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The unlikely hero of Python emeritus Terry Jones’s breezy econ doc Boom Bust Boom is economist Hyman Minsky, who died in 1996.
Back in 1992 he proposed the Financial Instability Hypothesis, which states that long periods of financial stability lead to optimism, which ultimately leads to irresponsible speculation and instability. Among the predictions of his hypothesis: that his own writing would be ignored and forgotten until the next economic collapse. Indeed, amid the 1990s dotcom bubble, he was discredited among financial thinkers — but then he was vindicated with a vengeance in 2008, when the subprime bubble burst and took the world’s economy with it. He’s now frequently cited by Paul Krugman and Thomas Piketty. This resoundingly entertaining survey of the history of economic boom-and-bust cycles reaches back to the Dutch tulip bubble of the seventeenth century.
Minsky is portrayed by an unsettling foam puppet, as are other deceased figures, including President Calvin Coolidge and economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Jones narrates, incorporating interviews with public intellectuals, animation in a variety of styles, vaudeville showtunes, and that unfortunate puppetry.
While clarifying, sometimes hilariously, the mechanisms of the subprime crisis, his film (which was co-directed by his son Bill as well as Ben Timlett) also engages themes of psychology, with anthropologists suggesting that ancient genetic hardwiring prevents humans from making rational decisions amid the euphoria of a boom. Jones presents a stark picture of a bifurcated economic system: the real one, in which ordinary citizens struggle; and the financial economy, in which the livelihoods of citizens are leveraged by the wealthy for speculative bets.
Boom Bust Boom
Directed by Terry Jones, Bill Jones, and Ben Timlett
Opens March 11, Village East Cinema