Hi blog. Long time no see!
I spent some Saturday me-time at the cinema yesterday, taking in Robert Reich’s new film Inequality for All.
Presented in a kind of documentary-meets-infographic format, the film explores the current state of income inequality in America today while also shedding some light on how we got here in the first place. The central thesis of the movie is that America has lost sight of the fact that it is the Middle Class which is the true engine of the economy, not the so-called “job creators” and “high achievers” at the very top of the economic pyramid as many would have us believe.
Today, thanks to Fox News and countless conservative talk radio hosts, any talk of workers’ rights or economic policy which supports and empowers the Middle Class (or, God forbid, the poor) is derided and immediately branded “socialism.” More taxes on the wealthy is seen as punishing high achievers. The fiction of trickle-down economics espoused by Reagan in the 80’s still lives on in the minds of many as not only a viable economic model but the ideal one. Inequality for All does a wonderful job of exposing this fallacy for what it is.
The film transitions quickly through interviews (with people at all economic levels), animated infographics, Reich monologues, and classroom scenes from Reich’s course on the same topic at UC Berkeley. The interviews are powerful, particularly when they feature members of the 1% who acknowledge both the deep flaws in our tax system (e.g. – millionaires and billionaires who pay 11-13% in taxes compared to 35% for a typical Middle Class family) and the reasons why trickle-down has not and will not ever work.
Reich walks the viewer through some of the most influential social and economic changes over the past 30-40 years, from the steady erosion of labor unions, to changes in the tax code which favor the rich, to the impact across our society by cuts in services and education, to unfettered flow of corporate money into the political system. Best of all, his explanations are succinct, clearly presented, and supported with an abundance of charts, diagrams and other visual data.
But I think the way Reich–and the film–succeeds most is in elevating the discussion of income inequality above and beyond the political quagmire in which most of it seems to take place today. Now, to be sure, as Reich’s background includes serving as the Secretary of Labor under Clinton he is a ready target for the likes of Bill O’Reilly and others on the right, and will surely come under fire for some of the radical “socialist” proposals he puts forth, like:
- Raising the minimum wage and supporting low-wage workers
- Investing in education to make college more affordable an preschool available for all
- Reforming the tax code to ensure that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share
- Campaign finance reform
The case he makes for these is not political, but rather social, and economic. The last 30 years have seen the Middle Class being whittled down year after year, with stagnant or dropping wages, loss of benefits, and increasing competition from overseas. These are changes that cut across all lines; political, social, religious, you name it. Taking the discussion beyond the realm of soundbites and bombast is the only way we will all really understand what has happened over the last 30 years, and what we need to do to fix it.
Left or right, “liberal” or “conservative” (foolish labels, these), God-fearing or Atheist, brown or white or yellow or blue: if you’re an American it behooves you to watch the movie. If it’s not playing in your area you can check out the website. We’ve let the wealthy and powerful drive our interests–and that of the country as a whole–into the ground for long enough. Understanding how we got here is the best way to understand where we should go next. To that end, it will be 90 minutes well-spent.