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I never wanted to see this film. I am an economist, and as such take the right to say that the perennial talks about “the financial crisis” is unbearably tiring. I am not interested in financial markets, or derivatives, or collateralized debt obligations, or credit default swaps… I do not work in that area, I believe most of the people who do are terribly unlikeable, and most of them confirm the notion that every economist at university  learns about business students: business “science” is ill-applied micro-economics, leading people to strive only for money – and if money is all you strive for, money will be all you will ever get out of life. And if you have the habit of spending your spare time watching stock developments online or one of these ridiculous teletext offerings with video inserts that come under the name of “business tv”, sorry again – you are not my type!

Now this documentary, “Inside Job”: it is about exactly those people, and about how they together put a serious dent into the global economy. How the companies dealt with it, hand in hand with government. There are some stunning observations to make about them. People earning hundreds of millions of dollars are not able to speak a straight sentence (I am talking to you, Hank Paulson, or you, chief lobbyist of the investment bankers, or Mr Mishkin). Of course director and author Charles Ferguson gives them a hard time. He is bold, he is fearless, and he can be, because he is probably the wealthiest person ever to make a documentary film – his risk of his subjects turning against him is slim, he is as independent as you can be. He has done his homework, comes with facts, and is aggressive about them. He is not the Michael Moore kind, playing pranks on camera. He is invisible, off-camera, but you can hear his questions, and you can also hear his responses to the interviewees’ statements:  “But that’s wrong.”, “no, you did not.”, “you’re kidding me” are common sentences, and he always follows up with the facts showing that what we just heard was utter crap. You have to give his interview partners that they were at least man enough to engage (many prominent players were not), but when they get angry about being confronted with the unpleasant fact that most of their professional life is built on a foundation of cheating, stealing, lying, being corrupt and academically unsound – and generally being delusional about their own integrity (Mr Hubbard, Mr Mishkin, this is to you), I still start losing respect when they are squirming being confronted with actions they would most probably find despicable when observed on any other person but themselves.

Why did I find the film thrilling despite its subject matter? Because it’s about human choices, incentives, free-riding, ignorance, information processing, acting under complexity, and about whether there is a human propensity to be evil. About everything an economist should really be interest in, in other words. 😉

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  1. […] « Inside Job (Charles Ferguson 2010) Takers (John Luessenhop 2010) and The Losers (Sylvain White 2010) […]

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