Documentaries can have the noblest of intentions, but they sink or swim according to the crude rules of movies: Do you want to watch this person for 90 minutes?
The fortunate thing about for Inequality for All is that, for all its good information and useful insight, it also has an appealing person at its center: Robert Reich, the economics expert and Berkeley professor who was also labor secretary under Bill Clinton.
Certain things can’t be faked. Reich is no condescending intellectual. He has no contempt for people of the opposite point of view. He even has nice things to say about Bill O’Reilly.
He is also, unlike many other left-of-center commentators, not a pessimist. Thus, when he talks, he is genuinely trying to communicate, because he believes that communication might actually do some good.
This is essential, because it means that Inequality for All depicts a man trying to change the world for the better, not merely preserving his own opinions for the approval of history.
Directed by Jacob Kornbluth, the film skillfully juggles several elements: It tells Reich’s personal story, shows him lecturing in a university setting, shows him in various public appearances, and shows him talking directly into the camera about his economic ideas.
Along the way, he dismantles a lot of conservative dogma that has become pervasive on talk radio and Fox News.
He addresses the myth that “job creators” must not be taxed, lest that destroy the economy, and he demonstrates, over and over, the importance of a vibrant middle class, stressing the significance of labor unions in that equation.
In between, the movie reminds us, rather effortlessly, of the positive and refreshing force that Reich is in American life — a rare public figure who takes his ideas seriously, but not himself.
The film contains many memorable moments, but one that stands out for me is when a man, who describes himself as a laborer, stands up and argues his employers’ line at a town meeting: They had the brains to start the business, he says, so they deserve all the perquisites of the society, and he deserves what little they choose to pay him.
Clearly, it’s almost a matter of pride with this man that he doesn’t want more. Reich’s patient reaction, his lack of frustration with this fellow, is fascinating. He has heard this argument before.
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