Robert Reich may stand only 4’10” tall in terms of physical stature but in the field of economics he’s one of the giants of our era. A.B. summa cum laude from Dartmouth, Rhodes Scholar who studied Economics at Oxford (along with Philosophy and Politics), and a J.D. from Yale Law. Then there’s his experience in government, assistant to Robert Bork when Bork was Solicitor General of the U.S. and Secretary of Labor during the Clinton Administration.
All of this needs to be considered because the documentary in which he is front and center for the majority of the time, Inequality for All, is about the growing rift in terms of both wealth and income in the United States. The rich aren’t just getting richer, they’re accumulating wealth faster and faster in an economy that still hasn’t fully recovered.
Reich opines that this is because the “middle class” is being forced to work for lower wages as shareholders demand CEOs of corporations generate higher profits without regard for what needs to be done to achieve this. Using his acerbic wit and strong skills as an educator, Reich is entertaining and informative as he gives cold hard facts to the audience. In the U.S. 42% of those born into poverty will never escape it, a much higher rate than in other “developed” nations. Those 400 people on that annual list from Forbes Magazine have as much wealth between then as do the 150 million poorest Americans.
Considering that Reich has spoken out this week that the growing minimum wage protests may indicate serious problems ahead for the nation, this film has a very important message. Sadly, sometimes such messages get lost in documentaries that take what are dry subjects (did anyone really enjoy Econ in college, aside from mutants like me and those who became economists?) that tell the tale but fail to engage the viewer. That isn’t a problem here as director Jacob Kornbluth has done a marvelous job of making this film interesting and intriguing.
Mr. Reich challenges the base argument for cutting taxes on the wealthiest people because they are the “job-creators”, providing evidence that consumers are the ones who create jobs by spending their earnings in the marketplace. We’re also educated that outsourcing and technology have done more to cut wages in the U.S. rather than simply eliminate jobs.
One of the most interesting facets of Reich’s thesis is that while the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party appear to be polar opposites, in fact there are strong parallels when it comes to the gap in the inequity of income.
Inequality for All is a quick but very informative 89 minutes and is definitely worth a view.
Critic’s note: One of the other contentions of Robert Reich is that the rich are actually paying lower taxes than the poor and middle class and anyone who has seen the discussions about the income tax returns of Mitt Romney, or read Warren Buffett’s statement he doesn’t pay enough tax; knows this is a serious issue. If you want to learn more about this, check out any of the books on the subject of income taxes by the multiple Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalists Donald Bartlett and James Steele.