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Boom Bust Boom - Film Review

4.5/5 Stars: Monty Python's Terry Jones presents an excellent documentary on the 2008 financial crash - informative, entertaining & very accessible

Directors: Bill Jones, Terry Jones, Ben Timlett
4.5/5 stars, 70 minutes



Freakonomics showed economics can be interesting and accessible. Now Boom Bust Boom, a new documentary feature film, takes an informative yet surprisingly entertaining look at 2008’s financial crash and what can be done to prevent or mitigate a repetition. The film came about after a meeting between Monty Python star Terry Jones and economics professor (and entrepreneur) Theo Kocken and uses a combination of live action, animation and puppetry to educate whilst staying amusing and very accessible.


The first half explains the circumstances leading to the 2008 global financial crisis and proposes that such crashes are pretty much inevitable, sooner or later, in the current economic set up; the second half points to possible solutions to make future crashes less likely and damaging. Making an engaging, entertaining and yet understandable film on these subjects is a pretty tough ask. Fortunately Terry Jones is on hand to present and he’s a suitably leftfield companion for the duration. Joining him is the economics equivalent of a stellar cast, including Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman, Robert Shiller and Paul Krugman, and Andy Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England. Oh, and “advocate for change” and actor John Cusack’s in it too.


Now did you happen to notice something about those contributors? Because about 20 or 30 minutes into the film, we did. Almost all were men, white, middle-aged men no less, and this didn't change throughout the film.


A quick Google search for “top female economists” returns plenty of results to get on with, including a “top 10%” ranked by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Maybe the filmmakers approached the first or second economists on that list, Carmen M. Reinhart (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University) and Esther Duflo (Economics Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – and maybe they had trouble getting the third, Asli Demirguc-Kunt, (Economics Research, World Bank Group, Washington) past the censors. That still leaves plenty more…


When we asked Bill Jones, co-director of the film about this, he explained that the production team was well aware of this issue, made conscious efforts to include a more diverse range of contributors and actually cut a section about the lack of diversity in the field from the final film as it “...didn’t quite fit in with the subject we were trying to tell. The subject’s so complicated we had to strip it down to the bare bones and concentrate on the subject we were trying to get across.” In that, at least, they succeed – and in style.


The film’s key point is that the dominant economic model, (the free market, or neoclassical, economic model) used by capitalist financial institutions, and taught in universities in the West, is inherently unstable as it’s based on the assumptions that ‘all people are rational’ (when we’re not) and that bubbles don’t happen (when they clearly do).*


The trouble is “You’re not allowed to teach that in universities,” says Paul Mason (formerly Channel 4 economics editor, now at The Guardian). Or “you can, but you won’t get a chair of economics at a major prestigious global university. Only the economics that says capitalism is stable can be taught at these universities.”


The film also interviews a group of University of Manchester economics undergraduates who have founded a ‘Post-Crash Economics Society’. In the words of one member: “…Very little of our degree... is devoted to analysing what happened in 2008 and what happened in the [Great Crash of the] 1920s, which, I think, must be a fundamental part of any economics degree. It’s embarrassing... people asking: ‘Oh, so you do economics. So what happened in 2008?’ – and I can’t tell them.”


Of the six main themes Impolite Conversation covers (Politics, Sex, Spirituality & Religion, Money, Science and Culture) we receive least submissions, and thus publish least, about money. When we ask lay people for articles about it, their most common response is: “I don’t know enough about the subject.” We’ll be recommending this film to them in future and, if you’re interested in the slightest, we advise you too to invest in at least one viewing of this film, if only to see that most of the ‘experts’ espousing free market economics didn’t seem know enough about the subject of money either.


Boom Bust Boom is admirable for its success in explaining complex and important subjects in a simple, nonpartisan and manner. Our only nag is this simplicity comes at the price of a wider range of voices. You might argue that the talking heads’ monochrome monoculture is illustrative of the so-called economic elite’s homogenous nature, or that including women and minorities for the sake of it would be tokenism – and it would have been. Yet diversity and representation are subjects close to Impolite hearts, and many of the very people the film seeks to reach might be turned off by their lack of representation in this otherwise excellent production. Hopefully the cut diversity section will be included in the DVD extras – at  70 minutes long the film is well made enough to leave you wanting more anyway.


If, like most of the population, you don’t know or understand economics in general and the global financial crash of 2008 in particular, Boom Bust Boom is a great place to start.  If you’ve already researched what happened in 2008, it’s unlikely to teach you much but still invaluable if you have the slightest interest in explaining it all to to others.


Boom Bust Boom is in selected UK cinemas now and available to download from iTunes on 29th March so see it soon and be the most informed person in the room next time the subject comes up.


You can watch the trailer here.


All photography stills copyright Nick Rutter (Director of Photography)



Editor’s note: In a discussion after the viewing it was suggested the dominance of the neoclassical model in the West is down, at least in part, to the lack of a counterbalance after the fall of the communism, and that makes sense but is a conversation for another time. Anyone fancy tackling it? Our submission guidelines are here.


*(We’re not going to argue the third, ‘the economy will always find itself at an equilibrium’, here…)


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