By Mayank Mathur, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 9, 2013
Robert Reich served as the Secretary of Labor under the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1997. Prior to that, he served in the administrations of Gerald Ford (yay, Michigan!) and Jimmy Carter. Reich is striking in appearance because of his height — he stands at about five feet tall — and his personable demeanor makes him an intriguing conversationalist. If Reich wants to tell you about one of the biggest economic and social problems of your country, you’re probably going to listen to him — and not just because you’ve paid seven or eight dollars.
Inequality for All
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In director Jacob Kornbluth’s (“The Best Thief in the World”) latest documentary, Reich talks to the audience about the widening income inequality in the United States and the effect that it has on society. His story begins with America’s economy from the early years of the Great Depression and goes through today in an attempt to shed light on the seriousness of the matter. Clocking in at 85 minutes, this documentary is lean and straightforward, containing necessary splashes of wit and seriousness to keep the audience attentive.
In broad strokes, “Inequality for All” can be split into two parts. The first deals with the problem of income inequality and how the face of the economy has changed from 1928 to 2010. The second deals with the political and social effects associated with this problem, showing us that the widening gap between the rich and the poor is much more than a game of numbers.
Both parts are held together by the thought that the middle class of any economy is its sustaining force and heartbeat. The economy is nothing but a reflection of the middle class. The material focuses on the problems faced by the middle class, by way of stagnating income over a period of 40 years from the 1970s, which has resulted in a massive drop in expenditure. At the same time, the rich keep getting richer, but spend an insignificant portion of their enormous incomes. Therefore, the drop in middle-class expenditure is not buoyed by an increase in upper-class expenditure. Expenditure forms the backbone of a capitalist economy, and any sort of decrease goes a long way in harming the economy as a whole.
Reich is the anchor of the film and uses his experience to make the material all the more convincing. His amicable personality and wit make him the ideal person to take us through the troubling tale, and he makes the material easy to understand. There are no vague economic terms and complicated graphs — just plain and simple common sense (not so common after all). The documentary features interviews with people from the middle class and the rich upper class, helping to form a well-rounded and compelling argument. Inventive and animated visuals compliment the spoken material keeping the audience interested throughout. One of the biggest plus points of this feature is that it never indulges — there are no sentimental interviews from the victims, nor are there attempts to point fingers toward the people with big paychecks. The chief enemy here is greed.
The seriousness of the situation is diluted at the climax due to an unnecessarily positive ending in which Reich tries too hard to find the silver lining in a bid to convince the audience that it’s all going to be OK. However, the documentary does make some important comments on the situation and even points toward a possible solution. It does well to paint inequality as an economic issue that eventually evolves into a larger societal problem as it rears its head in politics. The documentary chooses to delve into the grayer, murkier aspects of the country’s economic and political structure. It’s not only about who holds the bigger stick, it’s also about how the bigger stick is used to exert dominance over the oppressed.