S1: Hello and welcome to the It’s a Wonderful Life episode of Sleep. Money Goes to the Movies. I’m Felix Salmon of Axios. I’m here with my colleague Emily Peck.
S2: Hello. Hello.
S1: Hello. And we are going to talk about It’s A Wonderful Life, which is obviously a movie about banking, but it’s also a movie about Christmas. It’s a movie about community. We are going to talk about algorithms. Amazingly, we are going to talk about intersectionality, but actually we’re just going to have a lot of fun talking about Jimmy Stewart and George Bailey and what happens in this movie. Emily, who’s our guest.
S2: The wonderful Cathy O’Neil, the former co-host of Slate Money Yourself.
S1: Cathy O’Neil is back from an undisclosed location, so she is going to be joining us to talk about It’s The Wonderful Life. Coming up on Slate, money goes to the movies. Cathy, you chose a classic Christmas movie. You can’t you can’t shrug. And it.
S3: Makes me cry.
S1: Your hands in the air on the podcast. Copy. No one can see you doing that.
S3: Oh, oh, right. No, no, I it wasn’t a shrug. It was more like a a smug smile of listen, I mean, this is not only one of the my favorite movies. I would say it’s like up there. It makes me cry every single time, including when I was preparing for this this morning. If you see like I cry eyes. That’s why it’s curious financially to me. It’s like it always sparks my curiosity and interest and I never had the time or the reason to really delve at all into like the storyline, the underlying economic storyline.
S1: Like this is obviously basically a remake of Dickens Christmas Carol, which had basically nothing to do with banking as I think the original like book or script that was optioned also had nothing to do with banking. The decision to make our hero the custodian, I guess you would call it, of of this little building society, I think happened like quite a few ways into revisions. Do you think that the fact that this movie has won lots of Oscars has become this much beloved, favorite of all good thinking people? Do you think the fact that it has that bank at the heart of it? Well, actually, two banks at the heart of it is part of that. Or does that not actually matter?
S3: Oh, I think it matters a lot. I mean, look, I think it’s all about the concept of what is what’s worthwhile, like what is a man’s worth. And it’s constantly contrasting the concept of money as a way of measuring yourself versus other other currencies, other social types of currencies like family and friends. So I think the fact that it’s about a bank or about a system of banks really is critically important to the story.
S1: Spoiler alert, the the great finale of this movie seems to be saying that family and friends are basically fungible with money. That’s long of the family and friends. They’ll come through and give you $8,000 if you need it.
S3: Yeah, I mean, say that again, because I’m a little confused what you mean by fame, family and friends are fungible.
S1: Well, I mean, like so there is a long standing tradition in movies and we’ve talked about this on this in this like many goes to the movies many times in the past where the path to redemption and and having a good life and having a happy ending involves giving away a large amount of money that on some level, you know, whether you deserve it or not or whether. But how have you come into the large sum of money? That’s not the happy ending. The happy ending is when you give away the large sum of money and then you have the happy ending. Like, you know, we had that in the what was that terrible Woody Harrelson movie. But yeah, that happens all the time where he plays an architect. Indecent Proposal, was it? It’s a standard trope in movies. And once you start looking for it, you see it everywhere. And this movie does that a couple of times. We have a hero. George Bailey, first of all, takes his tuition money and gives it to his brother so that, you know, because he needs to take over the bank, then he takes his honeymoon money and gives it to his shareholders to save his bank. And so, like that theme of the way you achieve nobility in this life is by giving away money rather than hoarding it. And, you know, Mr. Potter, the evil banker, runs through the movie up until the very end. And then at the very end. The reason the very end is so happy is because he asks that $8,000 or his friends of 8000, you know, have a kind of whip round for him and say, like, can we come up with $8,000 for good old George? And they seem to come up with like some great multiple of that. And there’s this huge pile of money sitting in front of him on the table and no one is claiming any of it. And it’s just gifted. It’s not even a loan that is like now we’re now we’re happy at the end because he just has all the money he could ever while.
S2: I hear them coming out. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle.
S4: Oh, Daddy. Come in, Uncle Billy. Everybody in here. Your brother. Right now. He’s the one who was very good in charge. Very good. And she goes in people who are in trouble with him. They haven’t got any money, didn’t ask any questions.
S5: Just encourage him.
S4: Tell me, what is it like running the bank? I know that there we are, the arms on the right.
S3: I mean, and they’re mostly ones. So it’s actually not clear to me that it is $8,000 in total. But then when like whoever it is, the warden or somebody rips up his his little piece of paper that says he’s going to be arrested, whatever that’s called, then then it becomes clear that he’s in that he’s he’s off. He’s off of the charges.
S1: Yeah. And his friend, the plastics millionaire, you know, comes through with, like 25 grand or something. Yeah.
S3: Oh, very, very. From London. Yeah. You know. Agreed. Agreed. But I would just frame it a little bit differently. I actually think the entire movie is a question, is sort of examining the nature of what money is really for. You know, agreed that he gives away the money for college to his brother. He gives the money for his honeymoon to stop the bank run during the Depression. I think the what we’re supposed to understand from that is that like he had an opportunity to be selfish, not in is not in a sort of terrible way, not selfish, like horrible. And but to do something for himself, you know, for an experience for himself.
S1: And most explicitly he turns down $20,000 a year for and.
S3: That’s a.
S1: Great example, $2,000 a.
S3: Year. And he has these choices offered to him. Do you want to be do you want it to be about you or do you want it to be about the community? And he consistently chooses the community because he because and so the point of the the movie, I will argue, is that even though we all need money and that was completely clear and it is contextualized, it is not about money. I mean, one of the sort of first things that Clarence the angel says to anyone in this entire well, the actual living people besides, you know. The the angels, the other angels and God, the first thing he says is we don’t have money in heaven. And so that’s that’s supposed to set us up to be like, oh, they have a different currency. And indeed, like, that’s the whole point, right? The whole point is that if.
S1: They have Bitcoin, it’s.
S3: Definitely not Bitcoin. Felix Come down.
S5: You’ll help me. You should show how by letting me help you. I mean, one way you can help me. You don’t happen to have 8000 bucks on your. Oh, no, no. We don’t use money in heaven. Oh, yeah, that’s right. I keep forgetting. It comes in pretty handy down here, Bob. Dot, dot, dot. I found it out a little late. I’m worth more dead than alive. Now, look, you mustn’t talk like I.
S3: Want to give a shout out to my son, who also watched this movie and talked to me at length about it. He’s studying economics, so he’s interested in this. And he put it into two different historical context because as he pointed out, it’s like where the movie set, which is starts in the depression and goes up to past the war. And then where the movie’s made, which is post the war. And he made the point that like a bunch of, you know, World War Two veterans came home with like all these ideas of sort of positive ideas of communism and sort of anti-capitalism. And he think there’s a lot of that going to our earlier point, Felix, of like this movie is, in my opinion, a movie about what is the real purpose of money versus community. Like what do we owe to each other versus what do we owe to ourselves?
S1: Certainly if you look at what happened in the UK after the war, that was, you know, the first election after the war, Churchill gets kicked out, the Labour government gets voted in, the National Health Service gets created. There is this move towards socialism, which I guess, you know, the closest thing you would have in the US would be the New Deal, which was before the war. But this movie was made like more or less during the war. At the end of the war it came out in 1946. So the war was super fresh in people’s minds. But yeah, so this question of, of, of money and the role of money in the movie and how central the role of money is to the movie, I think is really super interesting. Most obviously this whole story is dichotomous, right? You have the good money person who’s George Bailey and then you have the bad money person who’s Mr. Partner. And they both run banks except for George Bailey doesn’t actually run the bank. He runs the building and loan, he runs the lender so you can borrow money from his institution. He does have depositors so there can be a run on the bank, but then not depositors like we think about depositors in this age of like, you know, FDIC insurance and demand deposits and checking accounts, you know, you you get shares if you deposit money. And it’s basically like a it’s a weird thing. And and the reason why Uncle Billy is going to the bank bank to deposit the building society’s money is because the building society isn’t actually a bank. And if you if you own the actually dealing cash, you do that at the bank. And that distinction was a really important distinction back in the 1940s, but it’s completely disappeared now, just doesn’t exist. I mean, it does to a little degree, I guess there are lots of lenders who don’t take deposits. There aren’t places. It’s still very rare. I’ve come across it like once or twice in the in the realm of like commercial mortgages and stuff where you get like shares in lieu of a deposit account. So that was a fascinating like look into what was considered like good and noble and what was considered bad and what’s considered a good. Noble is basically not a depository institution and the depository institution is evil.
S2: Yeah, it was it was really I was I was amazed to find how much this movie was a movie about good banker, bad banker, because, you know, I remember watching it when I was a kid and that didn’t matter to me at all. And I was thinking about how like the the the divide between these two doesn’t really matter now, because the way mortgage lending is well, this movie, this all happened before the U.S. government started backing mortgages, I believe. Right. And so going forward from there, you didn’t need to rely on like good guy George Bailey to help you buy a house in Valley Park. You do have to rely, but there you go, the nice banker man to get you your house with all your children, the Martini family and Bailey Park. You could just get a loan backed if you’re a white person backed by the federal government. And banking sort of moved on from like this thing that individual guys do or help you with, right? Not necessarily. For the better.
S3: So one of the reasons I chose this movie was because I am confused by this good bank, bad bank thing. And you know, like I guess it was called the building and loan that that George Bailey was running with his uncle. But it certainly reminded me of the savings and loan banks. And I know that they had so many so much trouble in the eighties, and I know probably they were just as corrupt and greedy and looking for a, you know, a high and high return as anything else. But as I as I learned in researching this, like in part that’s because they they were not put given as much regulation post the depression as the deposit banks were. So the deposit banks had the FDIC insurance that prevented the runs that we saw. And as you say, Emily, we had the guarantee, too, for white people, mortgages. And by the way, speaking of white people, can we just acknowledge just the problematic nature of the the made in the story, sort of every single scene that she appeared? It was embarrassing and very cringe.
S1: Yeah. The one person who had no chance of getting a mortgage or a house from the building and.
S2: She couldn’t even sit down at the table with them to eat. That was a joke.
S1: But, I mean, she was, you know, not to get too sort of intersectional about this, but but I think back in those days, it was actually impossible for women to get a mortgage, whether they were black or white.
S2: Yeah, no mortgages, no credit, nothing.
S3: I also, you know, speaking of cringe moments, the the horrifying alternative reality for Mary, who was the wife, was I’m a librarian. And I was just like, wow, you know, wow. That’s the worst case scenario, I suppose.
S1: And the vibrant nightlife of Bedford Falls was like just Sodom and Gomorrah and.
S3: Pretty good to me.
S1: I think it looked fun to me outside that that bit. That bit looks fine to me. Yeah.
S2: Yeah. Well, Mary’s really the unsung hero of the film, right? I mean, while George is feeling sorry for himself, looking out over the Bedford Falls Bridge or whatever, Mary’s like, rustling up the town to save him. She. She had four kids, but is also remodeled the entire dump haunted house. Like she is really the gem here. And I don’t I don’t know.
S3: But I want to go back to Emily’s statement about there is no distinction. I really actually think Potter is Warren Buffett. You know, Warren Buffett with his empire of trailer parks. Don’t you think that’s appropriate as an analogy? Like it’s not that we don’t have it’s not that we don’t have, like, potters anymore. It’s just that they’re not they’re not considered mainstream bankers.
S2: It’s funny that you say that because Potter’s such a villain in this film, like, he is just, like, the worst person here. I think George Bailey’s dad, before he dies, says, like, there’s something wrong with him. He’s sick inside all this badness. And then in my, like, Google Research for this segment, I came across like the House un-American Activities Commission’s report on It’s a Wonderful Life, you know, because it’s obviously this communist movie they think, which I mean, are they wrong? No. But in the in the report, there’s all this language about how they could have made the bankers seem nice and better and more like altruistic and how it was like a warped version of what a banker is supposed to be, which I guess ultimately that’s how we think about Warren Buffett. Right? He’s like, just like you’re saying, Cathy. He’s like this folksy, folksy guy. So if like Potter in 2021 would also be this just folksy, folksy banker guy.
S1: Those of us who are old with long memories will remember that Warren Buffett had a stint as the chairman of a bank, specifically of Salomon Brothers, which was busy inventing mortgage backed securities, I think roughly at the same time. And I think there’s I think what’s interesting about Porter is that he is avaricious in a way the bankers still are to this day in the popular imagination. But really nowadays you generally find only in finance rather than banking. And I think one of the big things that you really notice watching this movie is. The fact that outside a handful of credit unions, this kind of personal relationship, banking with normal people doesn’t really exist anymore. And if you walk into your local branch of Chase or Bank of America, there is no lending officer who can basically say, you’re a good person. I believe in you. Here’s a mortgage. It’s all done by some algorithm somewhere. And that has. Pros and cons, right? Like, on the one hand, if it’s all based on the you’re a good person, they trust you, then it is all at the whims of humans who are inherently racist and generally consciously or unconsciously biased in all manner of respects. But Kathy will be the first to tell us that the algorithms can be biased, too. It just it’s a question of like choosing your poison, right?
S3: Yeah. That’s a really interesting point, Felix. This idea that, like, I will personally vouch for my friend who should have a real home and I happen to feel that way versus Potter, who across town doesn’t feel that way, wants to keep them in the slums. I think he called them garlic eaters. The Italians that we’re moving into to Bailey, Bailey Park. That was the way it worked. And to our point earlier, like women weren’t allowed to get mortgages, black people weren’t. And that was just sort of the guards, the guardians of that system where the bankers or the folks like George Bailey, if you don’t want to call a banker that was explicitly outlawed in legislation in the sixties and FICO scores were invented as a response to that legislation to make things to make it possible for bankers to still make loans. So if FICO scores were a reaction to fear, Grant you call a Fair Credit Reporting Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act, then once FICO scores were invented, they got scaled up massively because now you have this automated fast system that seems really efficient, that was was explicitly built to be legal. And once you had that legal system for denying people loans, it was it was scale beyond anybody’s imagination and for uses outside of loans, very quickly and to Felix’s point, nowadays we don’t even have well, we still have FICO scores. Of course, everybody knows that. But we also have all sorts of families of other kinds of credit. Look, credit ratings associated to FICO scores are very correlated, but not not exactly the same built by every lender and every fintech company that has been invented since since then. So it’s it’s a huge industry and it you no longer see that person to person thing, which is good and bad.
S2: Why is it bad? Because at first when you start thinking about it, you’re like, Oh, it’s so nice. George Bailey knows Ernie and he gives Ernie a loan, even though Mr. Potter wouldn’t give him the loan because he knows him. And that’s more important than any like track record. But then and you think about it for 10 seconds and you’re like, Wait, you could be giving loans to your friends. They could turn out not to be able to pay them. And what a messy situation that becomes like no one wants to loan money to their friends. That’s how you lose friends, I would imagine. So. Isn’t it a good thing that this system doesn’t exist anymore?
S3: It is often a good thing, you know. I mean, let me it’s probably it’s probably good in for in a lot of cases. But I will just caution us to imagine that it’s not it’s not certainly not perfect. Like one of the ways I got into this entire, like, biased algorithm game is by really listening to the original pitch of Lending Club. Was it called Lending Club?
S1: Oh, Lending Club. They were, they were early on this.
S3: Yeah, they were very early. And I was on top of them listening to exactly what they were saying. Here’s what they were saying. We’re going to look at your Facebook friends and decide whether you are worth a chance, even though FICO hasn’t found you yet. So, you know, people without lending experience, without borrowing experience, people who are young, essentially like college students or immigrants, don’t have the credit history required to have a good FICO score. So we’re going to find you and we’re going to give you loans. Now, who do you think that that privileged right it privilege people whose fake Facebook friends were wealthy people, obviously. So it was like, I’m going to give you a hand up, but only some of you. And that was that is the kind of the system I think we should keep in mind when we think when we think about who does this better.
S1: Although if you look at all of the, you know, we’re going to do social underwriting fintechs who started up and a lot of people who’ve made that claim. You’re absolutely right about Lending Club. A firm came out of the gate saying it was going to underwrite based on that upstart, came out of the gate saying it was going to underwrite based on that kind of thing that we’re going to look at your your full social graph and we’re going to be able to predict how credit, whether you’re going to be in the future without having to have recourse to a bunch of credit history that you don’t have because you’re too young or an immigrant or something like that. And when you actually look at what they do, they all kind of tried the social graph thing and they gave it up pretty quickly. Like it just doesn’t actually work that well.
S2: I have just some little things I wanted to make sure I mentioned first. Why is there a crow in the bank? Why does a crow? Yeah, bank. Why does Uncle Billy have a squirrel in his home? Little questions I read online. The crow symbolizes death and the bank is going to die. I don’t think that makes any sense, but I’m.
S3: Oh, I thought you had an explanation. You’re just.
S2: Asking? I’m wondering. Yeah, I think it’s because the crow symbolizes, like, death or something. I think it’s also because Uncle Billy is just incompetent, which sent me down a spiral of, like, working with your relatives and how that, again, puts a business person in an awkward position. But maybe the I guess the message of the film is just like there are things more important than business, so you have to keep your ridiculous uncle employed, otherwise he’ll go into a mental asylum. Is the message there you have to take over your father’s business, even though it’s not a good business, etc., because there are things more important than money and business, right?
S3: Yes. I do agree that the argument the the argument of the movie is like there’s four things more important than awkwardness. Right. Like, it is awkward. It is a conflict of interest. And yet you do it because you owe it to your family to do it. So it’s very, you know, family obligation oriented, obviously. That’s why he never went on his trips. He never went to college. And that’s a very important aspect of the movie, which I cannot relate to that. Well, like I kind of feel like, you know, when my kids are grown up, they can leave me. That’s cool. You know, like I say that now, I mean, I’m doing fine. Maybe I’ll change my mind. And to your point, though, I wanted to also bring up something which is like, I know we’ve already admitted that it’s communist, but I’ll tell you, this is what makes me cry every time. Like when he is at his worst, he goes to Potter to beg for a loan of $8,000, which is how much Potter stole from his uncle or didn’t return from his uncle. And the thing that Potter says that he repeats to himself a couple of times later on was, I’m worth more dead than alive. I’m worth more dead than alive because he had a life insurance policy that was paying out more than he had that he owned in assets. That’s the first instantiation of that concept of what is a man worth. And then the second one is the very last line of the movie, I believe, which is like, you’re the richest man here, you’re the richest man alive. Which isn’t about money, right? It’s about his family and his friends coming together to care for him. I got to be airborne.
S5: Just like all the way up here in a blizzard. Harry Potter fans go to New York. I live right in the middle of it. As soon as I got Mary’s telegram, could I do Ernie a toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town.
S3: So I feel like that I’m crying, just thinking about it. That is a beautiful.
S2: Shaina shared with us this really good blog post from Lindy West, and I think she points out like kind of just how it’s pretty clear that George Bailey has a wonderful life. Like we he shouldn’t have needed this angel to show him, like the fact that this this boy couldn’t go on a global trip after he finished working or going to school like. And his hopes were dashed of having a harem of women, as he explains, to marry in the soda shop in the beginning. Like that’s not some great tragedy. Like, what is he so upset about really? It’s just such a the whole movie kind of has this very like really puts him on a pedestal in a way that’s sort of I don’t think would maybe would still happen now where, you know, he makes big speeches and his desires are elevated like are seen as just so important that he has to go to Tahiti or whatever. And that’s just like so, so important. And he’s really like suffering as a result is kind of absurd if you think about it, like, okay, so he didn’t get to go on a trip. He has to stay and run a a business and have a beautiful wife who like makes a beautiful home for him. I mean, that there’s no really dramatic tension there. It’s not so terrible, you know what I mean?
S5: Well, it’s.
S1: Definitely I mean, last season we talked about The Fountainhead, right. And which is like the polar opposite of this movie, which is all about like the the singular drive of the individual is the thing that makes America great. And the one thing this movie does a pretty good job of is saying that the singular drive of George Bailey has never been to stay in Bedford Falls and run in a stupid building and loan. He all he wants is to get out, to see the world, to build magnificent monuments, to be a kind of Howard Roark figure, basically. And he needs to give up on his dreams or he doesn’t need to give up on his dreams. But he winds up giving up on his dreams for the greater good of his family and his community. And that’s the you know, I don’t know if it’s communist, but it’s definitely communitarian aspect of the movie. Right. The. He that there’s that there is a loss to him of agency which is forever. And one of the reasons that he never really wants to settle down with Mary is is precisely because he doesn’t want to settle down in Bedford Falls.
S3: It’s a it’s a good question about how much how sorry should we feel for this guy. And especially when you and as we have consider his opportunities versus you know the made the women in you know and yet I would argue that I do relate to him like absolutely no I’m not I’m not a white guy from the forties but we all want to have the freedom to have dreams. And we he wasn’t asked to be clear like he wasn’t rich. He wasn’t asking for money. His you member, that line he had was like, Oh, then I’ll come back and go to college and see what they know. Like he well, he wanted to like go experience the world. And I think everyone can relate to the desire to experience the world, even if they’re not given that opportunity. So that that frustrated the thwarted ambition of experiencing firsthand what the world is like is really all he was asking for. And again, he probably deserved it. And that’s what that’s what Americans are supposed to deserve. And of course, every American deserves that. But it wasn’t like he was like on a trust fund or something.
S2: Yeah. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. That’s the frustration. It’s like if only everyone could have been given the chance to, like, have a dream, and there had been, like, some empathy for the failure to achieve that dream. Like, Mary’s dream is what to be with George in the haunted house. Like she’s not really allowed to have a dream where she gets to go explore. Like she even tells him. At one point he’s like, Why do you want to marry me or something? And she says, Because I don’t want to be an old maid. And like, of course, she’s like joking. But I honestly don’t think she’s joking that much because, like, that’s what you had to do back then. Otherwise you become an old maid and like, everyone looks down on you.
S3: What I made was used. It was weaponized. I would say that, yeah.
S2: Like, like women, people of color. Like they weren’t allowed to have those kinds of dreams. Like, they wouldn’t have dared to. Well, maybe they would have, but a movie wouldn’t have been made about it. Oh, I.
S3: Mean, to say, is that like we should instead of shitting on this movie because the white guy got to have a dream, we should just be like, everyone deserves that dream, right? Like, we should raise the level rather than lower our levels.
S2: Yes, everyone deserves a dream. And I also cried at several points. Thank you.
S3: Thanks. That’s all I’m asking for.
S2: I was.
S3: Really excited. You cried, Felix.
S1: I cried. We all.
S3: Go. I think my son probably do. So.
S2: It’s so nice. I forgot just how like, delightful it is. Like when they’re dancing on top of the swimming pool and it starts to move and the crowd is roaring every time they get close.
S3: And dancing, too. I wish we still knew how to dance.
S2: Oh, yeah. I loved it so much.
S1: So, Emily, you can tell us, having watched the swimming pool scene twice.
S1: How does it compare? Oh, if you watch it in color.
S2: Oh, right. Oh, right. So I like Google. I got my Amazon out. I called up this movie and I just started watching in color, not even like thinking about it. My husband looked over my shoulder. He’s like, I thought this movie was black and white. I was like, Who cares? And then I said to Felix, like, Oh, I watched the colorized version, and he was horrified and I was ashamed. So I went back and watched in black and white. And it’s it’s better. It’s better in black and white. I mean, it looks weird. The colorized version does look weird. The lighting is strange, but I still cried and everything and enjoyed the film 100%. And if I show it to my kids over Christmas next year, it probably might show them the colorized version. Just because I feel like young kids might like that better. Like they might appreciate, not appreciate black and white the same, but 100%. The lighting and the the way things are staged and shot makes a lot more sense in black and white. For those of you who care like Felix.
S1: I care because this is we are meant to be talking about movies here and movies are visual things and deliberate. And and one of the you know, one of the things that definitely struck out stands out to me the way the heroes George and Mary are just like stunningly gorgeous movie stars. And then the the sort of goofy, you know, Uncle Billy or heaven forfend, like Mr. Potter, they are just like not good looking. All of the other suitors for Mary’s attention are kind of nerdy. And, you know, there is this kind of conflation of being good and being good looking does seem to happen in this movie.
S2: Well, what about Violet, who is apparently like the town slut, right? Who is redeemed by George Bailey? She looks she’s attractive, too, and it’s not nice. She’s not necessarily one of the. Heroines of the film write. She has got a more kind of give and take there. She’s more of a gray area character, right?
S1: That’s true. That’s true. And she’s in she’s the she’s the avatar in. She’s like the little hint in Bedford Falls of what might befall it were it to become Pottersville. If you squint at her, you can almost see in her red lipstick that she lives on George Bailey’s cheek. But the licentiousness and and, you know, sinfulness that might befall this wholesome town.
S2: One question I had about the communist message, and that community message was, if community is so important and significant, why would the removal of one person ruin the community? Shouldn’t the community be able to?
S1: Good question. I will say that Bailey Park and a lovely post-war house is that he’s building there and the whole institution of a building and loan are very capitalist. Right. The houses that are bought with capitalist loans, with capitalist money and built with, you know, by George Bailey is a property developer which is a very capitalist job to have, makes a decent money but makes a decent living doing it and probably earns more than most of the people in town, except for Mr. Potter himself. And and that was like that was the dream of. America in the post-war era was really this idea that that you could harness capitalism in the service of building a middle class lifestyle, and America would be a nation of martinis, basically, which I think is I think it’s oversimplifying to say that it’s communist. I mean, it really is. It’s capitalism. There’s a lot of capitalism going on there. And it seems clear from the movie that part, it could have done it himself. Like they could have got a mortgage from Potter’s Bank as easily as they got a mortgage from the building and loan. Were it not for the fact that Potter was conflicted by being a slumlord and he wanted them to keep on paying their over inflated rents in the slums, and he didn’t want to lose that income.
S2: George Bailey A proponent of stakeholder capitalism. Felix.
S1: So one of the other things that was really fascinating about this movie is that it wasn’t commercially particularly successful until the studio, somehow, by oversight, let the copyright lapse. And then it entered the public domain in 1974. And then it appeared on television every Christmas. And then everyone started to love. Is that right?
S2: Emily That is absolutely correct. Felix bless you for knowing that the history to the to the finest detail. But yes, after 1974, all the network TV stations were like, hey, we have this free, heartwarming little movie here. And they ran it all the time and the whole country fell in love with this film. I remember watching it. I would just put on the TV growing up and there it would be. It would just be on and it was kind of like fun and everyone knew it. And now it’s an instant classic.
S1: Which raises the question why isn’t it available for free on Netflix?
S2: But because it’s available for free on Amazon?
S1: Well, it’s actually not available for free on Amazon in Ireland. I actually wound up having to pay for it. But it seems like a freebie for Netflix now. Like there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have it. And I’d love to know why they don’t have it.
S2: Yeah. Oh, that’s an open question. If people know, they should email us because I don’t know the answer.
S1: Yeah. Slate Money at Slate.com. Why doesn’t Netflix have It’s A Wonderful Life, given that it’s in the public domain?
S2: It’s not like Netflix has all the public domain films. They’re on it.
S1: Why not? But that’s the question. Why wouldn’t why wouldn’t they?
S2: And it’s but it’s interesting to me, like, had the copyright not lapsed, would this film not be something everyone watches every year? Would it just have vanished into the black and white hole of history? So.
S1: Right, it would be something that like Michael Bay would pull out of the memory hole and be like, oh, my God, this is a classic. Who knew? And maybe like, wow.
S2: It would take our podcast to popularize this film. Actually, that’s what would happen.
S1: But we would do it right and you would come out and you would give it top marks.
S2: Oh, absolutely. What a terrific what a terrific little film we’ve got here. I really enjoyed it. It’s it’s it’s heartwarming. It’s ridiculous. It’s anachronistic. But like, at the end of the day, super entertaining and and warm, like, gives you warm fuzzies. And in the best way.
S1: I have to say, I agree. I don’t want to agree because I’m, you know, an actual contrarian. And if the two of you are saying how much you love it, I I’m just going to be like, well, you know, I’ve got to find a reason to hate it, but I can’t, you know, I’m my my rubber soul was melted by this darn corndog of a movie, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit it because I don’t think of myself that way. But it’s true. It’s a genuine classic. Thank you for Kathy for making us all watch it again.
S3: There was a wonderful movie and thank you guys so much for inviting me to talk about it. I really appreciate the opportunity.
S1: Yeah. Thank you for listening to this hit show. We will be back on Saturday with a regular sleep money.