Before I get started , if you’re a current law student or recent graduate wondering about how to find your dream job, you might find this post I wrote for the Santa Clara Law School Career Services Blog useful.
As you may have noticed, I write a fair number of blog posts. I must admit that every time I write a blog post, part of me eagerly anticipates a vitriolic comment from one of my ideological opposites. Just once, I’d like to be called an “arrogant little academic” who spews “one-sided, neo-liberal ideology,” or an “aloof academic” with “silly ideas.” Alas, it appears that I am not sufficiently well-known to be the target of these insults: that dubious honor belongs to Robert Reich, economist, former Secretary of Labor for the Clinton administration, and subject of an impressive new documentary, Inequality for All. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been a fan of Robert Reich for years, and he’s been a major influence on my work).
Inequality for All explores Mr. Reich’s analysis of income inequality—the gap between incomes of the rich and the poor—in the United States. His conclusion is pretty straightforward and, for my money, convincing: when the income gap is smaller, the economy thrives. When the income gap is wider, the economy suffers, leading to economic collapses like the Great Depression of 1929 or the Great Recession of 2009. The movie does an excellent job of making economic arguments accessible and straightforward, without oversimplifying the issues.
However, the film isn’t just about abstract economic theories. It’s full of the stories of families and businesses who are feeling the effects of income inequality first-hand. Job losses are certainly personally devastating—they lead to lost homes and loss of educational opportunities. However, the movie points out that job losses also harm the economy—an unemployed worker has to cut back on purchases, which reduces business’ profits, which forces other businesses to cut more workers, and perpetuates the cycle. It’s an argument that Greenlining’s been making for years, and one summed up in the film by billionaire Nick Hanauer, who bluntly explains that business owners aren’t job creators. Workers who purchase goods and services from those businesses are the real job creators.
Walking out of the movie, I found myself wondering how the whole Free-Market-Chicago-School-of-Economics-Adam-Smith’s-Invisible-Hand crowd would react. Clearly, they wouldn’t like the film, but I was interested in seeing their responses. So, of course, I went looking for them? And what did I find? Well, pretty much the insults I listed above. Reviews of the film have either been positive, or nothing more than personal attacks against Reich himself. There doesn’t seem to be any reasoned response to the assertions in the film. It’s probably because Inequality for All is the kind of documentary you either agree with or you don’t, but I like to imagine that it’s because there’s no real way to counter Reich’s argument that when we rise, we all rise together, and that when we fall, we all fall together.
Inequality for All is a great film starring a brilliant, thoughtful proponent of economic equity. (Also, Bill O’Reilly thinks that Robert Reich is a communist, which is reason enough to see the film). Go check it out.