Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama have made their first acquisition under their deal to create content for Netflix. Per Deadline, the Obamas have picked up the rights to author Michael Lewis’ latest book The Fifth Risk, which was released on October 2nd and provides an inside look at the inner workings of the U.S. government. The idea is to create a possible series that helps people further understand how the government actually works. More details about the project are set to be revealed on the new episode of Katie Couric‘s podcast this Thursday.
Specifically, The Fifth Risk follows the chaos that erupted at the departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce during the handoff between the Obama administration to the Trump administration. Lewis conducted interviews with a number of federal workers who revealed that those who took over at these departments were woefully under-prepared, and some even threw away the briefing books provided by the Obama administration folks who had previously held the jobs. As a result, this “willful ignorance” caused a breakdown in a governmental system that has widespread and long-lasting effects.
Lewis is no stranger to adaptations of his work. The Blind Side scored a Best Picture nomination, as did Bennett Miller’s terrific adaptation of Moneyball. There’s also a TV series adaptation of Flash Boys in development at Netflix, starting from scratch after Aaron Sorkin attempted a feature film adaptation of that Wall Street tale at Sony a few years ago.
There’s no guarantee The Fifth Risk will actually happen, but the book has been optioned by the Obamas with the intent to develop a potential series adaptation at Netflix. It’s unclear if that would be a narrative series or a docuseries, but either way this is an indication of the kind of content the former First Family intends to make at Netflix. Their stated intention was to further educate and enrich the populace, and who better to produce an inside look at the inner-workings of the federal government than folks who served as President and First Lady for eight years?
What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?
“The election happened,” remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. “And then there was radio silence.” Across all departments, similar stories were playing out: Trump appointees were few and far between; those that did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Some even threw away the briefing books that had been prepared for them.
Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it’s not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do.
Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is upside to ignorance, and downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.
If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes, unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system—those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night.