What Do We Learn about the Financial Crisis from the Film “Let’s Make Money”?


The recently released film “Let’s make money” by Austrian filmmaker E. Wagenhofer has been called timely and informative about the financial crisis. It is timely, all right, but – at least to the semi-informed person – not informative. The uninformed viewer is informed that

– investment bankers don’t care about ethical or environmental standards in the firms in which they invest, but are only interested in making money for their clients – and that they were expensive watches

– an Austrian industrialist in India thinks that wages there are too high and that India will not be “able to afford environmental or social standards for a long time to come” – and that this person is both callous and stupid

– that the rich countries exploit the poor ones, because only 3% of the revenues of Ghanain gold mining goes to Ghana and the rest to the West

– that working conditions in developing countries are atrocious – and that U.S. cotton subsidies put Burkina Faso’s cotton, which is the best and most efficient in the world, out of business

– that the Spanish coast has been swamped with speculation-built apartment buildings which remain empty

– that tax havens’ –  like Jersey – value is only in helping investors escape their tax burdens

– that Vienna’s (and other cities)  citizens – as a result of cross-border leasing (sale and lease-back) of tramways have to pay to be able to use them.

All of this has been known. Informative is only the depiction of the role of tax havens – which have rightly come under criticism in the past months, because they reduce the tax revenues of source countries drastically.

The film wrongly puts the World Bank into the center of his (disjointed) narrative, probably not being able to differentiate between the roles of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The film brings the homeless across from the World Bank into the picture, stensibly implying that their homelessness is somehow the World Bank’s fault. The film wrongly states that the World Bank has pursuaded Burkina to stay with cotton monoculture. On the contrary, the former President Jim Wolfensohn was the first to deplore in international fora the agricultural subsidies of the US, Europe and Japan for preventing developing countries agricultural exports reaching rich countries. And the World Bank has urged and helped Burkina – and many other countries – to diversify their economy away from primary agriculture.

The strangest episode in the film is that of the self-proclaimed, very articulate “economic hitman” who insinuates World Bank conspiracy to exploit Latin American countries  in the interest of U.S. firms. While it is true that the U.S. has large influence on the World Bank, the latter has not been involved in Torrijo’s downfall. The hitman, by the way, is the only person in the film not identified by name or profession. To me this all looks very much like a conspiracy theory.

So the film reinforces the conspiracy theories and preconceptions about the evil financial world, without a single mentioning of some positive aspects of banking, saving and investing. And this in spite of an array of prominent advisers to the film, mentioned at the end. It is an opportunity missed: there are enough problematic and maybe even criminal events which have led to the present crisis that could have been reported, without resorting to this superficial denouncing. Only the Austrian investment banker Anton Schneider gives interesting testimony in the film.

By the way: Millennium (as in Millennium Development Goals) is spelled with “double n”, since it derives from annus – and not from anus.

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