Inside Job

Inside Job

I’m going to rate this documentary on the global recession very high, not so much because it’s somehow great filmmaking in some technical sense, but because it’s one of the most important topics on which you could do a documentary. Given that importance, about all it needs to be is a competent film—not all artsy and gimmicky, not impossible to understand, etc. And that’s what Inside Job is. Not special, but competent.

I’m never a hundred percent comfortable with the interviews in an advocacy documentary, because they can be, and are, edited in whatever way best supports the position the film takes. That’s certainly the case here, as the bad guys are shown being flustered by certain questions, telling bald-faced lies, etc.

But when you’re dealing with “hostile witnesses,” what’s the alternative? The problem is, these are people who are not going to tell the truth, are not going to make their best effort to offer a cogent argument for their position. If you show their entire interview unedited, or you allow them to submit their own tape of x minutes addressing a certain issue, etc., all you get is someone lying and obfuscating.

So neither by giving them the opportunity to speak for themselves unfiltered in your movie, nor by editing what they say do you really serve the cause of truth and objectivity. Probably using edited clips like this and just trying to be as fair as you can is the lesser of the evils.

Or really you could make a case that ideally you simply shouldn’t include interviews with people who are not cooperative participants in an attempt to ascertain and express the truth about the subject matter of the film. I’m not saying that would make it a more entertaining film certainly; audiences love to see the bad guys squirm when you show only the 5% of your questions that flummoxed them. I’m referring only to truth and objectivity, and for those things liars don’t help.

Anyway, Inside Job tells the history of economic deregulation in recent decades, its catastrophic consequences, and the fact that very, very few of the people who chose and implemented these policies or the people who most benefited from them ever had to pay a price for those catastrophic consequences. Not to mention those same people who were exposed as being horribly wrong (either in the sense of being mistaken, or more often in the sense of lying) mostly still run the economy.

It’s surprising how often these folks broke the law. Not surprising in the sense that you wouldn’t think they’d be evil enough to do so or anything like that, but surprising in the sense that they influenced the laws to be as much in their favor as possible, so you wouldn’t think there’d be a need to step outside them. If you write the rules such that you’re allowed to wear brass knuckles, you get to hire the referee, and your opponent must wear a blindfold, but the rules disallow your using a 2×4 on your opponent, is there really any need for you to sneak a 2×4 into the ring? In real life, rich people do.

Most of what the movie covers is well known, at least in general terms. For example, that the political system is rotten to the core in being dominated by those who already have the most money and power. But it’s refreshing that the film spends time on a less well-worn path, which is the heavy right wing bias of mainstream academia. Much like doctors and faculty members being paid by drug companies, people publishing in economics and related areas routinely receive compensation from moneyed interests who will benefit from their taking certain positions and not others. Naturally the positions for which there is the best compensation are overrepresented in the literature relative to their merit.

The same point could be made about the heavy right wing bias in the mainstream media, though the film doesn’t go there, probably for lack of time rather than lack of agreement.

I have mixed feelings about the film’s “a pox on both their houses” roughly equal condemnation of Republicans and Democrats. There’s certainly considerable truth to it, as evidenced by the fact that the Clinton and Obama administrations have been dominated on economic matters by the same villains who created and benefited most from the near depression.

But at the same time, it’s not that hard to distinguish the parties.

On the one hand, you have Republicans, who are pretty much 100% on the side of the organized crime syndicates that run the economy for their own enrichment. On the other hand, you have the Democrats. Maybe 40% of them are good guys who actually would make the world a better place if there were ever enough of them to make a difference, 40% have at least some good to them but are fine with merely incremental changes that slightly improve things (or at least are very, very quick to compromise to that position), and maybe 20% are for all intents and purposes Republicans who are conservative enough to be automatic votes in favor of the criminals. Obama’s probably in the second group, or somewhere around the border between the first and the second, and Clinton was probably somewhere around the border between the second and the third group.

Are a lot of Democrats just as much in bed with the bad guys as Republicans are? Sure. But can anyone really say there would be no difference in terms of economic justice if we had a Congress of 535 Barney Franks versus a Congress of 535 Tom Coburns?

The film ends with a statement about how knowledge is power, about how getting the word out about all the horrible things these folks did and how corrupt the system is is a necessary step toward making things right.

Yeah, but unfortunately the film does such a good job of detailing just how bad the situation is that it doesn’t inspire me to rush out and get involved in political action so much as make me feel even more hopeless that the power of the organized criminal rich will ever be significantly threatened (except by something sufficiently cataclysmic to destroy us along with them, like global devastation caused by climate change, or an economic collapse worse than the Depression that changes our form of government to something Stalinist or Hitlerian).

A president like Obama and a Congress with a modest to moderate Democratic majority in both houses is probably about as good as it’s ever going to get, and we’ve seen how little was achieved with that combination. With only 41 conservative Senators needed to make progressive change impossible, given that at or near 100% of Republicans and at least a sizable minority of Democrats are conservative, there would probably have to be at least 75 or 80 Democrats in the Senate (as well as a Democratic president and a big Democratic majority in the House) in order for there to be any realistic chance of prevailing over the plutocrats.

Good luck with that.

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