Former US Secretary of Labour under the Clinton Administration, Robert Reich examines the inequality in income in US households, and argues in favour of change, not for the poor, but for the middle class.
At first, it would seem that arguing in favour of change in income for the middle classes is an exercise in futility, but when Reich outlines the changes in income for the middle class over recent years, reminds audiences that 70% of the US economy is made up of consumer spending and that the middle class are potentially the section of society that has the most disposable income, then our perception of Reich’s argument changes. The question asked in the film is how much inequality is tolerable, and, for the most part, Reich makes a clear and convincing case.
There is little doubt that Reich had to have knowledge and charisma to have the career he has, and the man that comes across in the film is one who is charming and funny, and can lay out the facts that we need to know in clear, concise and easy to understand language. Reich never talks down to the audience, but neither does he presume any knowledge on our behalf. Reich interviews the incredibly rich – in this case, the head of a pillow manufacturing company – and the middle classes, to see what level of tax they pay, and tellingly, how much they have in their bank accounts. The results are surprising, as is the revelation that tax brackets are so unbalanced in the US that the super rich end up paying less tax than the lower middle class families who struggle on $25,000 – $75,000 a year.
While Reich’s argument, and the information he puts forward is interesting, he also makes a case for what can be done to change this trend in US spending and incomes. There is a little finger pointing – mainly at the presidential administrations that allowed tax rates to become so unbalanced – but Reich also argues in favour of some inequality, as this is the motivator that encourages people to do well, provided there is room for upward mobility.
In the end, it seems as though there is a simple solution to the problem of inequality – and who knows, maybe there is – but at times, Reich’s argument and agents for change come off as a little too simplistic. Reich himself is a passionate and entertaining narrator, and the film is interesting from the points of view of history, humanity and economics. Inequality For All is an engaging look at how US incomes and spending have changed recently, and how the gap between the 99% and the 1% was allowed to grow so big. As a film, Inequality For All is an interesting documentary that feels a little like an economic version of An Inconvenient Truth, but that provides slightly too few answers.