Money, Power & Wall Street: The Don’t-Miss Can’t-Watch Documentary

by Bob Schwartz

It is hard to recommend the four-part PBS Frontline documentary Money, Power & Wall Street and hard not to. Difficult as it is to watch the financial crisis unfolding, the film is superior even by Frontline’s high standard of excellence. As a history and prospectus, it is an insightful, even-handed and essential work of reporting. As a source of optimism, it is a complete failure, because the conclusion is that nothing has substantially changed, and that maybe nothing will.

It is as good as any disaster movie in pulling us in and moving us inexorably along. We see the scenes in detail, meet the cast of characters—lead and supporting actors—and have a growing sense of foreboding: this can’t end well.

It is different than most disaster movies in two ways. Most have some heroes, and with a few exceptions, there are no heroes here. And most disaster movies end with some movement toward rebuilding and reform, and with a sense of lessons learned: we will keep better watch for asteroids, we will build a system of asteroid warning and protection, we will come out this with a fundamentally better society. There is none of that here.

Yet Money Power & Wall Street has to be seen by every American. Those with political agendas will no doubt point to particular decisions or non-decisions, or particular actions or inactions, to prove a partisan point. But when they do, they will have missed the bigger point. In a world where financial forces become too big to understand or control, it is still our job as citizens and public servants to understand and control them. Because when it finally hits, ideologies and political badges are not really going to matter.