Depending on how moved one is by the results, Jacob Kornbluth’s Inequality for All could be viewed as a high quality campaign video promoting Robert Reich’s Presidential election bid. Secretary of Labor during the first term of the Clinton Administration with a sixth sense for economics, he’s the kind of mind capable of uniting Democrats and Republicans in the name of common sense, though he currently appears more interested in teaching than seeking political office.
The outgrowth of Reich’s book Aftershock: The Next Economy & America’s Future, the documentary incorporates footage from Reich’s “Wealth and Poverty” class at UC Berkeley and illustrates his points on wealth disparity through the current struggles of average Americans. Due to the filmed lecture focus, comparisons to An Inconvenient Truth are unavoidable, though side by side Inequality for All plays like a more interesting version of the global warming film with more sophisticated computer graphics, a more engaging speaker, and a greater emphasis on actions outside of the PowerPoint presentation.
Above all, the film works because Reich is such an amiable fellow. His height stunted from Fairbanks’ disease, leaving him just shy of five feet tall, he frequently makes light of his appearance, bringing attention to both his car of choice (a Mini Cooper) and that he carries a box upon which to stand when speaking at podiums. Relevant Daily Show clips and shots of Reich’s appearances on late night talk shows further his sense of humor, winning the viewer over before getting to the meat of his argument. When the points are made, their source makes them even more appealing and does so without coming off as a trickster.
Reich argues for nixing tax cuts for millionaires, a subject that’s drawn fire primarily from Republicans, but is a point that’s part of a larger bi-partisan goal. As he has been since before his Clinton post, Reich is all about promoting the middle class because their success is key to the economy’s health. That formula is cleanly illustrated by an animated cyclical graphic of increasing wages for workers, more consumer spending, a more educated workforce, and greater tax revenue. Whether here or through an oft-consulted “drawbridge” graph that shows parallels between The Great Depression and the current Great Recession, Reich’s complex information is easy to comprehend and cements itself through a handful of real-world examples.
The model post-bailout citizen and also one of Reich’s students, Robert Vaclav is a former Circuit City manager struggling to provide for his family. Inequality for All features other similar examples and after interviewing these middle class workers and revealing their modest earnings, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer’s reports of annually making between $10-30 million sets him as an easy villain. Naturally, there’s more to him than a sizable bank account. Aware of his status, Hanauer’s business focus is firmly on fortifying the middle class and makes many good points, including the fact that, wealthy though he may be, he can only drive so many cars at once and eat so many meals in a year.
The participation of a millionaire makes the concepts feel greater than a mere 99% gripe-fest and Kornbluth’s inclusion of a pro-union yet admittedly Republican Mormon family exhibits a welcome collaboration with conservatives, something activist docs often fail to consider. (Parallels between the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement, despite being difficult to stomach for either side, also serves as an attempt at common ground.) Still, Reich’s false status in many Right-wingers’ eyes as a communist may paint this inclusiveness as gimmicky. It’s not and neither are Reich nor his economic lessons, the heeding of which seems especially vital after this accomplished film.
Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language and smoking images.
Inequality for All is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave.
Excellent review of an excellent movie, I saw it yesterday. It will probably be gone by Friday, I wish more people could go see it. Things could be so much better in America if only the common sense message of this movie was embraced.
Thanks, Stewart! It’s going to be around at least another week (All Is Lost got bumped back by its distributors) and Neal is working on setting up a Skype discussion with Reich. If the chat works out, I’ll post about it.