Last night my husband and I watched Panic, a new documentary by Vice, about the 2008 financial crisis. The documentary, from its opening credits onward drew a pretty clear and blunt narritive arc, from the 2008 financial crisis to the election of the know-nothing populist demagogue, Donald Trump. To sum it up: Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Ben Bernanke stepped in to save the US (and global economy) from another Great Depression. But people were too dumb to understand why Wall Street needed unspecified unconditional bailouts, so populism happened.

While I agree with the underlying narrative, which looks down its nose at populism with a certain degree of disgust and suspicion, I find myself asking the TV, sometimes loudly, why the fuck these guys still don't get it, ten years after the crisis. In my mind, this documentary was not the untold story. It was the told (and told, and told, and told) story. The untold story, which will probably remain untold until Judgment Day, is why and how no executives from any of the financial firms, which perpetrated perhaps the biggest financial fraud in the history of the world, went to jail. Somebody, somewhere... a lot of somebodies...belong disgraced in orange jumpsuits. Instead, they sit in their multi-million dollar mansions, awaiting their disgrace in the hereafter.

I think I've watched every documentary and movie there ever was about the crisis: Margin Call, The Big Short, Hank, Too Big to Fail, Money For Nothing, and others. I've read The Big Short, The 9BN Dollar Witness. I even watched, in its entirety, no less than five times, Lloyd Blankfein's testimony before Congress, which originally appeared on C-SPAN, but is now widely available online. The "people are idiots" story has been told over and over again, as the victors get to write history. But is it really the whole story? And is it even true?

In the case of Lloyd Blankfein's testimony, it was clear that his strategy was to hide behind the complexity of market making in the OTC derivatives market, but the narrative totally fell apart. Because the concept behind any derivative is not complex. What is complex is the work involved in executing a derivative contract. The paperwork, which constitutes the contract itself, the process of vetting a client's credit, booking, netting and clearing the trade. These things are admittedly daunting, but the concept itself is very simple.

Blankfein's impatience barely masked his shame, but I supposed it was the only fig leaf he had. And to my utter chagrin, it basically worked. I actually took a job as an Associate at Goldman Sachs, and in their "employee orientation," a young and ambitious African American girl (and I say girl because she was maybe 26), barked at us sarcastically, "You all know what market making is, right?" Nobody raised their hands, because her tone and frame of the question itself made it clear that raising one's hand would invite ridicule. I wondered why this young bright girl, who I would think as a woman and as a black woman (which I admittedly know less about) would sympathize with the underdog in any narrative, was nonetheless dressing up as couture wolf. I'm assuming she was hoping for a bonus and a promotion.

The whole schtick about the complexity of "market making" actually reminded me of the classic film, Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd. When Mortimer (I think) challenges the black homeless junkie to comprehend executing a commodity derivatives contract, he thinks this peon will be too stupid to understand how it works. Instead, the black homeless junkie says, "Sounds like you two are a couple of bookies." I guess it escaped his notice that anyone can understand what gambling is. Gambling is a very basic human faculty. We all gamble everyday.

The other part of the "people are idiots" narrative is that borrowers were idiots and took on debt they could never repay, using "stated income loans." I am no communist, and nor do I look to absolve individuals of their personal responsibility, but in my view, people who say "borrowers were irresponsible" are being liars, or perhaps they are stupid. Lenders are supposed to be risking their capital in a loan contract too, right? That's why they make interest? To compensate for the risk they are supposed to be taking? It seems to me that if you as a lender leave a box on the side of the road that says "Free Money" on it, you can't really blame people for taking that box, even if the fine print on the back of the box says they'll be shot for taking it.

The Untold Story of the crisis would probably best be told by either Eric Holder, who coined the term too big to jail or perhaps Peter Strozk, whose personal texts with his mistress revealed his foaming disdain for Eric Holder; a disdain which I share. I don't know why Peter Strozk hates Eric Holder. Perhaps it has more to do with the HSBC cartel wire fraud scandal, but I'm assuming that the FBI had a wealth of knowledge about exactly who should go to jail for the 2008 Financial Fraud Crisis, and like any underling stymied by his supposedly ecumenical boss, was pissed off when Eric Holder gave his "blame was too widespread and diffuse" speech before congress. The fact that Holder floated running for president in 2020 tells me that neither he the-fuck gets it either.

Instead of jailing bankers, which would have been just, and therefore cathartic for people, Eric Holder presided over a Justice Department whose approach would be multi-billion dollar fines. Record-setting fines for virtually every bank and investment bank on the street. Presumably he, or somebody at the executive level, thought that these fines would be big enough to grab enough headlines that people would feel justice had been served. Sadly, we underlings understand all too clearly how corporations work, since most of us have worked for one: Fines come out of the company coffers, and it's the little people who break their backs to work off these debits. The CEOs get rewarded for avoiding the disgrace of criminal indictments.

You would think that somebody at the executive level understands moral hazard well enough to get it. Fines allow rich people to buy continued dignity. In essence, the government says to perpetrators of massive fraud that there is nothing wrong with what they did, so long as the government gets a cut of the action. In order to make it worth their while, the cut can never be as big or bigger than the profits stolen as a result of the fraud. That is how criminal enterprises stay in business. It's not just people from shithole countries that understand this. We all understand this. But the United States was supposed to be different. Our criminals and RICO mobsters are supposed to wind up locked in cages, right?

We, the idiots, we understand generally what credit is, since we are all in debt. We understand that when the credit system seizes up that businesses cannot operate, and a crippling depression will ensue. We understand the importance of "putting out the fire" so to speak, and stabilizing the system. What we wanted, once the system was sufficiently stable, was for the criminals to wind up in cages. We wanted to see the mighty fall. One man's blood lust is another man's righteous indignation. And we were denied Justice, because the criminals are all on the loose. Their children still get the same junk mail from their alma maters as Eric Holder's beautiful children get.

What is "it" that I think these men don't get? What they don't get, is how easy it is to become a criminal, when you are as spineless as you are ambitious. Do we need to ressurect Nuremburg to exemplify why "following orders" isn't an excuse for criminal activity? Neither is it an excuse that your corporation would have fired you and hired somebody else to dance to the music, had you refused to dance.