I don’t normally talk about films in this column because I am neither an expert nor do I get out to see very many in theaters. But this past weekend I watched the HBO film “Too Large to Fail.” I was immensely impressed by the movie and found it difficult to pause it even to use the restroom.
I was also absolutely infuriated. Even if the portrayal of the events involving the Lehman Brothers investment bank failure and the circumstances surrounding the bank bailouts are only partially accurate, they are far beyond anything which this nation has experienced in generations. That the principal players involved, ranging from the bankers themselves, to the Treasury to Congress, are still flourishing today is reprehensible.
As the final moments of the film pointed out, the United States is still experiencing massive unemployment while the investment bankers are reaping unprecedented financial rewards, the key congressional players are still making policy for the United States, and the Treasury and Federal Reserve officials, who so botched the crisis, either remain in power or have retired or moved onto lucrative new positions.
I came away from the movie thinking that Bernie Madoff and his giant Ponzi scheme were nothing compared to the financial maneuvers of America’s large investment banks. How is it that the men and women who literally brought down the American economy are still walking around free and continuing to be paid astronomical sums, having suffered no punishment for their misdeeds?
I wonder whether the film might more accurately have been called “Too Rich and Powerful to Be Punished?” Is there not something wrong with a legal and political system which puts people in prison for stealing $100 from a grocery store, but lets folks who steal billions from the nation walk around free? I found myself almost choking when the Treasury officials started to talk about “moral hazard.” It seems very unlikely to me that anyone involved in the 2008 financial crash even has any concept of morality.
The effects of the misdeeds of America’s investment bankers continue to be felt across the nation today. Unemployment is continuing at a far higher level than it should be. States and municipalities verge on bankruptcy. Much of the lost savings of those caught in the crash of 2008 has yet to be recouped. The American and world economies are beginning to improve, but we’re far from fully recovered.
And what of the so-called “moral hazard” that contributed to the events of 2008? Have the bankers and the traders paid a high price for their actions? Are there sufficient legal deterrents to curb “moral hazard?” The answer, of course, is “no.”
Americans have short memories. We tend to forget things we need to remember. But if we forget what happened in 2008 and allow the people who brought that economic disaster to continue in power and continue to reap profits from their misdeeds, then it will happen again. I think the new film may help us to remember. Perhaps, it may even spur the American people to force our leaders to finally do what is necessary. For this, HBO should be congratulated. If you haven’t seen “Too Big to Fail,” you should.