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Inside Job (2011), Charles Ferguson

The two defining world events of the last decade have been 9-11 and the ensuing Iraqi occupation, and the global financial crisis of 2008 – for which the last word has still to be written. Filmmaker Charles Ferguson may have created the definitive documentary film accounts for both – in 2008, No End in Sight provided a damning analysis of the US-Iraqi occupation and subsequent insurgency, and his latest film, Inside Job, takes on the failure of the US financial industry.

As he did with No End in Sight, Ferguson provides a well paced and strikingly clear account of the causes and events leading up to 2008, and parades before us a gallery of villains and players (some of whom he interviews, rendering quite uncomfortable under his grilling in the process), most of whom still remain in key decision making positions. You’ll come away with an understanding of how all this happened; anger that while catastrophe has been averted for now, things really haven’t changed; and an insight into the scale of the problem.

The key messages:

  • the financial industry is too powerful, and wields disproportionate influence on government (lobbyists in general, wield too much power);
  • this allows them to heavily influence legislation of their industry, including the financial deregulation which laid the groundwork for the events of 2008;
  • deregulation leads to an industry where conflict of interest is legalised, and where the capitalist ethos, self-interest and short term gains thrive and are encouraged.

One solution appears to be greater regulation to prevent conflicts of interest, but given the power the financial industry currently wields, the chances of this happening any time soon are low.

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film notes

No End in Sight (2008), Charles Ferguson

Also on Netflix Instant.

The most surprising thing about this film for me – in Charles Ferguson’s narrative, how seemingly clear and direct the causes were for the current tragedy that is Iraq – egregious, depressingly mundane, and avoidable. The initial post-invasion goodwill was rapidly, almost systematically dismantled and destroyed, creating an environment for insurgency.

The mistakes made provide learnings which can also be applied to any undertaking where a number of people are involved, and planning is needed.

  1. Insufficient (and bad) planning. An example: martial law was not immediately established, with no good reason for this other than senior leadership thinking it wasn’t necessary. This left a void for law, order and security, which was quickly filled by religious extremist groups.
  2. Advice of experts and people on the ground was ignored. During the planning stage, General Shinseki’s recommended number of troops for the occupation was questioned and dismissed, even though he had direct and recent experience with post-war occupation – and he was later proven right.
  3. People were not treated with dignity. The Iraqi army was dismissed, as well as the incumbent government, completely disregarding people’s basic needs – an opportunity to make a living with respect and dignity. The Green Zone post-invasion immediately created a clear “us and them” environment.
  4. Insufficient communication, both within senior leadership and through the entire organization, and among the key leaders, a general lack of critical thinking and thoughtfulness.
  5. No desire to seek out differing opinions, or speak with others to build consensus and buy-in. Not toeing the company line meant being removed from your position, eventually resulting in an organization of yes men – nepotism in government.