Robert Reich was the Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton and also served in the Carter and Ford (and, he jokes the Lincoln) administrations. He is now a leading author, economist and teaches a class at the University of California, Berkeley. Add to his resume, a documentary film subject. In the documentary, Inequality for All (opening today), Reich crafts a well-structured argument to back his strong beliefs about the dwindling middle class of America. His approach is both accessible and impactful, and his expertise and reputation drives the film as it leans heavily on his political clout.
Inequality for All may be one of the most comprehensive films ever made in terms of showing how the different moving parts of the U.S. economy affect and influence each other. It's really a film meant for the masses as it doesn't require a Harvard degree to decipher its message. Reich makes it clear: The middle class is what drives the economy and the middle class is being squeezed like never before in history. The film paints a very clear picture that he calls the "Virtuous Cycle," where higher middle class wages lead to more spending which in turn lead to the need for more jobs and on and on.
Much of the film relies on data that Reich produces that tracks the incredible income gap between the middle class and the much talked-about highest 1%. We've all seen documentaries that feature struggling families with children, as they talk about being stuck in their economic position (and this film does contain several such stories). But rarely do we actually get to hear from a one-percenter. In this film, there is a fascinating interview with an entrepreneur who makes between 10 and 30 million annually.
Rich people - commonly called "job creators" these days - are not unequivocally evil, but they simply don't spend. As the millionaire in the film states, even the richest people only use one or two pillows. If spending is what drives our economy, the problem with rich people could be that they aren't spending quite enough.
As the rich get richer, Reich shows the correlation to how they grow more powerful in influence as well. The inequality gap is growing but he shows that - based on history - it is not irreversible.
The problem with any politically-minded film, however, is the predisposition of the viewer going into said film. Reich tries very hard - and even states it early on - that the problems facing our nation and our ability to identify these problems should not be determined by one's political party or personal beliefs. But nowadays, both parties can't even agree on when a fact is a fact. There are several moments during Inequality for All where liberals will cheer and conservatives will sneer, but if you tend to fall somewhere in the middle of these political waters, you will at least appreciate the effort made by Reich to stick to the facts as he attempts to craft an apolitical argument. And just because you refuse to believe the sky is blue doesn't mean that it isn't.
Several times though, the film wanders off from its central message. It even addresses the political polarization of modern-day America and the impact that lobbyists have on policy. But it does manage to take its fair share of pokes and jabs at the Republican Party. These small references paint Reich as a liberal-minded economist, which may ultimately turn some off to his powerful message. This though, is a distraction in and of itself.
Regardless of party, any American with a brain should be able to understand Reich's major points. Some may disagree with his argument, but if you had to give his presentation a grade in a classroom, Inequality for All would get an easy A+.
This is a film that everybody needs to see. I'm glad that Reich has hope that things can change, because like many these days, I'm a bit skeptical. But Inequality for All is economics made easy. More than that, it's economics made inspirational.
Run Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes, Rated PG
Featuring: Robert Reich
Directed by Jacob Kornbluth (The Best Thief in the World, Haiku Tunnel)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 4, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time