Film 'Inequality for All' takes on the income gap

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich awaits his introduction to speak to Occupy Los Angeles protesters on Nov. 5, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif.

The documentary film "Inequality for All" opens in theaters Friday, starring former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Director Jacob Kornbluth follows Reich through his day, teaching a class on wealth and poverty at UC Berkeley, visiting labor groups, driving around in his tiny Mini Cooper.

Reich says inequality is worse than ever, with the 400 richest Americans worth more than about half of all people in the country. He says everyone, even the wealthy, should be alarmed by the growing income gap.

“This is not a zero-sum game, in which the only way the middle class and the poor can do better is by taking away from the rich,” Reich says. “This is not a matter of redistribution. The rich would do better with a smaller share of a rapidly growing economy, than a large share, that they have now, of an economy that’s barely growing.”

Reich charts income inequality over the decades and says the line looks like a suspension bridge. The income gap peaks in 1928 and 2007, both years that preceded financial crashes. The gap is much lower in the 1950s and 1960s.

Of course, some inequality is a good thing; it encourages innovation and hard work.  “The issue," says Reich,  "is when do you reach a point where the degree of inequality, the concentration of income, wealth and political power at the top starts hurting your economy and hurting your entire society.”

The bad news is that time is fast approaching, according to Reich. The good news is that it’s reversible. The film is a call to action of sorts:  Reich says we’ve saved capitalism before, and we can save it again.

About the author

Robert Reich is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

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