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Truthdigger of the Week: Documentary Filmmaker Marije Meerman

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Posted on Jan 12, 2014
huangjiahui (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Alexander Reed Kelly

A dark shroud envelops the globe every time technology moves forward. If the right people aren’t in power—and they almost never are—the untried shadows present a risk-free opportunity for those close to the action to take advantage of nearly everyone else. In the absence of sufficient regulatory will and sophistication in the bureaus tasked to oversee markets, this is what the opaque marriage of computers, Wall Street and high-level math has made possible over the last decade in the form of high frequency trading: the back and forth exchange of huge volumes of complex stocks and bonds in as little as a millionth of a second.

We can immediately imagine the greatness of the crimes that opportunists in the already villainous financial sector—working at speeds that are impossible to track in real time—are now able to commit with virtual impunity, as well as grasp the apocalyptic implications of a financial sector on cybernetic steroids. But we don’t have to. Through interviews with experts who built and work within the system, Dutch filmmaker Marije Meerman offers a view into the machine where the dealing is done sufficient to give mere mortals a sense of the immediate danger it poses.

In the style of a Jason Bourne thriller, “Quants: The Alchemists of Wall Street,” “Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box” and “The Wall Street Code,” produced by Dutch public television broadcaster VPRO, cover the people, software and physical infrastructure that constitute the foreseeable future of between 50 percent and 70 percent of investment and trade. Experts explain the ways and significance of the algorithm-led “Flash Crash” of May 2010 that erased $862 billion from the Dow Jones industrial average before recovering almost entirely within minutes. We learn how the system is rigged by secretive deals between exchanges and traders that allow some investors to use programs to jump ahead in line, gaining a buyer’s advantage over everyone else in the market. And most importantly, we hear discomfort in the voices of those involved; profound unease expressed over the fact that their brilliance—which could be used to cure diseases, stop global warming and engender overall progress—is being harnessed to make yet more pennies for the rich.

If it wasn’t clear before that American capitalism is a game of taking everything you can from everyone else, the point is nowhere harder to miss than in an expose of a system that allows a handful of well-placed people to build fortunes enviable to kings by a few well-timed flicks of a keyboard. And all at the risk of what one expert in Meerman’s films called a “mathematician-led meltdown” of a new kind of god, a dumb, mindless and nearly invisible machinery with the power to create or destroy societies. In no reporting that one is likely to find is the point made more clearly or forcefully than in her documentaries, and for that, we honor Marije Meerman as our Truthdigger of the Week.

Watch all three films below.

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