There is a lack of hope in American society today, because the basic premise of the country as a land of opportunity is broken. Climbing the ladder of success is no longer a matter of hard work and dedication; it appears that the economic destiny of most of America’s population is decided long before birth. The chances of going from poverty to a comfortable middle-class-lifestyle by means of education are much less today than 30 years ago. It is frightening to fathom the idea that the economic gap has widened monstrously, leaving many with no viable road to a better life.
Jacob Kornbluth’s documentary focuses on these alarming facts, and it uses as its guide the renowned professor, writer, and cabinet member during the Clinton administration, Robert Reich. Passionate like few others about this core issue in America, Reich exposes the data and its implications in a matter-of-fact manner that for its clarity is all the more terrifying. It is not necessary to understand the numbers on an intellectual level when their repercussions are tangible. According to Reich, the middle class is essentially non-existent in the United States, something that is infuriating coming from the most powerful, still richest, country in the world. Without a solid middle class there is no foundation for the economy to thrive, and for a functional democracy to exist.
Intercutting footage of one of Reich’s lectures with statistics and interviews with everyday Americans and even an extremely wealthy businessman, the film paints a clear, unbiased picture of the societal and economical spectrum in America. It explains the reasoning for demonstrations like the Occupied movement, but it doesn’t solely blame the richest Americans for the downfall of the system. Reich doesn’t pursue any arguments that emphasize, “Class warfare” but instead uses his witty demeanor to concretely demystify this, and ask serious questions about how economic decisions are taken.
Those who have the ability to influence decision-making, mostly via lobbying, are at the center of the problem, one that not only jeopardizes people’s livelihood but democracy as a whole. A government that becomes a commodity no longer serves its people but an exclusive few and their lucrative interests.
Inequality per se is impossible to eliminate, but is the degree to which it prevents a nation from growing that makes it dangerous. Reich also makes a point of how the difficulty, and expensiveness to obtain an education widens the gap even more, pushing those on the sidelines further into the realm of poverty. The 1%, those with the highest incomes in the country, can’t provide jobs if there is no middle class with the economic power to consume their products. Thus the argument of their tax exemptions being justified because they are job providers is obsolete. The equal distribution of wealth is a matter of justice, neither political nor economic, but one that deals with the right of every person to pursue a fulfilling life, as Mr. Reich states, “We make the rules of the economy—and we have the power to change the rules”.
Final Verdict: This is an eye-opening film, not meant to be cinematically astonishing, but thanks to the charismatic speaker it becomes an entertaining, and informative call for action. Reich, even after confronting all the negative aspects of such brutal injustices, remains hopeful and inspired to create change. That’s a message that sticks and makes this a must-see for anyone who has ever been on the less fortunate side of the economic scale, aka being broke.