Although it’s credited as an adaptation of Robert Reich’s 2010 book, Aftershock, Jacob Kornbluth’s Inconvenient Truth–style doc is more tangibly based on the author-professor’s “Wealth and Poverty” class at UC Berkeley, which means that for large chunks of the movie, the audience is literally being lectured to. Fortunately, Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s first-term Secretary of Labor, is an unflaggingly engaging speaker, and his class has higher production values than most independent films. (He has walk-off music. Walk-off music!)
Reich’s thesis, laid out in damning PowerPoint slides and augmented by interviews with working families and one-percenters alike, is that a country’s economic health suffers as the distance between median earners and the highest-paid grows; chart the ratio between the two, and 2007 looks frighteningly like 1928. While this observation predictably gets Reich branded as socialist or worse, he points out that every sustainable form of capitalism has rules, and that in the U.S., those rules have shifted to overwhelmingly favor the ultrarich. Although they’re reflexively hailed by the right as “job creators,” the economist points out that the consumer spending, which makes up 70 percent of the U.S. economy, is largely driven by the middle class; hedge funds make huge profits, but they don’t make jobs. (As featherbedding millionaire Nick Hanauer puts it, “I have pretty much the nicest Audi there is, but I only need one.”) In 90 minutes, Inequality for All doesn’t get far beyond Income Inequality 101, but for those who struggle with the basics, it’s an often essential primer.
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