On the day after the one-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ collapse, I find myself wishing every American could gather this evening for a screening at 209 West Houston – home to the great independent movie theater Film Forum, which for the past two weeks has been showing "American Casino," a bracing new documentary by Leslie and Andrew Cockburn about the subprime mortgage meltdown. The film is admittedly not a lot of fun to watch. What it inspires instead is rage: at the officials (Alan Greenspan, Phil Gramm) who trumpeted the virtues of financial deregulation; at ratings agencies that pretended to scrutinize whether mortgage-backed bonds being sold and resold were trustworthy (while actually handing the job to the banks that were paying them); at financiers who kept repackaging the mortgage-backed junk into inscrutable financial instruments; at predatory lenders who deliberately targeted low-income minority communities that are now awash in foreclosures.
The most amazing thing to me about the film was the utter lack of remorse expressed by the people who conspired to create the mess. The closest we come to an apology is a half-hearted admission from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who is shown telling Congress he was "shocked" that allowing large, unaccountable financial institutions to pursue their self-interests might cause problems. But nobody seems to be genuinely sorry. The people who made money from selling the junk kept it. The banks that profited so handsomely proceeded to get bailed out. The communities preyed on by predatory lenders are now full of boarded-up buildings and foreclosed homes. And, as The Times reported this weekend, bonuses and pay on Wall Street have gone right back to pre-crisis levels.
Is it too much to expect people who become millionaires by knowingly deceiving their fellow citizens to feel some measure of responsibility and shame?