Movie Review: Inside Job

If the financial crisis of 2008 has shown anything, it's that deregulation -- a free-market idea championed by Republicans and Democrats alike -- has exactly the opposite effect of what is promised.

Ultimately, it also proves the primitively atavistic nature of human beings: that altruism is an unnatural societal construct and that self-interest is the natural impulse of the human animal. Take away the rules and, rather than benefiting everyone, it benefits only those in the position to exercise power.

It's like the long-refuted notion of trickle-down economics: Given the opportunity to keep more of their money instead of paying taxes, corporations and businessmen don't use that money to create jobs and send more money downward to those in the lower-income brackets. No, they follow human nature and hoard as much for themselves as possible.

Which brings me to Charles Ferguson's compelling, infuriating and comprehensive documentary, Inside Job. In a little less than two hours, Ferguson shows the roots of the near-collapse of 2008, examines the steps that were taken that brought it about, points fingers (with evidence) at the various corporate and financial sector villains who made it possible and those who benefitted most -- and offers a fairly bleak assessment of what the future may hold under an Obama administration grossly infected with the same players who helped it all happen in the first place.

Ferguson's film is the best kind of lecture: one that lays out his thesis, then offers more evidence than you've seen previously to support and bolster his argument. Like the best of these films -- whether it's the flamboyant work of Michael Moore or the careful examination of An Inconvenient Truth -- Inside Job explains complex ideas with a clarity and skill that make them comprehensible to anyone willing to pay attention. But Ferguson does it in a way that doesn't dumb things down to the point of being simplistic.

The key fact comes early: that, under the Reagan administration, financial restraints and regulations -- which had prevented any serious financial crises since Glass-Steagall was enacted after the start of the Great Depression -- were swept away in a flurry of misguided (or, more accurately, perfectly guided) attempts to give business (particularly the financial sector) a freer hand.

But when your main product is the production of profit -- as opposed to the manufacture of goods -- and most of the rules have been removed, what's to keep greed from giving way to malfeasance? As Ferguson shows over and over, the financial-services sector metastasized like a cancer on the economy, creating complex and dangerous financial instruments to fatten the bottom line without paying attention to the risk to the individual investor or bank customer.