'Inequality for All'
Director: Jacob Kornbluth
3 (out of 5) Globes
There’s a genre of documentaries that like to remind us that we’re all going to die. Some do it more jauntily than most. In “Inequality for All,” Robert Reich, a celebrity economist who served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, cheerfully briefs us on a situation even he would admit is beyond messed-up. As he’s been warning for ages, the gap between rich and poor in America has widened to an egregious degree — far and away the worst of any major nation. Around the late 1970s, he shows, working class wages stagnated, or even dropped. Meanwhile, the average income for the rich has doubled (again, adjusted for inflation). There is no sign of this stopping, or even slowing, and the resulting mess has only divided the country into ever-bickering factions.
Real catastrophe awaits, and though Reich openly worries that he’s a failure for not preventing it, he remains chipper. The film is built around Reich, shown either addressing the camera or his class at Brandeis University. But it fills out his pronouncements with cute graphics and its own findings. It trots out Nick Hanauer, an entrepreneur who invested early in Amazon.com and preaches the gospel of Reich. They agree that one problem is the rich don’t spend money; they hoard it. The nation’s economy really relies on the working class, who do spend money — or would if they still had any. Instead, they’re increasingly cash-strapped, while the right — going ever far rightward — keeps believing a fantasy in which the rich will always trickle the money downward, but don’t.
Reich makes a strong claim, and it’s attractively presented. Director Jacob Kornbluth previously made fiction indies like “Haiku Tunnel,” but his work is energetic yet anonymous — a hodgepodge of slick style, requisite clips from “The Daily Show” and moderately interesting but ultimately irrelevant character details. (The most fascinating tidbit is that Reich sometimes declaims while standing on a small crate as, thanks to a disease, he’s rather shockingly diminutive.) Reich and Kornbluth’s lumping of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street into the same extremist sects is too much shorthand though, and it’s harder and harder to think that an activist doc, even one led by as bright a guy as Reich, could ever abate a looming collapse.