CANNES -- In a Cannes Film Festival where the economic crisis occupies front-row center, Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job" puts how we got there in rage-inducing detail. He names the names and the means by which a deregulated financial services industry ran away with our money in 2008. The jittery market this week provided a better spotlight than any publicist could conjure.
"Inside Job" shows how people were sold securities expected to fail, because investment banks had bet on them to fail. Ferguson paints a picture of Sodom and Gomorrah in gabardine. Bonuses rained. Hookers hit the mother lode. Business school deans and economists got cozy in the pocket of the industry, diving into conflicts of interest that would make most of our moral compasses spin out of control. The accused squirm and verbally dance in front of Ferguson's camera. Some high-level principals in Ferguson's "cast," like former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner, avoid it altogether.
Ferguson wants us to get mad. He also wants his money back. He told WalletPop that he's thinking about legal action against some unnamed folks who done him wrong. "Something did happen that was actually strikingly analogous to what these banks did," he said. "I may actually be suing somebody. And when I discovered it, the one thing I wanted to look into is whether it was unique to me or a widespread thing. ... It might be a public policy issue."
Can you say class action? If Ferguson goes to court with the same passion that he confronted Wall Street avarice on film, look out. Ferguson called himself comfortable and fiscally conservative with a historically high savings ratio. He wasn't immune, though.
"I took a significant hit," he told WalletPop. "I partially recovered. Not entirely."
Asked if he had tips for those wanting to get into the market, he said he had enough to worry about rather than giving advice that could cause people to go bankrupt.. When I asked later if we should just stay out of the market altogether, he bristled a bit. I got the hint that no recommendations would be forthcoming.
While he hopes the documentary will inspire reform, Ferguson doesn't have much faith in the ethics level at the moment. "I don't think there's been much improvement," he said. "It'll be a while before people try something equivalently naked."
Reform took a step forward Thursday when the Senate passed a proposal to rein in Wall Street, but the Dow took its biggest plunge in more than a year.
"I would like to get people angry," he added. "I'd also like them to come away understanding what happened."
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