If money is the root of all evil, then Wall Street certainly provides the tree and branches—at least that appears to be the perspective of filmmaker Charles Ferguson.
In his soon-to-be-released documentary “Inside Job,” the Academy Award-nominated director takes a look at the causes behind the financial meltdown of 2008 that rocked the global economy. And he lays the blame squarely at the feet of The Street and the regulators who he believes were impotent in their enforcement.
Before you wave him away as just another liberal malcontent whose envy of the rich and those that aid them in their quest for wealth overwhelms his faculties, consider this: Ferguson’s film captures the populist rage aimed at the bankers who allegedly brought the financial system to its knees.
In his director’s statement, Ferguson calls the downturn “a completely avoidable crisis” and insists that “deregulation of the financial sector since the 1980s gave rise to an increasingly criminal industry. . .”
His film begins with the unfolding of the catastrophe that hit Iceland’s economy and travels through England, France, Singapore, China and of course, the United States. In that way, Ferguson makes us realize just how interconnected the economic well being of all nations are.
As much a history lesson as well as a moral scolding of Wall Street, Ferguson looks back to the policies of President Ronald Reagan, the savings & loan scandal, the Keating Five and the insider trading prosecutions of the era. George Bush’s (W’s) administration is criticized for its lax regulation and enforcement as well.
But, if you think that it’s all Republican-bashing, think again.
Former President Bill Clinton is chastised as well for the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and his hiring of Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers. Even current president, Barack Obama, is portrayed as bending to the will of Wall Street.
Let’s face it. The financial crisis was severe and caused by a perfect storm of bad policies, regulators failing to catch perpetrators of frauds and other Ponzi schemes and frankly, just plain greed.
Ferguson’s film sometimes veers off on tangents and makes tenuous connections to illegal drug use and sex in the financial services industry. It even portrays Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced and fallen New York State governor and former state attorney-general as a regulatory hero for his prosecutions of Wall Street figures. Indeed, Spitzer is interviewed and attacks federal regulators at that time for failing to use their enforcement powers to protect the people.
Whatever your view, the film is one worth watching because Wall Street has a very real image problem.
Many financial advisors have changed firms because of the economic debacle and other recent scandals. Many others have had to explain the investigations into their firms’ activities to their clients.
There has been an obvious spate of disasters. Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns collapsed. Bank of America [BAC] bought Merrill Lynch in a controversial deal that forced a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Internal Revenue Service sued UBS [UBS] over alleged tax evasion by U.S. citizens who were allegedly hiding funds in Swiss bank accounts. Even Goldman Sachs [GS] wasn’t immune. The firm’s London division was fined $27 million by a United Kingdom regulator for failing to tell that agency about the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe. And that SEC investigation led to Goldman Sachs agreeing to pay $550 million to settle a fraud lawsuit brought by the SEC over Goldman’s marketing of a collateralized debt obligation linked to subprime mortgages. And those mortgages were linked to the U.S. housing market collapse that is still hitting the average American—either through the record foreclosure rate, the nose-diving of their homes value and the persistently high unemployment numbers.
Wall Street isn’t the same. Although there have been few prosecutions, as Ferguson gamely points out, prices have been paid. Firms have gone under, management has played musical chairs and financial reform legislation has been passed. And finally, the markets have begun to recover but the question right now is: When will Wall Street’s image begin to recover?