Great political documentaries (No4) Inside Job


As someone once said, “We laugh that we may not cry”. I certainly got that feeling when watching the documentary Inside Job. I saw it in a reasonably full cinema and in some places people were laughing almost hysterically at the distorted version of reality being presented to them. In other cases they simply gasped at the naked effrontery on display.

Inside Job is an examination of 2008’s Credit Crunch, that led to the largest recession in living memory. While we are now out of the recession, the impact of the subprime crisis is likely to be felt for decades to come in terms of government cuts and job losses. Inside Job looks in forensic detail at why the crash happened and who was to blame. Using a combination of interviews and animation it lays bare the sheer greed at the heart of our financial system as the banking industry and politicians conspired to increase their profits and bonuses at the expense of the public good.

The lie that was sold to the world from the late 1980s to very recently, was that the banks had found a way to increase their profits while decreasing the risk of their investments. The actual truth was that they had managed to increase their profits, but only by taking bigger and bigger risks to the point where a huge systemic crash had to happen sooner or later. Anyone who questioned the wisdom of these actions was either shouted down or shunned for rocking the boat.

For me one of the biggest shocks of the film was the picture it painted of academia. It’s one thing for businessmen and politicians to be corrupt, however all of this was made possible only because so many academic economists supported it through their research and writing. As it turns out now, large numbers of them were in the pay of the banks, despite the significant conflict of interest this created. When questioned about this in the film all of the academics are incredibly evasive about where their funding comes from but deny that it’s an issue.

One of the things that struck me watching the documentary was that no one involved seemed to think they had done anything wrong. Time and time again the same excuses trotted out are; “But everybody was doing it”, “It was the public’s fault for borrowing so much”, “We did our jobs to the best of our ability”. It was only halfway through that I began to realise the horrible truth. These people weren’t just defending their position because they felt they had to, they genuinely didn’t believe that they’d done anything bad. Equally they all sincerely seemed to believe that they deserved the huge paychecks and bonuses that they’d received as payment for their services.

All the way through Inside Job, certain names kept cropping up of the people blamed for the crash. For instance, Head of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, who allowed the markets to be deregulated so they could take bigger risks. The really scary thing though was that Obama reappointed most of them to office when he became President. Therefore the people who helped cause a trillion-dollar financial disaster, that led to millions of job losses worldwide, are now back in government. As the director Charles Ferguson noted during his Oscar acceptance speech for best documentary, no one has yet gone to prison for any of the financial wrongdoing involved in the crash and it looks like no one will now.

One reason why they were able to get away with all this for so long was the incredible complexity of the global financial system. The triumph of Inside Job is that it explains what happened in a way that anyone could follow, and hopefully after its Oscar win more people will see this film. The only downside, if you’re anything like me, is that you’ll be incredibly angry for about a week afterwards

Here is the trailer for Inside Job:

For a full list of political documentaries I’ve reviewed click here

About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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13 Responses to Great political documentaries (No4) Inside Job

  1. Pingback: Political predictions they got wrong (No10) The economic stability of Iceland | Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog

  2. I “loved” Charles Ferguson for speaking the truth on television when Inside Job won. This film and Gasland reveal just how widespread ethical corruption is in America.

    • We seem to be living in a golden age of great political documentaries at the moment. Films like ‘No end in sight’, ‘Taxi to the dark side’, ‘Enron’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ are really helping to shine a light on government and business corruption. I suppose the downside is that we only have so many documentaries because there is so much wrongdoing going on in the world at the moment and if there wasn’t we wouldn’t need the documentaries.

      How does that quote from Brecht go?

      – Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero!
      – No, unhappy is the land that needs a hero!

  3. PS. Just noticed your ‘tweet’ regarding why students should study politics. You might want to check out Democracy Now!’s broadcast for Tues. March 1—check out the 17 year old high school student’s remarks about leading HIGH SCHOOL students protests to cuts in their education in Idaho. He’s near the very end of the broadcast. Yes, high school students–which means in America NOT a university/college student. He definitely knows which end is UP about the need for a well educated public. I’d like to feed Rep. Gov. Scott Walker to him and his peers. Then again, Walker is now apparently so ‘fearful’ of the protestors in Wisconsin that he’s defying a court order to OPEN the capital building. Fun times for all at ground “zero” in Mad-city.

    • Strangely enough I was talking to a potential studnet today at the Open Day who lived in Wisconsin from 1996 to 2006. His father still sounded British but he spoke with a US accent. They were fully aware of whats going on it Madison at the moment which was good so hopefully he’ll be studying politics with us.

      With regard to Governor Walker I thinking the quote I’m searching for is “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” :)

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  8. Leonel V. says:

    When I watch this film, I’m really be shocked when I see one shot of the Salinas brothers was involved in money laundry. Like a mexican citizen, is not a surprise to know how many politics and their closest relates are involved in such crime. But the way the financial products was moved in the banking system, and the prior crisis in Island presented in this film, let in my mind one word the goverments of all countries should to pay attention. The word is REGULATE.
    Thanks for this blog.

    • Thanks for the kind comments :-)

      It never ceases to amaze me how governments just looked the other way in the run up to the financial crisis. I’d like to think that they’ve learnt some lessons from it but sadly I doubt it. Give it another 40 or 50 years and history will be repeating itself once more.

  9. Pingback: Great political movies (No56) Too big to fail | Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog

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