Still too big to fail

Finally saw The Big Short last night and now I understand how Wall Street works.

No, actually, that’s a Big Lie. I’m as confused as ever.

In fact, though I enjoyed the movie very much, about my only takeaway was an ominous statement made near the end by the Steve Carell character, Mark Baum:

“I have a feeling in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people.”

And here we are in a presidential campaign and there’s a candidate who wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the United States and stop all Muslims from entering the country. And though the economy is not tanking, the banks are performing the exact same shenanigans that brought the country to its knees nine years ago.

If there’s a bright spot, it’s that Goldman Sachs—one of the worst culprits in the mortgage disaster—has agreed to pay a civil fine of up to $5 billion. But even then, there’s a weasel clause: there are provisions that allow Goldman to pay as much as $1 billion less, and that’s before the tax benefits of the deal are included. And not one of the crooks goes to jail.

The Big Short is really two movies—the first half a comedy where a few experts seem to know what tragedy lies ahead but can’t get anyone to believe them. It’s all very amusing, but the laughs come to a halt in the second half as we see the results. When the movie ended I turned to my wife and said, “you know, we were pretty lucky.” And we were. At a different time we could have been a young couple desperate to own a home, thrilled to learn we qualified for a mortgage, then left with nothing but a foreclosure just months later. Or an older couple with a 401K that tanked and left us to face retirement in near-penury.

Everyone who claims we need a business mogul to run the country should watch that movie and try to decipher the venality that governs the country’s money makers, then try to envision the millions of Americans whose lives were ruined by this greed and avarice. Or maybe, as Mark Baum says, the time is near when we’ll once again blame the immigrants and the poor—the ones who aren’t too big to fail—simply too unimportant to be noticed.

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