“What can we believe in? There’s nothing we can trust anymore.”
(from the movie, Inside Job).
(Sorry about the long title on this blog post – I could not figure out how to shorten it).
I watched the move Inside Job last night. (Yes, I know I’m late to this). It tells what happened leading up to and during the crash of 2008. It was tough to watch this movie. It is distressing, close to full-blown depressing.
The movie, which won the Academy Award for best Documentary, looks far and wide for a silver lining. The filmmaker, Charles Ferguson so wanted to find someone who could admit “we made a mistake, and we’ve learned from our mistake, and actually changed our ways.” No such luck. No one – not one – no, not one! — seems to have learned anything.
And you can pick your participants – the bankers; the politicians, (both Houses of Congress, the White House – both the parties); the mortgage company lenders; the ratings agencies; the academicians – they’re all complicit! Every one of them! (and let’s add the media into this mix).
I was disturbed by so much, but I think I was especially disturbed by the fact that the teachers/leaders at our most respected academic institutions are so enmeshed in this story. The teachers wrote that regulation was bad – taught their students that regulation was bad. The movie began with a quick look at Iceland, and later we learned that two well-known academicians wrote glowing reports for Iceland, about Iceland, proclaiming the banks to be healthy – and did not disclose that they were paid tens of thousands of dollars for writing such glowing reports. And, they make far more money serving on the boards of the institutions that are part of this saga than they do teaching.
And the office holders, Democrat and Republican, in the White House and Congress, protected the autonomy of the financial institutions, did not pass genuine regulations, removed regulations, hired back and forth, from the financial institutions to the government…
And the ratings agencies defended themselves by stating: “we are just offering our opinion.”
And the executives of the financial institutions knew (yes, they knew!) that the “investments” they were selling were “crap,” ”shitty” (these are direct quotes from their own internal communications), and yet they sold them anyway to trusting customers, while they placed bets on these very investments going bad, to make even more money.
Who are these people?
And if you think my brief summary is too simple, too harsh – please watch the film.
When Charles Ferguson accepted his Academy Award, he stepped up to the microphone with his Oscar in hand and stated:
“Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.” (watch his acceptance here).
I watched this in the same week that I read, and prepared to present, the remarkable, and remarkably disturbing, book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch. Ravitch is a former fan of, even champion for, No Child Left Behind. But no more. She now sees that it simply does not work.
Here is what she wrote:
I have a right to change my mind.
Then she quotes John Maynard Keynes, who responded with these words to someone who chastised him for changing his mind: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”
Diane Ravitch believed one thing – it did not work! – and then she changed her mind.
That’s what learning is. It is paying attention, examining the facts, the evidence, and then changing your mind when you are proven mistaken/wrong.
If you have never changed your mind, you have likely never learned.
There is no Diane Ravitch in the financial meltdown saga. Oh, there are plenty of voices who warned against a lack of regulation, who warned about the coming problems. Good for them. But I know of no one from the inside who said, “I was wrong, and now I’ve learned, and I have genuinely changed…”
I read business books for a living. I read them, present synopses of them… I have read a lot of books on leadership. I know that there is a shortage of good leaders out there.
These companies held our ecocomy in their hands. The leaders of these companies needed to be the best, the very best, leaders we could produce. We all needed them to succeed. They failed.
And they seem to have learned nothing from the meltdown.
It is distressing.
Read the review of this movie by Roger Ebert here. It is worth reading.
Here’s the trailer for the movie: