The Big Short

The other day I saw a very interesting movie.  The movie is titled, The Big Short, and it is worth the two hours of your life you will spend viewing it.  The acting is excellent, the writing phenomenal, and the subject meaningful.  There are technical banking terminologies in the movie but they are presented several times and time is purposefully taken to adequately explain them.  It is wholly unlike other movies that quickly bring up very difficult concepts that they know you will never understand and then simply move on expecting you to just accept that you are too ignorant to understand such details and accept the conclusions of the actors.  In short, this movie was fantastic.

However, there were three main things I did not like about The Big Short.  The first two are the unnecessary language and nudity.  I get that it is a very good possibility that these people use the language used in the movie (possibly worse) and that strip clubs were frequented in their real lives.  However, the director could have easily gotten his point across without the language and could have easily had the women in the club covered by even just underwear.

The third thing I did not like about the movie will take a little more time to explain, and that is the subject of this blog.

Let me start off by saying that I am very glad the movie brought attention to the corruption of banks and other organizations.  What I am about to say does not nullify the guilt and greed of the banks and other organizations.  I am not justifying their guilt.  Please do not read the rest of this post and say that I have forgotten the greed of the banks.  I have not.  I am fully aware that the greed and corruption of banks and other organizations lead to many relatively innocent people being hurt.

Having said that, the movie paints the average person as completely innocent in the housing crash.  The movie portrays average people as workers who diligently pay bills and try to live within their means.  If they have any fault, it is that they are naïve to how economy, loans, and banking systems work.

This simply is not true.

Sure the banks were greedily trying to grant loans so they could increase the size of their dollar pool.  However, the general public was also greedy in that they were trying to obtain something that they knew they had no capability to support.  We, the general public, think we have the right to homes that we cannot afford.  What we label “comfortable living” has ballooned so high because of greed and an ignorance of what we really need to survive – and even survive well.

If we the general public were so innocent, we would have recognized that we do not have the income to afford houses that are clearly outside our price range.  We would not max out credit cards and have unpaid amounts on our credit cards at the end of the month, we would have more in savings, and advertising would be a much less lucrative business.

But the simple fact of the matter is that we are greedy.  Our greed may not have as big of a dollar sign on it as certain corrupt, very wealth individuals, but our greed exists none the less.  If we were not greedy, then the banks would have never been able to give out as many loans as they did.  But the banks did not just capitalize on our naiveté, they also capitalized on our greed.  That is right, if we were not so greedy, the banks never could have done what they did.  We were told that we deserve bigger, better houses, and our greed loved that message.  We may have even just been told that we deserve a house because we are too good for an apartment – our greed loved even that message and we fell hook, line, and sinker.

The Big Short reveals one of my biggest problems with today’s society.  Everybody loves pointing fingers without looking at their own lives.  And today’s society especially loves pointing fingers at the rich while making the not-as-rich look innocent and sweet.  Trading one form of greed for another is not improvement.  Trading a corrupt aristocracy for an enraged, beheading prone proletariat is not improvement.

We will never be able to improve as a society until we recognize the evil in all of us.  While a corrupt rich person’s greed may be easier to spot because of the large dollar numbers available, an average person’s greed, while maybe not as evident, is still just as present, it just manifests itself in more clandestine ways.

Also, if you give an average person a yacht and a second home in Miami, you just watch how “suddenly” greedy this person becomes when they are threatened with losing it.  These people did not suddenly become greedy, it is just that they never had the opportunity to reveal their greed in such a palpable way.

I have written before on how Jesus Christ handled a certain situation with an individual.  The encounter we are going to talk about is found in Luke 12:13-21.  In this passage a man asks Christ to tell his brother to split an inheritance with him because apparently his brother was keeping it all to himself.  Christ’s response is amazing.  Christ told the man to not be greedy and then warned the crowds to guard themselves “against all forms of greed.”  That is right, all forms of greed.  Not just corrupt, rich-people-greed, but even poor-people-greed and victim-greed.  Greed is greed, no matter what form it comes in.  Christ did not entertain the man by denouncing his brother’s greed; instead He looked right at the man and called out the greed that was inside him.

I struggle with jumping on the popular bandwagon of blaming the rich for all our society’s problems.  I see way too many problems with me and with our society at large.  I would like to be actively pursuing the improvement of our society by not just pointing out the injustices of others, but by looking at myself and seeing my own flaws.

I refuse to be fooled by movies, blogs, articles, posts, tweets, or memes trying to portray a similar message as The Big Short.  It was not just the banks and other institutions that were greedy.  The vast majority of us were and still are today.  Instead of looking at the obvious flaws of someone else and feeling self-righteous, I am going to try to take an honest look at myself and try to see the many flaws in my own life.

Please join me in this pursuit.

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4 comments

  1. Despite the fact that we disagree on a few big issues, I certainly could sidereal you to be one of my most intelligent friends and I enjoy reading a post of yours where we largely agree.

    I also enjoyed the movie. I loved the acting. A friend of mine played a decent sized role in it and I enjoyed seeing him up there. The storytelling is amazing and it’s educational.

    And I also agree that this whole crisis could have potentially been prevented if people (the consumers) hadn’t over bought what they needed.

    However, I think that many people in the banking industry weren’t just greedy. I believe they were also predatory. They sought out naive consumers and sold them on bad ideas.

    So, I would like to propose a theory that education could have helped. Please understand I am not blaming the education system, but I do think it could be a partial solution.

    As I have gotten older I realize that I learned next to nothing about business and the economy in all my years of school (including undergrad).

    Will education stop greed? Probably not. But it might help a larger swath of people to understand exactly how loans work. What are the consequences of certain financial practises? How does debt compound? Etc.

    And this shouldn’t just be taught once. Most people don’t learn things after hearing it only once. We need to teach this in elementary, middle and high school. I think business courses should be required in public education.

    And lastly, just to throw it out there, I can’t stand the fact that the government bailed out the banks.

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    • Rich,

      I agree that banks took advantage of the naïveté of certain individuals. In fact, my second blog post on this website was titled, “Educational Needs”, and one thing it said we need to make required learning in high school is personal finance. And yes, I definitely agree that this needs to be more than just a one semester class. This definitely could have helped our situation.

      About the bank bail out, as much as I do not like that it happened, the simple fact is that if they did not do that, then many more millions of houses would have been lost. What I do not like most about the bail out was that the money given to the banks was so abused by the banks (e.g., bonuses to higher ups). By supporting the banks financially, many other people did not have to lose their homes. So basically it put a bandage on the bleeding.

      Unfortunately another alternative, giving money to the people, would have resulted in a ton of abuse as well (because people of every level of income are greedy), so I am not sure what the best option would have been. If we bailed out the people, we would have just been rewarding people’s ignorance and stupidity on a large scale. Also, bailing out the people could have been more risky since we have no idea if they would actually pay back the loan from the government, and it could have been far more expensive and harder to manage.

      Like

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