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Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve – economics doc makes for an earnest op-ed piece

Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, in a scene from Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve.

2.5 out of 4 stars

Written by
Jim Bruce
Directed by
Jim Bruce
Starring
Paul Volker, Janet Yellen, Alan Blinder
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2013

Wonky, both in its fascination with policy, and in its eccentrically dry tone, this documentary about the United States's central banking system (a.k.a. "the Fed") features a lineup of talking heads, including current and past Federal Reserve officials, economists and traders, discussing the role of federal regulators in the financial meltdown of 2008.

Their unvaried argument is that the crash was precipitated by the ideological biases of chairman Alan Greenspan (1987-2006) and his successor, Ben Bernanke (2006-2014). Their policies of keeping interest rates low, encouraging borrowing and spending on stock and real-estate bubbles, took a toll on personal savings and the rising national debt, it's argued.

In contrast, Greenspan's predecessor Paul Volker (1979-1987), who let interest rates rise into double digits to chill rampant inflation under the Carter and early Reagan administrations, is treated as a hero.

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Though there are attempts to add some visual fun to this cinematic economics lesson (an atomic explosion, Frankenstein's monster), this earnest op-ed piece is unlikely to provide clarity for the average consumer with a shaky grasp of the concept of a chequing account. Nor, contrary to the film's title, is there really much attention paid to the day-to-day workings of the Fed.

Actor Liev Schreiber's voice-over narration is filled with sonorous urgency, but as the film's commentators acknowledge, some ideas are a hard sell: How do politicians and regulators convince the public on the benefits of a financial diet when a spending spree sounds much more fun?

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