Inequality for All follows Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, as he lectures at UC Berkeley and tools around the country in his Mini Cooper, passionately warning against the threat of the ever-widening income gap in the United States.
Reich is a brilliant man, a bona fide genius. He's published fourteen books (his Aftershock serves as the inspiration for the documentary), served in three presidential administrations and taught at Harvard, Berkeley and Brandeis. But what serves this documentary best is Reich's charisma, his warm personality and irrepressible passion for economics. Reich is energetic and unstoppable, and Inequality for All matches his vigor beat for beat.
Director Jacob Kornbluth understands that the strength of his doc is its tiny, fiery subject, giving Reich all the space he needs to make his case. He presents a clearly defined, compelling economic discussion, fortified by digestible statistics and clever, eye-pleasing graphics. Reich discusses middle-class wage stagnation in the face of relentless inflation, the powerful effects of globalization ("Rarely has a word gone so quickly from obscurity to meaningless with no intervening period of coherence") and the devastating repercussions of legislature lobbyism - and he does it all with an uncanny ability to make tangible the cerebral.
Reich demonstrates the staggering statistical similarities between income inequality today and during the Great Depression, and makes a compelling case for that very inequality to be the insidious disease affecting every part of our economy - and by extension, our society. And when asked "How do we become a good society? Whom should we emulate?" Reich answers very simply: "Us." The period between 1947 and 1977, which Reich labels The Great Prosperity, the United States engaged in a virtuous cycle, when middle-class employees were paid fairly for their work, they could afford to go to college, they spent more money, companies required more employment, and on and on. We're currently engaged in a vicious cycle, a cycle that puts the lie to the idea of trickle-down economics. Reich, allowing that much is out of our control, is unafraid to point the finger at campaign corruption, assigning a hefty portion of the blame to those who use their wealth to manipulate and control.
Reich goes everywhere and talks to everyone, from unionists to the 1%, from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party. One member of the 1%, a multi-millionaire venture capitalist named Nick Hanauer, is perhaps the most surprising part of the documentary, as he speaks honestly about how high the cards are stacked in his favor. One low-income employee of the Calpine corporation bristles at the idea of asking for more than he's got. "I think they treat me more fair than I should be."
Reich asks himself whether he's been a failure, having stepped down from Clinton's administration before lasting change could be made. But ultimately, Reich is an optimist, and Inequality for All benefits from that optimism. Reich speaks plainly about the challenges facing this nation, but he tells us he wouldn't keep fighting if he didn't believe a solution is possible. I left Inequality for All informed, encouraged and fired up. Reich ends the last day of his class at UC Berkeley with a speech telling his students, and telling us, that "Politics is not out there. Politics is in here." Inequality for All brings politics to our doorstep and expects us to do the rest, to do our part. What's amazing is that it inspires us to do our part, as well.