What’s the right fable? The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Chicken Little? Regardless, the moral of Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve seems the same. The sky is falling, the wolf is prowling. And whether or not our fears are justified or not, this documentary is hardly a David’s stone against the behemoth Goliath that is the cannibalistic globalized capitalist economy. Jim Bruce calls his new documentary “The first film about the next crisis.” He’s probably right. The sad bit is all that means is that Bruce’s film will earn him the cred to shout a big fat “I told you so.”
Not to be too pessimistic, but it is difficult to watch Bruce’s well-researched, context-driven film and not feel a little disparaging about the state of things. Money for Nothing takes a look at some of the familiar causes of the last economic breakdown and then goes father back, tracing the history of the Federal Reserve to the financial panics at the turn of the 20th century. And while it took a while for Fed bankers to grasp the mechanics of the new tool they had, over the next hundred years the Federal Reserve proved that it could do its job: stemming recessions and depressions, pulling the puppet strings of the market to round out the sharp peaks and valleys of the unchecked free markets. The problem is, Bruce argues, is that the Fed has screwed up more than succeeded. Cases in point: the depression, the inflation of the 1970s, the great recession of 2008. With 20/20 hindsight, economists tell Bruce how the Fed could have saved the day, but failed.
So why expect to succeed now? Money For Nothing is not merely Monday morning quarterbacking, it roots its critique in the ideologies of the puppet masters who keep making the same mistakes. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the film is the portrait it paints of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. While consensus seems to show that little has been done to reverse the root causes of the 2008 financial meltdown, Bernanke comes across as a flippant, aloof academic, half in the pocket of the mega-banksters, a man who arrogantly follows his predecessor down a dangerous path of regulation-skepticism. And while Bruce does devote some time at the end of his film to thoughts about how to reverse the trend, both his portrayal of Alan Greenspan and Bernanke suggest these are really just voice-less rally cries. Wolf! The sky! No one’s listening anymore.