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Review: Hopeful & Inspiring Documentary ‘Inequality For All’ Featuring Robert Reich Champions The Middle Class

Review: Hopeful & Inspiring Documentary 'Inequality For All' Featuring Robert Reich Champions The Middle Class

There’s lots of talk about economy, but for all the pontificating and bloviating about taxes and jobs and poverty, is there any one person who can explain what happened, how we got here, and how we might fix it? Actually, there is, and his name is Robert Reich, the Former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, UC Berkeley professor, and author of the book “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future,” which the new documentary “Inequality For All,” directed by Jacob Kornbluth, is based on. The situation is grim, to be sure, but it’s also deceptively simple, at least in the words of Reich, who makes these concepts particularly easy to understand but also crucially urgent: it’s the middle class we should be focusing on. Despite Reich’s clear cut answers about how the middle class has been systematically oppressed for the past 35 years, he (as well as the film) maintains a hopeful, non-cynical, and ultimately inspiring outlook for the future.

“Inequality For All” is part Reich lecture and part Reich biopic. The film is structured around Reich’s Wealth and Poverty class at Berkeley, which is overflowing with eager students wanting to learn at the foot of the economic master. The man has White House credentials stretching back to the President Ford, but he chooses to teach, because he feels that’s the best way to inspire social change in an increasingly fractured and tense society. You may feel inspired to pull out your notebooks and settle in like the students, because in many ways, the film is like taking a lesson from Reich on income inequality. That’s not to say that the material is dry or boring in any way, in fact, it’s positively gripping, and Kornbluth has broken up the lecture with a loose narrative about Reich’s daily life of talks and appearances, as well as his personal history. This is interspersed with the stories and struggles of average middle class Americans who are doing everything right and still struggling to make ends meet, juxtaposed with the life story of a 1-percenter, Nick Hanauer, one of those millionaires who wishes he could give more back to the economy.

Reich’s main argument is this: when the middle class is healthy, the economy is prosperous. Because the United States is a consumer-based economy, when the middle class (the largest population) has disposable income to spend on consumption, the economy grows, jobs are created, houses are bought, businesses flourish, etc. This seems like a common sense system, and was, in fact, the m.o. in the U.S. in those booming post-war years. It wasn’t until the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when Ronald Reagan led a union busting charge and lowered taxes on the richest of the rich that the middle class began to see their wages plateau and their cost of living go up. Not to mention competition from outsourcing, globalization, and technological advances that essentially destroyed the manufacturing jobs that nurtured a healthy middle class. These were the ideals that he fought for with Bill Clinton, an old friend whom he met on the boat to England as Rhodes’ Scholars. And while Clinton presided over a particularly prosperous period in American life, Reich still believes they didn’t do enough to turn back the tide on the unstoppable forces of campaign finance, lobbyists, Wall Street, and globalization.

Though Reich is often labeled derisively as a “Communist” or “Socialist” by the likes of Bill O’Reilly and other Fox News blowhards (he’s in fine company with other proponents of economic reform and fair wealth distribution like Warren Buffett and his Republican colleague Alan Simpson), he’s really a Capitalist, just one who believes in the proper regulation of capitalism. As he puts it, the free market doesn’t really exist: it’s up to the government to decide what the rules are for the market, and clearly, the trends of deregulation in the financial markets and lowering taxes on the wealthy in the name of “job creation” has only allowed the rich to get richer, hoarding billions while average families add more hours, more jobs, and take second mortgages just to make it through the week.

While it all seems very dire and bleak, especially when Kornbluth cuts in footage from Tea Party rallies and Occupy Wall Street, which, when compared in this way, are revealed to be the same primal scream of frustration at the unfair hand we’ve been dealt. But when Reich steels himself and discusses why it’s important to stand up to bullies—recounting his own childhood facing schoolyard torment as a result of the Fairbanks disease that stunted his growth—it’s heartbreaking but also truly inspiring. That a documentary about economics could be so personally emotional and affecting is remarkable. And to learn from Reich in this film, as his students at Berkeley do, is a treat and a privilege. Which is why his teaching is so important. His final speech to his class (and us) exhorts everyone to do the right thing, to look out for others, to stand up for what’s right. To save the world. Won’t we all take a lesson from Professor Reich? [A-] 

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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.


Rattoo's 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…

Darrell A. Harris

We both tend to skew conservative and have historically voted Republican. But, that said, Robert Reich impressed me when he was serving in the Clinton administration and he impresses me here.

If trickle-down were going to work, it would have by now, especially given the GDP and financial markets. Reich’s middle-out concept and his over-all assessment of our economic woes is the most common sense observations I have heard and seem well supported with history and economic data.

Highly recommended.

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