Inequality For All

Despite offering a genial disposition throughout his film, Inequality For All, you have to imagine Robert Reich is a wee bit frustrated if not supremely pissed about the state of the economy. As a professor, pundit, author, and economist who has served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, plus his best known stint as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, Robert Reich has admittedly been pushing the same advice for three decades.

Increase wages. Slightly raise taxes on the top earners of the country. Invest in new technologies. Make it easier for Americans to gain access to higher education in order to make the American worker more competitive in the age of globalization.

It all reads as reasonable and relatively risk-free economic policy that shouldn’t require much thought in order to be put into action. But a-ha, as the stunt and show-like behavior of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his cheerleaders in conservative media have shown us over the years, thoughtlessness and irresponsibility are more on trend.

Yes, such perspectives as those pushed by Reich are deemed “socialist” and the start of “class warfare.” As you may have heard a million times already, you can’t ask the “job creators” to pay more than a paltry sum on their income because Satan would crawl his way out of hell and destroy all of the middle class jobs and allow the Chinese to come in and place a For Sale sign right in front of the White House.

Unfortunately, we have to turn to documentaries such as these to hear a different tale from venture capitalists less inclined to lie like hell. As one of the top earners explains in the movie, “When somebody calls themselves a job creator, they’re not describing the economy or how the economy works although that’s what it sounds like. What they’re really doing is making a claim on status, privileges, and power.”

It’s one of the most profound statements heard in director Jacob Kornbluth’s film. Same goes for the quip about so much of the economic “debate” we’ve been presented with in so much of our news media: “Sometimes we think that this is a debate over facts and figures and data.  I think if you believe that, you’re fooling yourself a little bit.”

It’s another inconvenient truth that needs to be spread as fast as humanly possible, though as the movie treks on and you hear Reich continue to explain the whos, the whys, and hows about our fledgling economy, you can’t help but wonder if any of the people who need to hear that message ever will.

Inequality For All is a fine documentary centered on a man with the sort of expertise that makes his opinion worth listening to. Still, it’s a film that’s essentially preaching to the converted.

Those of us familiar with Robert Reich and his work are aware of what helped fuel a stagnant wage in this country and a create system that now aims to only benefit the ultra wealthy. We know that wages flattened in the late 1970 and that Ronald Reagan helped usher in both the decline of labor unions and the slashing of taxes for the rich, along with the reality that globalization and new technology have made certain that some jobs will never return.

Reich seems to wrestle his own role in past failures to seize upon the problem, particularly when it comes to his work in the Clinton administration. Reich met Bill Clinton at the age of 22 when both were Rhodes Scholars. Decades later, Clinton would reach out to Reich, note that he was a fan of his books and invited him to work in his administration. Reich said that he likely “annoyed” other members of the administration, as he was fixated on inequality. Maybe he didn’t bug them enough as Reich reveals that while he is certainly proud of some of the accomplishments made, he acknowledges that, “We didn’t do enough; we didn’t do enough to stop the trends.”

The administration after Clinton only magnified the problem and our current one has made minimal efforts to curtail the problem either. Some of that blame goes to polarization – which Reich points out has historically fueled inequality. We know these things to be true, but what will we do about it is the lingering question?

For Reich, the answer is you keep trying. Inequality For All is part of those efforts, but it’s the students he’s instructing throughout the film who are more likely to do something with what they’re being told than dedicated moviegoers doing some variation of “mmhmm.” They’re less cynical and more inclined to keep Reich’s fight for a more equal America going. If there’s anything that stops from Reich from raging, it’s likely that hope.

Check out the film's official website for show