“Inside Job,” a documentary detailing the causes of the financial collapse of 2008 and its aftermath, is a scathing critique of U.S. policies of deregulation since the 1980s — a critique that extends to Republicans and Democrats alike. At a New York Film Festival screening of the film, director Charles Ferguson said that one of the most difficult decisions he made was to include a section deeply critical of President Obama’s handling of the crisis. Ferguson, an Obama supporter during his presidential campaign, described the lack of comprehensive financial reform under Obama as a “tragedy” for America.
“Inside Job” is a sophisticated and sleek film that manages to explain derivatives, the history of deregulation and the causes of the crisis in an accessible and engaging way. In addition to politicians, economists and bankers, Ferguson interviews a madam with a client list full of investment bankers and a psychotherapist to Wall Street executives.
One of the most interesting aspects of Ferguson’s film is his contention that there is often an unadvertised conflict of interest between academic economists and their roles as advisers. In an interview with Fredric Mishkin, Ferguson calls out the Columbia Business School professor on a report that he wrote praising Iceland’s financial sector — for which he was paid $124,000 by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce. Mishkin is also eviscerated for being asleep at the wheel while on the Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2008.
Ferguson asks Glenn Hubbard, current dean of the Columbia University Business School and chief economic adviser during the Bush administration, about the potential conflict of interest between economists being trotted out as experts and not disclosing financial gain they get for their expertise. A defensive Hubbard moves to bring the interview to a close at this point, coming across as a little ridiculous as he goads Ferguson, saying, “You have three more minutes. Give it your best shot.”
When an audience member asked the producer, Audrey Marrs, why these economists agreed to be interviewed, Marrs said that the academics probably didn’t expect to get challenged in this way. Others, perhaps more used to being challenged, including Larry Summers, Lloyd Blankfein and Alan Greenspan, declined to be interviewed for the film.
“Inside Job” opens in New York on October 8 and Los Angeles and other select cities on October 15.