Inside Job, Charles Ferguson's newly released documentary, details with painful precision just how royally Wall Street screwed the planet. It is a masterpiece, and if there is any justice left in the world, the expose will win Academy Award acclaim. But don't be fooled. Even with America's sweetheart — Matt Damon — narrating, this is the feel-bad film of the year.
Like Waiting for "Superman", the socio-political documentary that education reformers cannot praise lavishly enough, Inside Job is tough, unsparing, and intellectually rigorous. But there's a significant difference between the two films; while "Superman" suggests that tomorrow is a new day, there is not a drop of hope in the tragedy Ferguson presents. No matter where you sit in the food chain, Inside Job will supply the stuff for instant outrage.
Millionaire Ayn Rand worshippers and their trade-floor errand boys will resent Ferguson for highlighting their ethical negligence. The same goes for Tea Party numbskulls, who, despite their fear of debt and unemployment, trumpet the same loose policies that landed countless blue collars on bread lines.
On the left, progressives will hardly cheer for this account of how a few whiteboys looted planet Earth and stole away in custom jets. Democrats will be especially dismayed by the doc's portrayal of President Barack Obama's complicity in maintaining the dismal economic status quo.
As for academics: from Berkeley to Cambridge, scholars are in spin mode. Ferguson, who studied technology and policy at MIT, makes a compelling case that Harvard is among many institutions at which foolhardy free-market zealots have poisoned economics curricula.
Finally, Inside Job will make all of us Americans feel like Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places — after his character discovers that Randolph and Mortimer destroyed him over a one-dollar wager. There's your silver lining: he got dicked over for a dollar; at least the Dukes of Wall Street dicked us over for trillions.
Betting on failure
Ferguson's doc is already being targeted by those responsible for economic ruin. Frederic Mishkin, a Columbia University finance professor and Federal Reserve veteran who was interviewed for Inside Job, went so far as to make an even bigger ass of himself this past week with a hollow, fact-free comeback op-ed in the Financial Times. Yet those who attempt to undermine this film with rhetorical spite should acknowledge an irrefutable reality: millions of hard-working folks were devastated by the 2008 meltdown. And regardless of how many professional and amateur critics claim to have been previously aware of the bombshell revelations presented in this film, those voices don't necessarily speak for Joe and Mary Main Street.
"If people did know more," says Ferguson, "then they would be more outraged than they are. Many people don't know all that much about what happened, and they feel bewildered. One of my principal goals was to help people understand the basis of what happened. And there are other things in the film that have not been discussed widely, if at all, like conflicts of interests in the economic discipline."