I just found out about a film project, We the Economy. It is subtitled, “20 Short Films You Can’t Afford to Miss.” I learned about it indirectly via Tristero over at Digby’s Blog. The recommended films by James Schamus are very good. Sadly, that isn’t true for much of the other films.
I haven’t watched all of the series, but most of what I’ve watched has not impressed me in terms of substance. It’s not a surprise that the group got money to make its highly polished films. I would say they overall tilt decidedly rightward. What’s kind of sad is that in many cases, it isn’t clear that the artists making the films really understand. For example, the film on Debt and Deficits treats short term deficits as though there is a disagreement about them in a recession. That’s not true. There is only a disagreement about them when a Democrat is in the White House.
But of special concern is the Recessions episode. It is visually stunning, but is based upon John Steele Gordon’s ideas about recessions, which are largely that recessions are based upon supply shocks. He gives some minor lip service to the demand side of the equation, but that’s all. For example, he claims that recessions are all about bankers not loaning. Sometimes, certainly. What about right now? Oh, that’s right: we aren’t in a recession! It’s just that millions of people are out of work. I don’t know much of Gordon’s work, but he seems like one of these people — pretty much the standard in policy circles — who thinks all that matters is that the rich bankers are loaning to the rich corporations. What happens to the little people doesn’t matter.
On the other hand, there are some good films. Bob Balaban’s episode on Globalization is pretty good. It deals with the subject in about the only sensible way possible. Globalization isn’t going away. So we need to manage it so that it doesn’t cause so many problems and so much insecurity. It does manage to avoid saying something that is obvious: globalization may have created a lot of jobs overseas, but that didn’t cause the stagnation of wages here. Policy allowed all productivity growth for almost four decades to go just to the capitalists and not to workers.
By far, the best film is James Schamus’ episodes 6 and 7, which together constitute, “That Film About Money.” In one way, it isn’t really that informative on the issue of money — nothing more than you didn’t already learn from It’s a Wonderful Life. But it goes into the messed up way that the financial system is run — especially in the second episode. In fact, the second episode might make you very angry. And it includes some nice interviewed sections with Richard Wolff, who is both charming and brilliant, “If you understand that, you’ll understand why the banks have recovered, and nobody else has!”
This is my playlist combining the two films together. It is a total of 15 minutes long, so it is worth the time:
That sums up the last two decades, “I know what we’ll do: instead of paying you to buy what we produce, we’ll lend you the money!”
The problem with the series is that it is definitely made by and for the TED Talk crowd. It’s smart and well made. It takes pains to appear even handed, while tipping distinctly toward the viewpoint of the power elite. But inside that context, good things get done. And that was especially true of the film by James Schamus.