Blog 30. The Movie Inequality for All


The Movie:  Inequality for All

When it comes to your theater, don’t miss it.

Robert Reich is a professor who teaches public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He was President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor. Now he’s also the witty star of an entertaining new film released this week to theaters across the country. The film was directed by Jacob Kornbluth.

In earlier blogs of this sequence, I outlined how the society and the economy are complex systems—and how, if you want to change a complex system, you must adjust one or more of the rules by which it operates. Reich expands on this in regard to the increasing disparity of wealth in our economy.

I happened to see Reich interviewed on the Bill Moyers show on PBS. This guy is too good to miss. His latest book (of thirteen books) is entitled Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy and How to Fix it. Reich has now used film, entertaining film, to tell this story.

In talking with Moyers, Reich said, “(With film) you can emotionally connect with people and open people’s minds and eyes and hearts. And on this issue of widening inequality there’s so much confusion, many people … if they’re rightwing, they want to blame the poor, if they’re leftwing they want to blame the rich.

“There’s a lot of blame going around. But people are not looking at the actual structure of the economy as it’s evolving. They’re not looking at how we need to change the organization of the economy, why we are the most unequal of all advanced societies and economies in the world.

“There is this popular misconception that the economy is … natural forces that can’t be changed. They’re immutable. … But in reality, the economy is a set of rules. There’s no economy in the state of nature. There are rules. I mean, there are rules about property and liability and anti-trust and bankruptcy and subsidies for certain things and taxes for certain things.

“These rules really are the rules of the game. They determine economic outcomes. If we don’t like them, we can change the rules. I mean, if we had a democracy that was working as a democracy should be working, we could adapt the rules so that, for example, the gains of economic growth were more widely distributed without a sacrifice of efficiency or innovation.

“The typical male worker in 1978 was making around $48,000, adjusting for inflation, while the average person in the top one percent earned $390,000. … By 2010, the typical male worker earned even less than he did then. But a person at the top got more than twice as much as before. Today, the richest 400 Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together. (emphasis mine) Now think about it. Four hundred people have more wealth than half the population of the United States. … almost all the gains of economic growth have been going to a very small number of people at the very top. … Beginning in the late ’70s and really to a greater and greater degree over the last three decades, all the wealth, or most of the wealth, most of the new wealth in society went right to the top.”

In the TV program, Bill Moyers asked, ” But talk a little bit further about corporate behavior. If they’re sitting on record profits, and no one denies that, why aren’t they creating more jobs? The argument goes that corporations should be taxed at a lower level so they can create jobs. Or that money– that the rich shouldn’t be taxed because they’re job creators.”

Reich responded, “This is where the problem really reaches back onto itself and explains itself.  Where we’re in a giant vicious cycle.”

Cycle? That sounds familiar. See Blog 14 about positive feedback and Blog 16 about the money loop. A positive feedback of monetary contributions to influence government leads ultimately to collapse of democracy and the economy. Reich says, “… with large size and a lot of money goes a great deal of political power. And the more uneven the playing field, the more you concentrate income and wealth at the top, the more you are susceptible as a society to this kind of corruption. And it is corruption.”

That kind of corruption is disaster. But this isn’t your usual disaster movie. Reich is fun and funny.

You can find more at The Movie