‘Inequality for All’ Review: Compelling ‘Inconvenient Truth’ on Economics

'Inequality for All' Review: Compelling 'Inconvenient Truth' on Economics

This doc doesn’t break any news about income disparity, but Robert Reich makes a compelling tour guide through the current financial cataclysm

There are documentaries that uncover hitherto unknown shocking facts, and then there are the ones that take what is already known and then package that information in one place for tidy consumption. “Inequality for All” fits neatly into the latter category, but if you’re looking for a streamlined explanation for the mess the U.S. economy’s in, and how we might get out, it’s as good a place to start as any.

000029.24206.InequalityForAll_still2_BobReich__bySvetlanaCvetko_2013-01-13_06-29-08PMDirector Jacob Kornbluth (“Haiku Tunnel”) seems to be pursuing the formula of “An Inconvenient Truth” to explore wealth inequality in this country:

Take someone from the Clinton White House (in this case, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich) and use his writings and lectures (Reich teaches at UC Berkeley) as a springboard for an educational and informative documentary. Add a little animation to some otherwise dry graphs, and you’re in business.

Also read: ‘Inequality for All’ Star Robert Reich: U.S. Economic Divide Is Getting Worse and Worse

The graphs really do tell the story here, particularly a series of “suspension bridge” metrics that show the similarities between 1928 and 2007, both years that came before a big economic crash, in terms of the share of all income being earned by the top 1 percent.

Taking a nonpartisan approach to the subject — showing a clip in which a couple of Fox News hosts dismiss Reich as a Communist, he informs us that he is not now nor has he ever been one — the economist makes the case that a stronger middle class is better for everyone, including the wealthiest.

Also read: '99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film’ Review: Oh, the Cacophony!

Animating a factoid like “400 people have more wealth than half the population of the United States” really helps put the point across. And the movie also does an effective job at poking holes through the “job creator” talking point that the right has used as an excuse not to tax the richest Americans: that money isn’t being spent on goods or services or employees, the film argues, but rather on more speculation in the market.

Walking us through how things got so bad and demonstrating a better alternative, Reich presents what he calls the “Virtuous Cycle” — higher wages for workers leads to more spending, more tax being collected, more government investment, more people going to college, more people working, etc. (We’re in the middle of the opposite, which Reich calls a “Vicious Cycle.”)

There’s also the issue of lobbyists and unfettered corporate campaign financing, of course, about which Reich rightfully asks, “How much inequality can we tolerate and still have an economy that’s working for everyone, and still have a democracy that’s functioning?”

“Inequality for All” leaves some dots unconnected. At one point, Reich says our model in fixing things isn’t another country but rather the U.S. in the three decades following World War II. On the other hand, he admits that moving factories back to this country isn’t necessarily a magic bullet when those same factories are just going to be filled with computers and robots.

Also read: Occupy Wall Street Crackdown: Celebs Tweet Their Reactions

We get a few biographical nuggets about Reich himself, mostly regarding the fact that he’s fairly short. The personal insights tend to be interesting (he met Clinton when they were both Rhodes Scholars) and occasionally insightful — Reich’s diminutive stature led him to befriend taller, older boys to protect him from bullies.

One of those protectors, Michael Schwerner, was tortured and killed by the KKK for registering black voters in the South, and his death inspired Reich to protect people from what he calls “the real bullies.”

“Inequality for All” is by no means the last word in this vital and ongoing conversation, but it’s a great place to start the discussion with young people or with that recalcitrant uncle who believes that labor unions and Social Security are why the country’s so broke.

  • stanfordcrane

    Hope to see it soon, but Bob misses the point – it's about small and new businesses. We gave a trillion dollars to the banks, but we can't invest anything in new businesses. The VC money is narrowly focused and tiny compared to that. We have a consumer economy, but we don't have any consumer VCs.

  • jdwilli09

    All of these pseudo-docs need to be eliminated from the film industry. Anytime you start with a conclusion and then form a film around that conclusion, that is not a documentary. Also, the whole thing with them pushing this as a non-partisan flick is garbage. These Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, Al Gore, Robert Reich 1% some of them actually make 1% seem like an insufficient designator of wealth for what they are worth. They are all hypocrites who want the middle class to pay for tickets and buy dvds and supports their lifestyle so they can come up with another way of telling us the ills of the evil banks/polluters/food/put your industry here, all the while working for and helping the bottom line of big companies. Stanfordcrane makes a good point, you are better off on Shark Tank or Kickstarter if you want capital, than going to a bank for the money. This movie is a puff piece with a bunch of stuff that people already know, and hits the right notes to do a little box office, there was another site I saw that said Reich even says nice things about Bill O'Reilly. EVEN HIM?!? It was super nice to take a thing O'Reilly said out of context and stuff it in your trailers, and movie to drum up some business. There is nothing new in this movie, and nothing that will do anything for anyone.

  • Michael O.

    I disagree with Jdwilli09 that this is all about stuffing Reich's pocket. I think it is too easy to be cynical about everything that comes out. I know little about economics, but with documentaries like this, I learn and that's important. If indeed the middle class has stagnated since the late 70's, then what are we going to do as a nation to undo this inequality? What happens to democracy when 400 of the wealthiest have too much power? What happens when any individual of either the right or left gives 10 million to keep one person's campaign going? And, if there is nothing new in this movie, then why isn't the middle class doing better than it is? I challenge you to do what you can to help this nation. I will do my part.

  • Rat Masterson

    Horrible movie, unless one enjoys watching an arrogant little academic spew, one-sided, neo-liberal ideology. Reich is an example of what happens when an intelligent man becomes immersed in neo-liberal ideology and cut off from the real world of economics and human nature. Contrary to Reich's unsupported premise, income and wealth inequality are not harmful; rather, they are evidence a healthy, moral society. People are rewarded with income based on their relative value to society. Those who create or otherwise provide value are rewarded with commensurate income. These whose contributions are minimal, are compensated with less. Executives who create innovation, efficiency and profit are appropriately paid more than low-level workers with easily replaceable skills. And, of course, as to investing and wealth management, as the old quote goes, “A Fool and His Money Are Soon Parted.” All of this makes not only good economic sense, it is morally fair and just. Conversely, taking wealth from some and giving it to others is theft.

    Being an aloof academic, Reich does not realize how silly his ideas are to practical people. He blames the wealthy and income inequality for causing recent financial collapses. On the contrary, it is government meddling and over-regulation that cause collapses. When economic and financial prudence are replaced with neo-liberal ideology, and when risk is guaranteed by the government, even a fool (but not a neo-liberal), can predict that economic and financial harm will result. When lenders are forced by government to make loans to unqualified borrowers, common sense dictates that defaults will occur. When those defaults occur, the government (taxpayers) will be forced to make good on bad “guaranteed” loans. Without government meddling, lenders would only loan money to those with demonstrated ability to repay the loans. Similarly, societal income and wealth disparities eventually force the wealthy and business owners to make price and wage concessions to the less fortunate, so they can buy products and participate in the economy. History demonstrates that, without government meddling, the marketplace adjusts wages, price, income and wealth. All of the harmful effects of which Reich speaks are CAUSED by governmental efforts to redistribute wealth, provide more resources for the “less fortunate,” and remove risk from the economy. These governmental efforts must, necessarily, result in financial ruin, because they have no basis in real-world economics and human nature. None of these facts matter in the fantasy, ideological world Reich and neo-liberal academics/politicians have created for themselves. Were Reich and the neo-liberals relegated to the halls of academia, there might be little harm from their nonsense. The problem for society is that these dangerous people have now taken control of the government and media. Despite powerful evidence of their ongoing failures, neo-liberals like Reich remain hell-bent on implementing their pernicious ideologies.

    • Annoyed

      This EXACT SAME “review” appears nearly everywhere the film is mentioned
      online, and the “reviewer” has no other history except this post. Lack
      of specifics from the film is also curious–as though the “reviewer”
      has not actually seen it. Also strange that the author completely
      misuses the term neo-liberalism…