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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Faites travailler votre argent!

by Brigitte Pätzold, Interview

Make Your Money Work for You!

Translated Tuesday 12 May 2009, by Helen Robertshaw

Cinema. An explosive documentary which reveals what bankers do with your money. Result: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

If you want to know all about financial speculation, tax havens and what bankers do with your money in a world without borders or scruples, you must see Austrian director Erwin Wagenhofer’s new film Let’s Make Money. Following the success of his documentary We Feed the World (2005) – which gave an insight into the workings of the agro-food industry – he tracks down investors from across the world, a ruthless world which guarantees the rich will get richer and the poor will get further into debt. We met with the director in Paris.

HUMA: Your film hits screens in the middle of a financial crisis. The film’s Austrian première coincided with World Savings Day, on October 30, 2008. However, when you started research for this documentary three years ago, nobody was talking yet about financial crises. So what motivated you to make the film?

Erwin Wagenhofer: I was struck by the advertising slogan used by banks: “Make your money work for you!” However, only people, machines and animals are capable of working. If our money has to work somewhere in the world, this means that someone else is working on our behalf, and I wanted to see how the system operates. So I went to film in certain developing countries such as India, Ghana, Burkina Faso, but also in Spain, where African and Latin American immigrants build luxury, empty residences, intended for foreign investors.

HUMA: How did you construct the screenplay and manage to let the facts and main protagonists speak for themselves?

EW. I wrote a detailed screenplay and kept an eye on the monetary systems. In my opinion, the best films don’t need commentaries. What distinguishes documentaries from narrative works is that the protagonists are just playing themselves. This makes them more convincing and viewers feel directly involved.

HUMA: How do you manage to get these strategists of globalisation to openly share with you their vision of the world and the economy? An investor in India tells you bluntly that his employees will have to work longer hours for the same meagre salary, that the poor will thus get even poorer, as international competition makes this necessary…

EW. The most difficult part of my work is indeed getting these managers to talk openly. I ask them naive questions and present myself as I am, someone who isn’t a specialist on the economy. This puts them at their ease. Three years ago, the crisis hadn’t yet erupted, and investors were proud to be among the winners of globalisation, whatever the human cost.

HUMA : How did you manage to get an interview with a former consultant to the US government, who admits to having operated like an “economic killer”?

EW. You mean John Perkins? It was easy, because he wrote a best-seller, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, and he was perfectly willing to share his know-how. It’s not unusual for people who do such favours for the world’s powerful to then feel the need to offload their feelings of guilt.

HUMA: One of the participants in your film says: “When blood flows in the streets, share prices fall, it’s the time to buy.” Isn’t this an admission that the lure of profit encourages people to start wars?

EW. But it’s a well-known fact! Most wars are started for economic interests. The war in Iraq is no exception.

HUMA: How do you explain this shameless exploitation of world poverty by investors?

EW. This system of exploitation isn’t new and everyone has always put up with it. We mustn’t forget that these businessmen work with our money, with other people’s money in any case. So everyone contributes to this system.

HUMA: Most traders and speculators knew that the crisis was imminent, yet they continued to speculate. Why?

EW. These people aren’t there to make the world a better place but to yield a profit from the money with which they’re entrusted. Those who are really to blame know however that neo-liberalism can always count on free insurance, that of the savers who pick up the pieces. Ordinary people’s money is now being used to bail out the banks. And everyone agrees to this.

HUMA: You also reveal the absurdity of speculative bubbles in Europe, for example in Spain where luxury but empty tourist complexes have sprung up like mushrooms on the Costa del Sol, with well-watered but deserted golf courses. In Vienna, the city councillors sold the public tramway to the US banks. Don’t European governments fear the anger of citizens and the electoral verdict?

EW. It’s true that politicians live in fear of not being re-elected. But their policies have always favoured the economy over people. Whence the Spanish state’s investment in the real-estate bubble. As for Austria, the slogan of our former chancellor Schüssel was: “If the economy is doing well, everyone benefits”. His Finance Minister is today accused of corruption. Since my film’s release in Vienna, attempts have also been made to buy back the tramway – with taxpayers’ money, of course.

HUMA: What alternative do you see to the economic and social Darwinism that your film exposes?

EW. Fairer wealth distribution and a guaranteed minimum income for all. But without the fear of having nothing to live off, people would be less easy to manipulate. As a result, I don’t think the system will change in the near future.

French release date: April 15, distribution: AD VITAM (01 46 34 75 74).

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