I just finished watching Margin Call (2011), a Wall Street thriller (?) set in the early hours of the 2008 financial crisis. As their world crumbles beneath their feet, one of the powerful suggests to one of his peers that perhaps it’s a dream. The response — Maybe it’s all been a dream, and we’re now just waking up.
The questions raised by that curt retort are enormous.
One of my close friends is unswervingly convinced that our entire economy is a balloon on the verge of exploding. But I’ve always leaned toward optimism, brushing off the bleak prophesies of the doomsayers. Economies rise and fall. Fortunes are made and lost. It’s a cycle.
But perspective comes with age. The older we get, the further we can see into the past. And it seems that with the ability to see into the past, we also gain an uncanny knack for peering into the future.
I can’t even begin to comprehend the complexities and intricacies of economics. But I can understand addition and subtraction. And I can understand that there just has to be a limit to spending what we don’t have. And I can understand that the world cannot go on forever with a small fraction of its population consuming most of its resources and enjoying the bulk of its wealth.
In the movie, one of the wealthy money men expresses his belief that there will always be fat cats and starving dogs. It’s clear to him that life is a game with winners and losers. You’re the first, you’re the fastest, you’re the smartest, or you lose. His point is illustrated in an almost comedic manner when two power brokers, engaged in an intense survival strategies discussion, enter an elevator and take positions flanking a cleaning woman. They continue their discussion uninterrupted as though the woman doesn’t exist. Sadly, to them, she doesn’t.
Over the millennia, people have responded to the wealth question in so many ways. Some take vows of poverty, some take up work to improve poor conditions, and others try to distribute a portion of their wealth to others in need. Some of the doomsday prophets respond by stockpiling and minimizing their connection to the grid.
But most of us generally ignore those on the financial rungs below ours, at least most of the time. Like the woman on the elevator, we don’t see them. In our orbits, they don’t exist.
So I keep returning to the question, Have we been living a dream and is the alarm about to ring? Can we really feel satisfied knowing that our IRAs are secure and growing? Can we really expect the years ahead to be as comfortable as the years behind us?
I believe Margin Call answers these big questions in a very subtle and indirect manner. Sam Rogers, a main character and one of the firm’s managers, is relentlessly clobbered with an incessant stream of difficult questions and hard dilemmas. He stands to lose his career, his fortune, and his integrity.
But he is most troubled by the loss of his dog to a malignant tumor.
To take this any further, I risk sounding pompous, arrogant, or overly religious. But the bottom line truth is inescapable. Anything and everything that is tangible will pass away. We all know it, but few of us live like we know it. Our possessions, our careers, our wealth, and even our reputations are impermanent.
Whether we live like it or not, what matters most, at the end of the day, is authentic relationships.
© panthera2, 2012.