Movie gets to heart of recession

Posted Feb. 06, 2011, at 6:48 p.m.

As Democrats and Republicans throttle each other over the smallest perceived slight, I wish everyone in the donnybrook could watch simultaneously the movie “Inside Job,” which exposes the gross corruption and greed on Wall Street that led to the Great Recession and is still very much in power.

If we all watched this movie, I think that at least for a moment we’d be united in a single cause: eliminating the infection of immorality that wrecked our economy and inflicted nothing but riches and lack of remorse on the nation’s greatest bankers and financial kingpins.

They even had the gall to sell investors on risks they knew were bad and bet against those investors. They sold subprime mortgages to people they knew wouldn’t understand the terms, and who would be likely to default. These were decent people who could have been given a prime mortgage, but that didn’t serve the masters of profit.

These money masters tanked the entire economy, were bailed out and have an even greater concentration of power now.

President Barack Obama is complicit, but so are George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Before the 1980s, an investment broker could make about $40,000 a year. After deregulation, that same broker could make millions.

Deregulated banks take risks and get more reckless, leveraging themselves to the hilt, which means taking out up to 30 loans on the same bit of capital.

The game of profit quickly snowballed into a house of illusion and deceit. The wreckage is immense and occurred in three waves: the death of the savings and loans in the late 1980s; the Internet IPO crash of 2000 and the Great Recession of 2008. The losers in all cases were the American people, who have been working harder, including both parents toiling away, and taking out loans, just to keep up.

This has been going on for decades. The middle class is slipping away while the fabric of our society has disintegrated into a mountain of poverty and on top of that castles of extreme riches. The top 1 percent own 23 percent of the wealth, which is the worst divide in any industrial nation. It hasn’t been seen in this country since before the Great Depression.

The fat cat financial kingpins who recklessly led us into this mess are psychologically driven to accumulate more for themselves and live a fast-paced life. They are so influential, cycling on a revolving door into the highest levels of government, that it doesn’t matter who we have for a governor in Maine. We could have an angel for a governor, and we’d still be hostage to Wall Street and its self-serving priorities.

This immense and pervasive glue of greed has paralyzed the federal apparatus. Republicans are right that the government is a mess. And Democrats are right that the problem is corporate avarice. Truth is, when it comes to money, the government and the banks are in the same bed.

We bicker with one another over things such as welfare as this country continues to slide from its perch of greatness. We can deny this all we want, but we all know that China is ascendant, and we know that reckless borrowing, which many of us fell victim to, has dealt our society a horrible blow. We know that we are partly responsible. both Republicans and Democrats alike.

The ultrarich want us to keep bickering and not address the demons at the top. Both the tea party and the liberals are against the continued monstrosity of corruption. We all can unite in this.

Or we can continue to face one another with growing hatred, resulting in a perpetual stalemate while Mammon laughs.

Once you revisit the facts (as “Inside Job” does so well), it is almost impossible to deny that those at the financial helm made calamitous and unethical decisions, which resulted in CEOs walking away with many millions, and left the United States a shambles.

We all can see this, if we stop arguing among ourselves and work together to get rid of the underlying evil. I know it is unlikely to happen easily, but as “Inside Job” informs, those who ravaged our security, peace and economy are still at the top.

Chris Crittenden of Lubec teaches ethics at the University of Maine.

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