“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Between the four-part documentary based on The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, the readily available and affordable book by Lawrence Lessing on the role of money in our government, or the most recent Oscar nominated documentary on the Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the story of money and its immense role in our system of governance is anything but boring. And now, famed director, producer, and screenwriter, Alex Gibney, already well known for his impressive body of work on, e.g., Enron (in Smartest Guy in the Room), the War in Afghanistan (in Taxi to the Dark Side), Scientology (in Going Clear), and Wikileaks (in We Steal Secrets), coordinates a Netflix Original about corporate greed that is this years most captivating miniseries (so far).
Dirty Money centers around six-episodes.
EPISODE 1 covers the fraud perpetuated by Volkswagen (VW) when it lied to consumers about the environmental friendliness of their vehicles, while passing U.S. emissions standards for their diesel engines (TDIs) by installing “defeat devices” that gave false readings to regulators. This issue not only implicated VW, but the enforcement mechanism in Germany and a number of German car manufacturers who attempted to run contrived research studies (including testing on “non-human primates”) to continue in their deceit.
EPISODE 2 is about Scott Tucker and his payday lending scheme that preyed on the poor living paycheck-to-paycheck by approving short-term loans and then gouging borrowers through finance charges. Among the strategies was hiding the payday enterprise using Indian Tribes exempt from state lending laws by virtue of “sovereign immunity” and shady lawyers who knew full well that the language in the contracts was unintelligible to average consumers.
EPISODE 3 begins with “pharma boy” CEO, Marin Shkreli, who spiked the price of Daraprim (prescription medication) and got sent to prison for securities fraud. However, the episode is not about him, but about the industry that allows losers like Shkreli to thrive. Stories include: the rise of Valeant behind Mike Pearson; stock short sellers driven by the narrative of an incredibly interesting individual named Fahmi Quadir (obsessive in her research: a real life Taylor Mason); Philidor‘s con by contrived subsidiary pharmaceutical shell for the purpose of running prescriptions through insurance companies; and, the impact that healthcare fraud has on the average American. Richly complicated and deservingly so with a story of this magnitude.
EPISODE 4 is about HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) and their conspiracy with the Mexican drug cartel to launder money and enable the corruption, murder, and injustice already rampant in the country. Illustrated partly by an incredible journalist, Anabel Hernández (wrote about the Mexican cartel/government connection), this episode talks about the failure of the U.S. government to adequately prosecute HSBC, instead deciding through a deferred prosecution agreement that the banking executive can pay a fine to stay out of jail (precisely what happened after the housing collapse – “too big to jail”).
EPISODE 5 is about Canada’s maple syrup federation, their attempt to control the production of maple syrup, and the theft of millions in surplus syrup by anti-federation producers. Episode touches incidentally on some of the themes prominent in the series, but it’s ultimately the ugly duckling of the group.
EPISODE 6 is about everyone’s favorite new president and how he climbed his daddy’s real estate ladder to wealth, how he failed miserably in Atlantic City, how he manufactured his delusion self-image, and how he went on to success once more by befriending corrupt foreigners and conning the American people through Wizard of Oz-type branding. Interestingly, this episode is listed as episode 2 on IMDB, suggesting the order was adjusted (I’m guessing) in a strategic move to stir up the viewers for maximum resentment against Trump.