Thursday, October 17, 2013

Inequality for All [2013]

MPAA (PG) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Inequality for All [2013] (directed by Jacob Kornbluth) is a documentary showcasing the argument that author, professor, lecturer Robert Reich former Labor Secretary under President Clinton has made for much of his career: PROSPERITY REQUIRES A THRIVING MIDDLE CLASS and thus society is served best when its policies are geared toward strengthening the Middle Class.

Built around a class that Reich was teaching at ... UC Berkeley, Reich does argue that "job creation" is really driven by MIDDLE CLASS CONSUMER SPENDING.  To make the point, the documentary interviews a sympathetic Bay Area multimillionaire businessman who points that "rich people actually spend a relatively small amount of money."  For instance, he says: "As a multimillionaire, I really don't spend $500 a day on really expensive meals.  A lot of times, [Chinese] take-out suits me just fine... I also don't need 50 or a 100 pairs of jeans.  Three suit me just fine."  The point is that the economy is much better served if there'd be 40-50 middle class people with enough money to spend $10-15 several times a week on "Pizza" and "Chinese take out" or EACH being able to purchase 3 good pairs of jeans ... It's THAT KIND OF MIDDLE CLASS CONSUMER SPENDING THAT _CREATES AND SUSTAINS JOBS_.

Reich also argues that "globalization" does not necessarily make the destruction of the Middle Class inevitable.  Asking his class which country -- the U.S., France, Germany, Japan or China -- most benefits from the manufacture and sale of iPads, he surprises EVERYBODY (including me) that the country that BENEFITS THE MOST from the manufacture and sale of iPads is NOT China or even the U.S. but GERMANY.  This is because while iPads are famously ASSEMBLED in China where workers are paid dirt wages THE PARTS requiring a HIGHLY TRAINED WORKFORCE capable of MANUFACTURING HIGHLY PRECISE PARTS are MOSTLY MADE IN GERMANY and then (in descending order) in the U.S. and Japan.  So manufacturing does not MERELY depend on the cost of labor BUT ALSO ON ITS RELATIVE SKILL.  And it is true that GERMANY has historically SPENT ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF ITS TAX DOLLARS ON EDUCATION/TRAINING ITS WORKFORCE.

It all makes for a very interesting (and positive) argument: It is possible to build / regulate our society in a way that SUPPORTS / PROMOTES THE INTERESTS OF THE MIDDLE CLASS.  And in doing so, Reich argues that EVERYONE BENEFITS including the Rich.  For when in the last century was the U.S. MOST PROSPEROUS?   In the 1950s-60s WHEN IT HAD THE STRONGEST MIDDLE CLASS. When was it in crisis?  In the 1930s (During the Great Depression) and NOW (During the Great Recession) when the Middle Class was/is on its knees and (consequently) economic disparity was the highest.

For even the Rich need a Middle Class capable of buying the stuff that their factories/shops make and sell. 

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