Please watch the documentary, Inside Job! My response is not a call to take up arms; instead it is a plea to help me testify to the injustices we know about. After watching this Oscar winner, I had a momentary feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. The top one percent, the wealthiest Americans, have gained so much financial power that I wonder how to hold back what seems to be a tsunami threatening our way of life.
Many of the one percent have this in common, “a blatant disregard for the impact of their actions” (quoted from the movie, stated by an analyst of many of the CEOs). Many others who are not in that category have come under the influence of their lobbyists and other mouthpieces: think news media, academic and government economists (watch interviews in Inside Job), greedy business people, and polluted preachers. Others who have withstood the avalanche of false data and misrepresentation get sucked into the mire by our own cravings—we want what they have or don’t want to lose our more meager assets; this need allows us to be manipulated, even subjugated by the powerful.
And power corrupts, especially when linked with the human tendency toward greed.
Portrayed so clearly in the documentary is the outcome of risk-taking of the financial services industry—billions in losses globally while the chief gamblers continue to gain. [Again, see the documentary for a discussion of derivatives, bonuses, and remorselessness.] I explained derivatives in my book, Pieces of You, this way:
“Derivatives are not inherently bad; as you found in your research, they can limit the risk of bank lending. But when they become a tool for grossly leveraging lending, and when it is hard to discern the abuse, the havoc generated can touch every level of society.”
“You clearly stated that derivatives trading can limit risk—a good thing—so if our managers don’t fall prey to greediness, it would be the assurance my young bank colleagues and I are looking for. Thank you for explaining that! Now I’m ready to return to the discussion at Denise’s house.”
“I wonder why you so quickly brush off the potential effect of greed on this scheme. Why don’t you take a few minutes to consider how the excessive desire to acquire or possess more than one needs or deserves has affected your own life?”
The question posed to my protagonist is a call to examine ourselves: do our decisions differentiate us from what the one percent have in common? Many of us want to join the fight against injustice, but our voices lack power—until we can prove we are different, that in all our actions we are mindful of the impact on others. Within this proof lies the power of our words to confront whatever is worth fighting for. And by our testimony, we can hold back the tsunami.
<a href="“>See the op-ed, “Another Inside Job” by Paul Krugman, NYTimes