Film Review: Inequality for All

Pint-sized pugilist and former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, lays out the evils of inequality.

Oct 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Inequality For All | B

FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR Robert Reich is a curious blend of impish geniality and pugnacious intellect, spending most of his long career waging a very public — and often lonely — war on behalf of the working class and the working poor.

Inequality For All chronicles that struggle and celebrates its tireless warrior in a zippy style that is simultaneously informative, inspiring and shamelessly self-aggrandizing. This is a curious case of liking the messenger, loving the message and yet still feeling as if you’re being too heavily sold, even if you want to by into the product.

Of course, it helps that Reich himself is such an irresistible ball of charisma, endlessly engaging, whether enchanting his econ students at UC Berekley or doing a buddy cop parody with Conan O’Brien. Standing at just 4-foot 10-inches, Reich has found ways to compensate for his diminutive stature by developing an outsized personality. His height, or lack of it, is often easy to forget when Reich is seen as a commanding talking head on television, but here we see him zipping around in his appropriately scaled Mini Cooper, and hauling around an apple crate so he can raise himself above the podiums at his many speaking engagements.

We are treated to glimpses of his long friendship with Bill Clinton, complete with photos from their heavily bearded, shaggy days together as Oxford scholars in the late ’60s. Reich also recounts, with a misty, well-calibrated gaze straight in to the lens, about how one of his boyhood protectors was killed as a Freedom Rider, and how this formative tragedy shaped his desire to stand up to bullies of all sizes.

These humanizing touches help soften the crush of numbers and statistics that the aggressive economist presents here with impressive detail and clarity.

The secretary makes a persuasive case that the booming economy of the mid-century decades was directly tied to the strength of labor unions and a more equitable distribution of income.

His main contentions are: the gradual erosion of the middle class in the last 30 years is the leading cause of prolonged recessions; robust consumer spending is the key to economic growth and; the massive concentration of wealth at the top of the pyramid will eventually cause the whole system to collapse on itself.

This is, of course, the same core argument that Michael Moore has built his contentious career on, but Reich makes his cases with abundant humor, and a calm rationality that makes the facts seem plain as day, even if the solutions aren’t as obvious.

Inequality For All is rated PG, has a run time of 89 minutes and is now playing at the Landmark Main Art in Royal Oak