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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Inequality for All Is ‘The Progressive Economic Narrative: The Movie’

Inequality for All Is ‘The Progressive Economic Narrative: The Movie’

The new film starring Robert Reich delivers a powerful message about what’s wrong with the economy, though it may leave viewers wondering what they can do about it.

With the release of the documentary Inequality for All today, the core progressive story about what is wrong with the economy is now on the silver screen. For those of us who have been working to articulate what we call a progressive economic narrative, it is a major milestone.

The right spent decades projecting its view that prosperity is created through limited government and free markets, concepts that still dominate most Americans’ thinking, even as the American dream is becoming a nightmare for more and more families. The new movie provides a powerful way to popularize a very different story.

Inequality for All is based around a big lecture course that Robert Reich gives at the University of California Berkeley. Reich and the film’s director, Jacob Kornbluth, mix facts, infographics, documentary footage, and profiles of families whose lives have been scarred by the new economy with the personal story of Reich’s lifelong work to push for a just economy, including his frustrations serving as Labor Secretary during President Clinton’s first term. Reich’s personality, his humor, feistiness, and passion, drive the film.

The progressive economic narrative can be encapsulated in four sentences:

—Working families and the middle class are getting crushed while the super-rich game the system.
—Working families and the middle class are the engines of the economy.
—We build a strong middle class through decisions we make together.
—It’s up to us to build an America that works for all of us.

Inequality for All tells the same story. In the movie, Reich ties the vast increase in income inequality to the loss of unionization, the diversion of economic growth from wages to CEO compensation and profits, the financialization of the economy, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and the failure of government to keep investing in education and infrastructure.

Reich shows how a virtuous cycle of higher wages and productivity, which put more money in consumers’ pockets, thus driving the economy forward and raising revenues for government investment, was replaced by a vicious cycle in which stagnant wages undercut consumer purchasing, leading to lower demand and more layoffs along with declining tax revenues and government spending.

While most Americans know that the rich are getting richer while everyone else is being squeezed, the crucial contribution the movie makes is explaining the two key economic concepts needed to discredit the conservative economic story.

The most powerful messenger for the first concept is not Reich, but Nick Hanauer, a Seattle billionaire, who made his fortune in both the old and new economies. Hanauer’s family business is one of the world’s largest pillow manufacturers, but his latest fortune is as an early Amazon investor. Hanauer tours his pillow-making factory, pointing out that “a person like me who earns 1,000 times as much as the typical American doesn’t buy 1,000 pillows a year. Even the richest person only sleeps on one or two pillows. The pillow business is quite tough, as it is for many, many industries, because fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the products we make.”

When consumers are able to afford a new item, many now go to places like Amazon, which Hanauer points out employs 60,000 employees to achieve the same volume of sales that mom and pop businesses would hire 600,000 for.

The second key concept, hammered home over and over again by Reich, is “We make the rules of the economy and we have the power to change those rules.” He says his first studies of economics, as a Rhodes Scholar, taught him that there was “no such thing as a perfectly free market anywhere. Government sets the rules by which the market functions… The real question is who these rules benefit and who they hurt.”

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • jointerjohn

    We liberal/progressives have allowed ourselves to become distracted from this single most critical issue of our time. Effort and energy on issues like gun control, abortion and marriage equality are all worthwhile causes, but all rolled up together they are still small compared to economic equality. The 1% are delighted when we pour our contributions and our emotions into those other social issues because they don’t give a damn about those things. They act like they do, but that is only to keep both us and the voters on the right busy while they pick our pockets.

    • midway54

      …which is not to mention today’s version of bread and circuses found in the inane prime time rot given average citizens via the plutocrats’ ownership of television that distracts those citizens so that they are unaware of what is being designed for them politically and economically within the machinery of our protofascist plutocracy’s Operation Phornicate.

      • jointerjohn

        Absolutely correct! Celebrity gossip, warm and fuzzy cute animal stories, and an absolute glut of professional sports crap dominate what used to be news programming. We Americans are largely living on an intellectual junk food diet.

  • Allan Richardson

    If the NFL changed their rules so that whichever team won the NEXT Super Bowl would have TOTAL control over the RULES, hiring and firing of OFFICIALS, and could even CHANGE THE RULES IN MIDGAME and make DIFFERENT RULES FOR SOME TEAMS, that would be what the “free” market is like: the first to become successful can rig the game to keep others from joining them without their assistance. It would not create a viable (i.e. capable of drawing an audience) sports league (in fact, Major League Baseball had that problem in the 1930’s and 1940’s, because the Yankees ALWAYS won the pennant, inspiring the plot of the Broadway musical Damn Yankees), and it does not create a truly viable economy.

    • gmccpa

      Great analogy…with the damn Yankees. And the NFL owners… capitalists all – recognized long ago that pure unchecked capitalism is no way to run a successful organization. Salary caps, ‘any given Sunday’ aka league parity, player drafts, restricted free agency. And REVENUE SHARING…..somewhere Karl Marx is having a good laugh.

  • rustacus21

    What do U mean what “…we can do about it?…” We did ‘this’ to ourselves, by failing to do our job as managers & owners of ‘THIS’ – our people’s Democracy! What do we ‘think’ we’re suppose to do about ‘this’ now? VOTE!!! To recall! To elect Liberal/Progressives that have, historically, resisted pressure & threats & put the 100% of citizens interests 1st! To pressure legislators to END inequality NOW & into perpetuity!!! It took 90 years for the ‘unruly, lawless elites’ to undo COMPLETELY, the 1911-1912 legislative imperatives, outlawing bribery & corruption in American politics, but only after the people were so fed up, they voted for ‘Liberal/Progressive’ legislators across the country – from Teddy Roosevelt to Robert LaFollete, who were the impetus of the searing political commentary/cartooning of Thomas Nast, inspired by such liminaries as philosopher W.E.B. DuBois, investigative reporters Lincoln Steffans & Upton Sinclair & then defined expertly, by the incomparable Supreme Court era of Justice Louis Brandeis, whose landmark opinions STILL to this day, are the standard by which all Justices since have been trying, but only rarely are able to meet (often failing miserably, especially w/the Republican choices, post Richard Nixon). W/an education system which omits such critical historical facts & events, how is a nation expected to ‘intelligently’ BEND the trajectory of American politics, civic culture & consequently, history, back toward positive, PROGRESSIVE directions, as the Constitution commands? By self-education & self-Enlightenment – OF COURSE! Abraham Lincolns Step-Mother taught him to read, by the way. He did the rest. What’s wrong w/US, in this modern age, that we can’t be so inspired, under conditions of duress we’re ALL, in this 94 or so % impoverished demographic, currently suffering?!?!

  • Robert Reich should be careful. There are a lot of completely irrational communist haters out there that would try to assassinate him, just out of irrational psychotic hatred of what he proposes.