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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10729/broke-the-movie/

Broke, The Movie

September 29, 2009 by

Broke, a new documentary by Michael Covel, offers an extremely engaging look at what went wrong with the macroeconomy but in a very interesting way: he provides close examinations of several microeconomic sectors that affect the financial well being of the household.

Most impressive is his contemporary history of the housing bust. Most of the energy of the film seems to have been focused on this area, and it is the most successful part of the film. Covel illustrates the vast gulf that separates the promise from the reality. It is especially interesting to see the film maker’s conversations with real estate brokers, lenders, and homeowners on their way to foreclosure.

I was also thrilled to see his relentless hammering of the financial press, especially the television press. He argues that the talking heads on CNBC (he really has it in for Jim Cramer) and elsewhere are as clueless as anyone about why stocks go up and down or what you should do with your money. He puts guests on his own camera where they admit that what they say may or may not be useful but the main purpose of these shows is not to help viewers with their finances but rather to keep people glued to the set: in other words, this is entertainment. This point can’t be made enough and it applies more broadly than financial news. A vast majority of viewers, and this includes even smart people, continue to be under the impression than the news industry is about distributing news as versus the driving need to provide a compelling time suck.

In another section, he takes a look at state lotteries to show what a scam they are, and compares them to the poker industry in which individuals can in fact win money. Guess which of the two government loves? Which of the two is government always regulating and banning? Very interesting point here.

He concludes with a satisfying attack on the “buy and hold” investment strategy, which he sees as nothing but broker-promoted propaganda to keep you from ever selling stocks. In contrast, truly savvy investors and poker players understand that the well-orchestrated sell order is the key to long-term profits. One point I found interesting: he shows that the largest earners in the poker industry are not the people who win the most hands.

Nothing in the film contradicts Austrian theory, and one portion shows the way that the Federal Reserve compounded the problems of the housing boom through crazy interest-rate manipulations that overstimulated investment. I would have liked to see more of this. This section is much too short, and I would have liked to hear and see more, but of course I’m a viewer with a bias.

While the film seems to lack a bit of overarching theoretical focus and periodically seems to lose its analytical drive, it is still an excellent corrective to a wide range of myths out there, such as the one that claims government can solve the problems of the bust or that you can trust the media or large firms to give sound economic advise.

If there is an overarching theory to the film–would that he would have made this more explicit–it is that there is no one who knows the future, despite every promise. This is the job of serious entrepreneurs, and some of them are very good at it. While this film will not help anyone become such a person, it might help some people who might otherwise be taken in by the myriad phonies out there trying to hawk their wares.

{ 10 comments }

low warranty September 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

At his website, Michael Covel does promote Austrian Economics. His trend following books are well worth the read for any serious student of the financial markets.

Esuric September 29, 2009 at 12:39 pm

So, where can I watch it?

FarSide September 29, 2009 at 12:55 pm

You can buy it right now ($19.99):

http://www.brokemovie.com/order.html

Matt R. September 29, 2009 at 1:29 pm

I own the film and have watched it several times. Covel does indeed give a lot of credit to Austrian Economics and his trend following book are outstanding.

tab September 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Looks very interesting! He interviews many good traders there. Here is another small clip from the movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzTFNxPXZbw

newson September 29, 2009 at 11:16 pm

sad thing is that unsound money necessarily turns everyone into hedge-managers. not investing becomes investing in the dollar.

newson September 29, 2009 at 11:19 pm

as for buy-and-hold…the trend is your friend (until it isn’t)!

talkpc June 21, 2010 at 1:58 am

He interviews many good traders there. Here is another small clip from the movie.

website June 21, 2010 at 2:00 am

His trend following books are well worth the read for any serious student of the financial markets.

John James April 6, 2011 at 8:20 am

So I finally watched this film.

And I must say it was disappointing. And depressing. Disappointing because it seems like a real missed opportunity. (Much like Inside Job). And depressing because it spends an hour and a half breaking the viewer down, saying how you basically can’t trust anything, that everything is just one big unknown and the only game you can win is poker, and the government’s even trying to shut that down. This leaves you with only 10 minutes as Covel tries to salvage some kind of hope and optimism for the poor soul who just got dragged through the doldrums…an attempt which falls flat on its face. The viewer is left even more disheartened and confused than when he went in.

While the film does offer a decent look into the housing bust, it of course offers no explanation of the underlying causes…but it’s not as if I really expected it to. And of course there’s the little things such as the way it is implied that the boom/bust cycle is just a natural occurrence…that it’s just the way markets work. Of course something like this could be forgiven, as the purpose of the film wasn’t necessarily to explain the causes of the meltdown, and not a lot of time was spent on it. And to his credit, Covel did at one point actually show a chart of the Fed Funds Rate dropping to 1% from ’01-’03, stating “the U.S. Federal Reserve gave Wall Street a big gift.”

What bothers me more is the simple bad advice the film offers, and the notions that it projects…many of which are contradicted by the film itself. For example, a lot of focus is placed on the notion that buying to hold for the long term is a bad move…that it’s a sentiment engrained in us by the greedy media and Wall Street. But only a few minutes before, we were told that no one, not even the experts on the trading floor, know what’s going to happen in the market an hour from now.

We’re told not to follow the crowd (Covel actually visits a shepherd and tries his hand at herding some sheep just to hit you over the head with the metaphor), but then we’re also told to pay attention and ride the wave, and not buy a stock unless it’s going up (clips of a surfer carving on a wall of water are shown as a professional speculator uses the metaphor of stocks being like waves that he uses as vehicles to surf).

We’re told how terrible mutual funds are, as percentage losses over various years and various funds are shown across the screen (all using completely different ranges, from “1989-2009″ to “2007-2009″…all made certain to show losses of 40% or more). No losses of hedge funds are ever mentioned, as the film implies they are actually safer investment vehicles, but that only the rich are allowed to participate. [For the record I don't believe mutual funds are a good investment for virtually anyone, I just think it's pretty disingenuous to imply "the bad investments are promoted, and the good investments like hedge funds are only offered to the rich." It just felt like that entire segment of the film was creating a false conspiracy just to have something interesting to talk about. And of course it's always a safe (and cheap) move to pluck some strings of the class warfare violin.]

I say the film is ultimately a lost opportunity because Covel certainly seems like a bright guy, and he was able to score some decent interviews. Vernon Smith, Jim Rogers, and Harry Markowitz were used a number of times. And there were a number of good comments from some traders offering insight into the theatre of the whole exchange market world. But any good info was drowned out in a mess of every other aspect of the film. It did not seem to have any clear goal or direction.

We spend the first 20 minutes of the film learning about markets and how the housing bubble consisted of people buying houses they couldn’t afford, then we roll into an exposé about the media and government not really knowing anything and just telling the public what they want to hear (with a good 5-10 minutes dedicated to exposing the theatre of Jim Cramer) only to spend the 20 minutes after that learning about the lottery and how it’s a form of gambling the government encourages to the detriment of society, while poker is the only game you can win and it’s the one the government wants to outlaw. We’re told that playing a bet when the odds are in your favor and losing doesn’t make it a bad bet, and that you need to get for yourself the necessary knowledge to get odds in your favor. And we’re shown (through various man-on-the-street questionnaires) just how little knowledge the average person does have about the markets. And finally the viewer is reminded by the various talking heads that even calculated risk is risk, and there are unexpected things that can happen.

A neuro-linguistics expert talks about the role emotions play in helping people make bad decisions, and we are told explicitly that “the harsh truth is, the brokers, mutual funds, media, and the government don’t have answers you can rely on.”

And it is here that I think we get a glimpse of what the filmmaker is trying to do…simply inform the viewer of the sheer amount of misinformation that is out there, and encourage him to take responsibility for his own future and at least educate himself a little. And this I have no problem with and actually encourage and applaud Covel for doing. It’s just disappointing that in a film geared toward creating a better, more informed member of the market economy, the viewer is given almost no real concrete education, and plenty more misinformation and contradicting notions.

At one point late in the film one trader being interviewed states: “You have to make your investment decisions on what is happening to that stock right now. Not what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future.” That has to be some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard. Ignore the future and make your investment decisions based what is happening right now? Didn’t we just get through being told how that was exactly what led all these people into foreclosure?

And there are small examples of this sort of specious “advice” peppered throughout the film. What bothers me most about it though is the fact that I really believe Covel is trying to do something good with this film and wake people up. But he commits so many of the very errors he seems to want to call attention to that the film is almost not worth watching for anything more than entertainment…because it is a fairly entertaining film, but there’s just so many landmines that could lead the viewer astray, I would just assume not recommend it to anyone.

Not to mention that it’s all presented in a very roundabout and confusing way, without any clear direction or solid answers. (And this, when the film dedicates at least a couple of minutes to the daunting nature of the financial world with all its jargon, intended to intimidate the general public into submissive indifference.) And sadly, I have a feeling that that is precisely what this film will do.

Ironically the part of the film I may have gotten the most out of were the outtakes shown during the end credits. Some of the commentary by the various traders that were interviewed is quite entertaining, and we get to see some footage of Covel interviewing swimsuit models on their knowledge of the market that was completely left out of the film. Plus it was fun to hear Markowitz tell Covel his question was the stupidest he’d ever heard.

But most ironic, one of these first clips shown, just as the movie ends, is Barry Ritholtz saying: “Everyone wants to try and find the magic potion, and I guarantee you, I don’t care how many people are going to see this movie, they’re gonna leave and say ‘that was interesting’ and then no one’ll do it.”

Unfortunately, for once, I think Barry’s right.

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