And the Rich Inherit the Earth

A highly ambitious, challenging and provocative expose of global finance by Austrian film-maker Erwin Wagenhofer

Workers at a cotton plantation in Burkina Faso | Photo: Allegro Film

An impoverished boy in Chennai, India | Photo: Allegro Films

As the current financial crisis sends shock waves across the world, the latest documentary from Austrian filmmaker Erwin Wagenhofer opened in Austrian cinemas in October and is both topical and timely. Let’s Make Money is a highly ambitious, challenging, and provocative expose of global finance markets.

Workers at a cotton plantation in Burkina Faso | Photo: Allegro Film

Speaking through the voices of people at the top and bottom of a globalized market, Wagenhofer – whose previous film We Feed the World was the most successful documentary in Austrian history – takes a critical look behind the scenes of how money is made, revealing the forces and trends at play that promote today’s great disparities of wealth. He highlights key developments and trends at work since the 1970’s and reveals the impact on people’s lives and on the environment, showing that now more than ever before, markets affect us all.

As soon as we open a bank account, Wagenhofer shows us, we become part of the worldwide finance market, whether we want to be or not. Most of us are unaware of how our money is “working:” of what actually takes place in order for savings, insurances, or pension funds to deliver a return on our money. What does my pension or yours have to do with the property price collapse in Spain? It turns out we don’t have to buy a home there to be involved. The call of the banks to “let your money work for you” is fundamentally absurd, as Wagenhofer’s documentary makes clear. Money can’t “work” – only people, animals, or machines can – but it can displace the benefits.

In Let’s Make Money, Wagenhofer pieces together an eclectic montage of people and places, resulting in an engaging, dynamic global journey with dramatic visual contrasts. The enormous hotel standing empty on the Spanish coast that has been built on the backs of illegal immigrants is a landscape that has been carved up to make way for phalanxes of luxury apartments complete with golf courses – watered at great expense and completely unused. Rubbish collects in the river at Chennai while billboards advertise luxury services and products from the West — all are powerful images that reinforce the madness of what is happening.

The documentary shows many examples of the disconnection of wealth from resource. In a gold mine in Ghana, we see the laborious process of extracting and melting gold before it is flown directly to Switzerland. The gold brings only a meagre 3% cut for Africa and a 97% cut for the Western processors and distributors.

Against the glittering skyline of Singapore, we meet financial guru Mark Mobius, the President of Templeton Emerging Markets, “father” of the inspiration that turned the third world into an economic opportunity. Mobius doesn’t believe that an investor is responsible for the ethics or environmental standards of a company – his concern is only the maximum return on investment.

“The best time to buy,” he says, “is when there is blood on the streets.”

Then, we meet Hermann Scheer, member of the German Parliament and winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize, discussing privatization. The word is derived from the Latin verb privare, which means to deprive.

“When privatization takes place, public goods are bought up by private parties – or even given away for free,” he says, “which is no different from robbing the community.”

Financial economist John Christensen outlines the grounding of neo-liberalism, the political and intellectual context of the deregulation of the British financial markets in the 1970’s with the aim of reducing trade barriers and increasing capital flow between countries.
Recounting shocking facts on tax havens – such as Jersey – that hide the ownership of assets and the role they serve in reducing tax revenue for source countries. With a current estimate of $11.5 trillion, €8.9 Trillion in tax-avoided money, Christensen suggests that if this were actually subject to a modest interest rate and then taxed would bring $250 million a year (€194 million), which could go a long way to reaching the United Nations Millennium goal of eradicating poverty…

Finally, we meet John Perkins, an American Economy Professor and World Bank operative who calls himself an “Economic Hit Man” from the title of his 2004 book. He describes how American foreign policy was designed to manoeuvre foreign governments into accepting billions of dollars of loans from the World Bank and other institutions to build dams, airports, electric grids, and other infrastructures they couldn’t afford. The loans were given on the condition that construction and engineering contracts went to U.S. companies only. Often, the money would simply be transferred from one bank account in Washington, D.C., to another in New York or San Francisco, passing in and out of the target country with little more than a handshake.

The “Hit Man”-style deals were smoothed over with bribes for foreign officials, but it was the taxpayers who had to pay back the loans. When their governments couldn’t do so, as was often the case, the U.S. or its “henchmen” at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund would step in and essentially place the country in trusteeship, dictating everything from its spending budget to security agreements and even its United Nations votes.

It was, Perkins notes, a clever way for the U.S. to expand its “empire” at the expense of Third World citizens.

Let’s Make Money is playing at a dozen cinemas in Vienna. For details of listings, see

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