INEQUALITY FOR ALL – Documentary Review
I’m a recovering political addict and “blogger”, as well as an economic theory hobbyist. To me, Robert Reich is a bright and indispensable mind and I hold no contemporary economist in higher regard. I’ve read his books, I’ve followed his career, and I was even fortunate enough to have him give me one of my first quotes for an article I wrote that railed against fiscal conservatism three years ago.
The point of this is not to earn your wrath by outing myself as a lefty, it is to say that Jacob Kornbluth’s Sundance Jury Prize winning documentary Inequality for All (which stars Mr. Reich) didn’t have to do much to win me over, they already had me, but for this film to have the impact that is aspires to have, it needs to get everyone else to pay attention.
That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t undeniable benefits that come from preaching to a choir. As important as it is to build and energize a support base, though, if that’s all someone is doing then its akin to the arms race and the cold war, because each side is simply stockpiling zealots and stacking them on top of each other while waiting for the other side to topple.
For Inequality for All to have the kind of widespread appeal that An Inconvenient Truth had, it had to be much, much more than a piece of propaganda in this fractious climate. It’s message had to be above charges of partisanship (even though it wisely does not go very far toward assigning blame to a specific party).
This had to be a film that walks in the world of politics while evading the traps and the firestorm, if such a thing can even occur, and in an effort to accomplish that, we see Reich apply charm and empathy to his conversations with regular working people whose stories will be familiar to you no matter which side of the aisle you seem to identify with. The middle class is disappearing, or it’s already disappeared, and it is Reich’s mission to sound the alarm.
To do this, he throws a mountain of statistics at us. Now, numbers used to be the great equalizer, these were unquestioned facts, but in a time of great suspicion and bear-trap strong faith in the message above all else, numbers are often undermined.
Despite this, Reich skips the complexity and tries to illustrate our economic history with easily digestible figures and charts. He tells us that the combined wealth of the top 400 earners in America have more money than the combined worth of 150 million Americans and then he tells us about the myth of upward mobility and opportunity. Did you know that 42% of American children born into poverty will stay there with cement in their booties and bleakness in their future? The number is 30% in the UK and 25% in Denmark. These are examples of the gut-punch numbers that Reich has in his back pocket.
Will these tools and this message be enough to coax the non-believers into believing that this is a sober examination of a situation that is perilous for nearly all of us and that Reich isn’t merely a congenial communist? It’s hard to tell, but my instincts tell me that many American’s are too far gone to see beyond the red and blue of their own political prejudices, no matter what is in front of them.
Inequality for All is playing in select theaters.