Inequality for All shows where it all went wrong

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Featuring Robert Reich. Unrated.

As Jon Stewart helpfully points out in Jacob Kornbluth’s entertaining, and disheartening, new documentary, the United States ranks just below Ivory Coast and ahead of Uruguay on a recent world ranking of income distribution. This is by far the worst among developed nations (Canada’s position is notably better), and definitely worse than anything seen in the lifetime of Robert Reich, the outspoken economist who served as secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, the last president to oversee a major expansion of his nation’s growth.

Reich was too much of a New Deal Democrat even for Clinton, a lifelong friend (and fellow Rhodes scholar) whose greater loyalty, in the end, was to the Wall Street hustlers and corporate barons who saw to the hollowing out of the American enterprise. Since leaving Washington, Reich has written extensively about income inequality, and discusses the trend in depth as part of his classes at UC Berkeley—also glimpsed in Fred Wiseman’s new doc, At Berkeley, playing a few blocks away from Inequality for All.

The immediate culprit is globalization, that catch-all for the relentless outsourcing of industry and offshoring of capital. “Rarely has a word gone so quickly from obscurity to meaninglessness,” the diminutive professor explains to enraptured students, “without even a brief period of coherence in between.” This process really picked up speed under Ronald Reagan, the union-buster who specialized in deregulating everything in sight, from the public airwaves to Wall Street “derivatives”, and lowered taxes on the super-rich, eventually leading to the worst gap between rich and poor since 1928. Hands up if you know what happened the following year.

An eloquent and frequently amusing speaker, Reich suffers from his own developmental problem: Fairbank disease, the same syndrome that makes Danny DeVito so short. Reich’s reliance on self-deprecating height jokes is understandable, especially in the appearance-dominated world of politics and money, if somewhat annoying. Still, you come away thinking we need more big men like him.

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