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A film that should be mandatory viewing for all citizens
Robert Reich's Inequality for All is an accessible primer on the motion of our nation's socioeconomic barometer over the past century. Together with a range of anecdotal human interest stories, he effectively uses statistical data to show how the country's economic health has waxed and waned over the years, who has benefited and who has not, and just how extreme the concentration of wealth has become over the past 30 years.
At the top of the economic mountain, the 400 richest people in the country have recently accrued the same measure of wealth as the poorest 150 million (i.e., nearly half the country). This extreme concentration of wealth endangers our society by making too much money available for risky speculation (e.g., the stock market crash of 1929 and the mortgage-backed derivatives crash of 2008), producing less tax revenue for government operations (because most of the rich's income is taxed at the much lower "capital gains" rate) as well as making government vulnerable to the exclusive interests of the richest people. For an example of the latter, half a century ago there were 26 income tax brackets, reaching up at least into the middle ranks of the upper class, but now there are only 7. Ronald Reagan presided over the elimination of the higher brackets, thereby generating a huge windfall for the richest that has failed to "trickle down" to the rest of us.
Through a series of graphs, Reich shows the correlation between the current, growing concentration of wealth and the rise of global capitalism, the decline of labor unions, tax law manipulation, the off-shoring of capital and jobs, political polarization, and plain old greed. The average CEO in Reagan's day made about 40X the average worker's salary; that factor has now grown to about 400X. Unlike corporate executives, most of us don't get to determine our own level of compensation.
Reich briefly mentions the favorite red herring of conservative media, which is to incessantly attack government as the root of all evil, while never talking about how the actions of members of the private sector upper class are impoverishing the country, nor how impotent government has become in the face of multinational corporatism. I wish he had said more about this, because it is a major point of misunderstanding for many people.
He also never specifically mentions the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act during the late '90's - an event that paved the way for the crash of 2008. The repeal was driven by the Republican-controlled Congress during Bill Clinton's second term (Clinton had no choice but to sign the bill or else face a Congressional veto override).
But aside from those minor criticisms, overall, this film is a well-organized, fact-based survey of the topic, one that will make many people's jaws drop when they realize how extreme the economic continuum has become, from hyper-rich citizens like hedge fund managers making $4 Billion a year, to working-class parents with children, fighting like hell to keep their heads above water without health insurance nor any prospect for owning a home or saving for retirement.
Another manifestation of inequity is the slow erosion of our public infrastructure - utilities, roads, bridges, schools, transit systems, etc., while U.S. corporations and entrepreneurs hold trillions of dollars of revenue offshore in untaxed accounts. In prior generations, a significant portion of that sequestered capital would have been invested to sustain the "commonwealth." The present extreme inequity is breathtaking, and as Robert Reich infers in his curiously upbeat manner, if we don't change the vector we're on, the prognosis for our society is disturbing.
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