MOVIE REVIEW: Reich brings marked liberal bias to ‘Inequality For All’

Inequality For All


2 1/2 out of 4 stars

A graduate of both Yale and Dartmouth, a Rhodes Scholar and author of 14 best-selling books, Robert Reich — whether you agree with his politics or not — can rightfully be referred to as a well-respected economist. After serving in the Clinton Administration as Secretary of Labor, Reich became and remains a fixture on both the late night and Sunday morning political talk show circuits and when not a TV talking head he teaches classes on economics at Cal Berkeley.

Unlike most former presidential cabinet members, Reich is a natural in front of the camera. He is affable, eminently likeable, pokes fun at himself and regularly makes light of the affliction (Fairbanks Disease) that stunted his growth (he stands at 4’ 10” — yet has a towering presence). If anyone was ever qualified to write, narrate and appear in a movie about economics it is Reich.

In manner not unlike that of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and most movies by Michael Moore, Reich — despite his proclamations to the contrary — brings a marked liberal bias to “Inequality For All.” This isn’t such a bad thing per se; the movies by Gore and Moore are very entertaining — and the same can be said for Reich’s film. It is never boring or dry, imparts a wealth of valuable information in a highly audience-friendly manner and — at less than 90 minutes long — never overstays its’ welcome.

For the first half of the movie Reich — largely avoiding egghead, “inside baseball” jargon — presents his argument with workmanlike efficiency by employing stylish charts and graphs, stock video/newsreels and hard-to-argue-with facts and figures supporting his case: the ever-widening chasm between the haves and have-nots is a problem.

Reich’s preferred visual is a graphic that is a profile view of a suspension bridge and he drives home that the highs, lows and trends of several economic indicators of the last century match each other almost identically. Whenever there is economic distress — like during the Great Depression or right now — the disparity in median income is significant. When everything was hunky dory — the time between the end of World War II and the mid-1970s — the difference in income percentage was far closer (and “fair”); management/ownership made only a little more than their employees, despite taking all of the risk.

Reich’s reasons for these fluctuations are many and varied but the thread that ties all of them together is the same: the rich are greedy and the poor are victims. While presenting many reasons for the former, Reich essentially ignores the latter. He cites President Ronald Reagan’s squashing of the Air Traffic Controllers Union as the first domino, then the proliferation of industry lobbyists on the (bipartisan?) Capitol Hill and ultimately the inflated salaries of company CEOs.

Reich touches briefly on the rise of industrial prowess in Asia, the replacement of assembly line workers in the U.S. with computer-based automation and alternately slams/extols the business model of Amazon. Reich fails to acknowledge the union-controlled U.S. public school system that has produced a sub-par workforce for decades and greed on the part of the middle-class-hopeful masses that bought homes they couldn’t afford and opened lines of credit they weren’t qualified for in the mid-2000s.

Reich and director Jacob Kornbluth deserve major kudos for including a scene taking place at a meeting at a western U.S. power plant where Reich was trying to prod the employees into unionizing.

Respectfully arguing against the union proposal, a skilled laborer states he feels he’s being paid more than he deserves and has no problem with the company officers making way more than him. He adds that if he was smart and had gotten smarter by going to college, he’d be trying to get their jobs. Hmmm.

The filmmakers also get bonus points for including video/sound bites from wealthy people (including Warren Buffet) who find the current tax code (where they pay only 10 to 15 percent) ludicrous and they’re right. Most of this could easily be eliminated with a flat or consumption tax — a subject Reich never broaches. Though he never uses the actual words, Reich’s intent is to suggest an American society based on the quasi-socialist “redistribution of wealth” dictum. People with drive, dedication, vision and a strong work ethic should supplement the layabout lifestyles of those who do the absolute bare minimum (or less) in order to just get by — while of course always owning of the latest smart phone.

This brings to mind a number of quotes from someone you might have heard of. “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” “My great concern is not whether you failed but if you are content with your failure.” “That some achieve great success is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” All of those quotes were spoken or written by President Abraham Lincoln. (Radius-TWC)