INEQUALITY FOR ALL Blu-ray/DVD Review
Income inequality may not sound like the most interesting or compelling topic for a documentary, but only if you don’t have Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, essayist, author, academic, and next to Nobel Prize-winning Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the liberal-left’s foremost public intellectual. Reich has spent the better part of decade writing and lecturing about income inequality. For Reich, growing income inequality poses a grave threat both economically and democratically. Reich has used every platform and media available to get his message into the mainstream, with varying levels of success. Documentary filmmaker Jacob Kornbluth (The Best Thief in the World, Haiku Tunnel) hopes to change that with Inequality for All, an Inconvenient Truth-style documentary that focuses on Reich’s seemingly tireless efforts to spread his message and spur his listeners to social and political activism.
Reich’s UC-Berkeley “Wealth and Poverty” lectures (thirteen in all) serve as the foundation for Inequality for All. Kornbluth mixes Reich’s compelling lectures with a general overview of Reich’s background, including his education, his relationship with former president Bill Clinton (they met in England as Oxford Scholars), his government service, beginning with the Ford Administration, teaching and writing, a return to government service as Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, his departure after Clinton’s first term due to Reich’s concerns and differences over policy, and Reich’s return to academia and rise as a left-liberal public intellectual devoted to income inequality in the United States (the worst of any Western industrialized country). Like An Inconvenient Truth, Inequality for All visually illustrates Reich’s lectures with infographics and animation.
Kornbluth turns the abstract into the particular by interspersing interviews and profiles with people struggling to retain their middle-class status after the Great Recession of ’08, the culmination of decades-in-the-making financial malfeasance on the part of investment banks, commercial banks, and loose or non-existent financial regulations. The individual portraits are key to understanding the short- and long-term effects of income inequality, stagnant wage growth, and limited economic/social mobility (again, the worst of any Western industrialized country). Reich and Kornbluth also tie income inequality to the erosion of American democracy, the radicalization of politics, the influx of corporate/private money into political campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels, and the political gridlock that’s become a permanent presence in Washington, D.C.
For all of Reich’s forceful, persuasive arguments – and there’s little doubt that Reich makes a forceful, persuasive case for why we can no longer ignore income inequality and risk weakening the middle class further and why we need to make politics work for the greatest number (99%) and not just the wealthiest few (1%) – Inequality for All won’t be seen by many (few issue-oriented documentaries are, unfortunately). Those who do see Inequality for All will already regard income inequality as a serious economic and political problem and a danger to American democracy. For them, Inequality for All should serve as a wake-up call to become politically engaged (if they aren’t already).
• Deleted Scenes (Robert Reich and his Son, Reich for Governor, Working with Robert Kennedy, Talking with Senator Tom Harkin)
• Behind-the-Scenes Interviews (Robert Reich, Jacob Kornbluth, Jennifer Chaiken, Stephen M. Silverstein, Kim Bishop)