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Inequality For All (2013) ((NEW))

Inequality for All is a 2013 documentary film directed by Jacob Kornbluth and narrated by American economist, author and professor Robert Reich. Based on Reich's 2010 book Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, the film examines widening income inequality in the United States. Reich publicly argued about the issue for decades, and producing a film of his viewpoints was a "final frontier" for him. In addition to being a social issue documentary, Inequality for All is also partially a biopic regarding Reich's early life and his time as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton's presidency. Warren Buffett and Nick Hanauer, two entrepreneurs and investors in the top 1%, are interviewed in the film, supporting Reich's belief in an economy that benefits all citizens, including those of the middle and lower classes.

Inequality for All (2013)

As shown via a series of suspension bridge graphs, the income gap between middle-to-low-class Americans and the top 1% in the United States was at the same extreme highs in 1928 and 2007, two years that preceded economic crashes. Reich argues that inequality in capitalism is a necessary incentive for citizens to work harder, but at a low-enough level to where democracy is protected and it's in a "Virtuous cycle;" with high-enough wages and taxes, there will be more investments in government programs, a more college-educated population, and consumer spending creating more jobs. The United States economy was in this cycle in the 1940s and 1970s, but that changed starting in the late 1970s as a result of union-busting, tax cuts, deregulation, job outsourcing, and other changes in the system meant to increase Wall Street's profits; this resulted in a decline of average worker pay and an increased amount of average income for top-earners from 1978 to 2010.

Inequality for All premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Competition section that had several other political films in its line-up, including another film about income inequality. It won the festival's U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking and was bought by RADiUS-TWC five days after its January 19 premiere. After months of running at several other festivals, the film was released to United States theaters by RADiUS on September 27, 2013 and grossed more than $1 million in just over a month, which was rare for an issue documentary. It received very high opinions from professional critics, who praised its easy-to-understand demonstration of a complicated topic and likable narrator; however, it also garnered criticism for its singular, unoriginal viewpoints and lack of credible opposing arguments, which led to libertarian and right-leaning sources and publications to condemn the film.

Robert Reich, author, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, official in three administrations, including United States Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, narrates Inequality for All. Reich is a thinker on the topic of inequality, having spoken on the subject for nearly three decades. In a similar fashion to An Inconvenient Truth (2006),[3] the film is organized around a narrative framework of his "Wealth and Poverty" classes taught at Berkeley, with interviews of average Americans in the middle class barely getting by.[4][5]

A series of suspension bridge graphs show similarities between the economies of 1928 and 2007, two years that preceded economic crashes.[9] The economy boomed after World War II in a period of 1947 to 1977 Reich names "The Great Prosperity," when inequality was declining.[10] Then came president Ronald Reagan's union-busting efforts and cutting of taxes on the rich in the late 1970s and 1980s;[5] this, along with globalization, technology, job outsourcing, and Wall Street's desire to have their profits as high as possible, resulted in stagnant wages, stilted college attendance rate, and the ruining of manufacturing jobs that made the middle class.[5][11][10] In combatting this, the middle and working class took on several techniques that eventually became useless, such as working multiple jobs and longer hours, using houses as banks, and women entering the workforce.[11] An average male worker's annual pay went from $48,302 in 1978 to $33,751 in 2010, while the average pay of someone in the top one-percent grew at a higher rate, from $393,682 to $1.1 million.[12] Now, the 400 richest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined; and 42% of Americans born into poverty aren't out of it, compared to 30% of poor British citizens and 25% of the poor living in Denmark.[11]

While Reich argues that inequality in capitalism is necessary for incentivizing people to work, he warns that too much inequality will cause a undemocratic system; this theme is presented in a conversation with Alan Simpson, where he suggests there will be a "government on the auction block" if inequality gets worse.[11] As Reich concludes Inequality for All under footage of Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party protests, "A lot of people feel the game is stacked against them, and losers in rigged games get angry. We are losing equal opportunity in America, our moral foundation stone."[11] The film's last lecture ends with advising his students to come up with solutions to the problem on their own[4] before dancing off the stage to the working-class anthem "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton.[10]

Reich and Kornbluth previously worked with each other on two-minute videos before Kornbluth pitched to Reich a film based on his book Aftershock (2010).[18] By the 2008 economic recession, Kornbluth noticed cynicism towards the political system from his peers, feeling as if they couldn't "participate" in the economy.[18] With his only knowledge of the American economy from conflicting mainstream media news stories, Kornbluth found himself to be the right learner of ideas from an expert in economics like Reich.[18] For Kornbluth, the similarities between the look of the suspension bridge and the graphs of concentrated wealth in 1928 and 2007 in the beginning of Aftershock was the "ah ha" moment that made him want to learn more about the topic.[18] Reich initially didn't see a reason for producing the film about economic inequality,[19] but after a decades-worth amount of previous failed attempts to get the problems about severe economic inequality in the public's mind, producing a film was a "sort of the last frontier for me."[16]

Inequality for All was first announced in a Deadline article published on January 26, 2012, its premise summarized as a "film about former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich's efforts to call national attention to the nation's gaping economic inequality"; director Kornbluth, cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko, editor Kim Roberts, producers Sebastian Dungan and Jen Chaiken, and production company 72 Productions were revealed to be working on the project.[20] Dungan and Chaiken started producing another project, Afternoon Delight, in the middle of working on Inequality for All in order to diversify and increase their output for higher profits; this tightened work hours for both films as they planned to submit them to the same Sundance Film Festival event.[21][22]

Around the time Inequality for All was released, Kornbluth ran a grass-roots promotion bringing labor unions, college students, and progressive organizations together to run screenings of the film and fight economic inequality. The film was also promoted with the "Save the Middle Class National Tour" that started on the 50th anniversary of the War on poverty in 2014.[12]

Upon the theatrical release, Reich discussed themes of Inequality for All via interviews on shows such as Marketplace,[34] PBS NewsHour,[35] CBS MoneyWatch,[36] Democracy Now!,[37] and Moyers & Company;[38] and publications such as i am Rogue[39] Collider,[18] OpEdNews,[40] AARP,[41] Time,[42] and The Nation.[18] CNN also cited stats from the film in a October 2013 report about East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, which had the highest income inequality of all areas in the United States.[43]

The rejection of credible opposing viewpoints garnered mixed responses.[8][13][15][75] While Mohan approved the script's non-partisan nature in not blaming a specific side,[13] Kurtzleben and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Duane Dudek suggested this didn't do much as Reich's arguments leaned liberal and would turn off conservative viewers and those who thought the economy's problems have nothing to do with inequality.[14][76]

Parents need to know that Inequality for All is an inspirational, information-packed, and often funny documentary featuring former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich that aims to raise awareness about the widening inequality gap in America going back to the Depression but largely focused on the 1970s to today. It's conversational and easy to grasp, with lots of simple graphs and charts, but it's likely too sophisticated for young kids or those unfamiliar with basic concepts of money or the economy, much less national wealth distribution. There's some brief footage of protests, civil unrest, arrests, and police poking or pushing back protesters using their batons. Profanity includes "pain in the ass" and "hell."

It's important that we all have a basic knowledge of wealth inequality, but Inequality for All never pushes beyond its intro-level course. Audiences seeking to explore more complicated questions will be left wanting. Granted, the whole purpose of Kornbluth's direction is to make the issue as easy to understand as possible, and if the movie had a "sequel", I would like to see the director tackle more difficult issues like explaining how speculation and other convoluted financial instruments manipulate our economy. When people don't understand how speculation can artificially increase the price of oil, the tutelage of a film like Inequality for All could be invaluable. 041b061a72


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