Film review by Pete Mason
“Inequality for All,” a powerful film examining the decline of the American economy is a wake-up call of a documentary for everyone and should be required viewing in the vein of “An Inconvienent Truth.” Subtitled “A Passionate Argument on Behalf of the Middle Class,” this film by Jacob Kornbluth is one of the most important, clearly laid out documentaries in terms of relevance to the average person and specificity of information, centered around former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, under President Clinton from 1993-1997.
The film at times feels like Reich is running for a political office, only because much of it is his take on where we are. But he is an economist and not a politician and sees what the common man may not, then provides a graph to back up his argument and executes his point fully. To not respect Reich is to not understand the complexity of economics, or at least, that economics are complex in nature.
The movie, in short, shows how fucked the middle class in America has become since the late 1970s, tied together appropriately and factually to the decline in power and number of unions, the rise of Reagan and fiscal conservatives and the lowering of the top tax tier. And he backs up his point with so much ammo that only the most ardent, heels-dug-in believers of ‘Greed is good’ can doubt the truth shown of raw economic data turned into facts and graphs. There are indeed a lot of graphs, and they mostly look like suspension bridges, which is a point Reich drives home, comparing 1929 to 2007, and the aftermath of each market crashing leading to the economic conditions that festered for many years after. We are living in one of those aftermaths, a point he does not need to drill home. Still, he does, and it provides an overdue wake-up call for those who have been screwed over as to the cause of their lowered economic standing.
This scarily informative documentary is interspersed with a friendly lecture from Professor Reich at University of California at Berkeley to his students – the future that will lead us away from the economic policies that have driven us to this point. To see this film is to know why the economy is sluggish and the middle class’ strength has decreased in the past 30 years. Lack of understanding of economic policies is equal among average Americans and those in the 1% who got us to this point. The hardest hitting point Reich makes is that the 1% saving millions of dollars is not the answer to economic woes, but rather investing in the labor force is the key to a return toward economic equality.
Stagnation of wages, the shrinking middle class and lack of upward mobility are the main themes of the film, a depressing reality for sure, but when the purpose of a film like “Inequality for All” is to inform and incite passion among the viewers, a slant is not taken. True, this film is on the side of the labor classes, those not making millions a year, so perhaps this movie is geared towards the true 99%, but realistically, every single American with a wallet. The film’s slant is therefore, universal.
Reich highlights the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s as an era to look to look upon as an example of how to climb from this economic morass that has grown since the housing market collapsed in 2007. The middle class was fostered by investment from government and the highest marginal tax rate was over 90%. A ‘Virtuous Cycle’ is highlighted as the unseen machine that churned the middle class towards economic viability – invest in the market and labor, get more money into the economy, profit, then invest in the labor market once again. But as this cycle came to an end in recent decades, workers were the ones who benefitted the least. Interestingly enough, Reich ties the rise of the female workforce to the 1980s when families could not make ends meet on just one income, and although given a cursory glance, makes for a debatable argument.
Remember the Clinton years? Reich does. He is not shy to talk about his tenure as Labor Secretary when his jobs bill and economic policy helped Clinton to build the strongest peace-time economy in American history. Nor should he be shy of this. Even millennials are nostalgic for the ’90s these days, and for good reason. As a member of Generation X, the ’90s are a recent memory where employment was all but assured out of college, and one I can only long for as skilled laborers (teacher, in my case) are scarcely in demand or invested in.
The film ends with the look at income disparity and its impact on democracy, through the buying of elections with money that the 1% had saved in their economic boom of the past 30 years. This money goes not toward investment but toward lobbyists that seek to continue their largess, stacking the deck against the 99% of the nation that does not have an equal value of half the nation, as the 400 richest in the county do. The facts Reich presents don’t lie, but our interpretation of them, used to soften the blow and deny reality – they do lie to us. This film wakes up those in denial, or at least it should.
The rise of the Tea Party and Occupy movements are simultaneous, each loud but one (Tea Party) better funded, and are easily connected to the decline in the American economy, but some taking a political stance against the culprit such decline and another taking an economic stance. Naturally, the political stance is the one paid the most attention to, as a nation’s disdain of math and a limited knowledge of economics (we only require one cursory, senior year semester of economics in high school) as reason enough to disregard the complicated (economic reasons) and embrace the passionate (political reasons).
The purpose of the film is personal for Reich – to protect the easy target of the labor force from the economic bullies that shrink wages, buying power and prevent upward mobility, all while fighting against workers rights. Reich ends the film with a simple message: “The movie is over. The work begins now.”
The work implied is to educate those around you. I strongly urge the viewing of this film for anyone from high school age upwards, to learn how we got to this point in America and how we can undo it. It’s not an easy fix, but education is a great need at any age, and seeing this movie is a strong start.