Robert Reich's most obvious physical attribute-I'm almost ashamed to mention it but it is relevant- is his height: a rare condition limited it to 4ft 10inches. However, this diminutive man is a hugely charismatic author and speaker as well as a brilliant academic and former Secretary for Labour 1993-7 for Bill Clinton. For thirty years he has been banging on about social and economic inequality and now has been made into a film by Jacob Kornbluth, a documentary called Inequality for All.
In an interview with Carole Cadwalladr in today's Observer
, we discover that this seemingly dry topic has been turned into a compelling film which is hard-hitting as well as funny: Reich has a deadpan sense of humour which leavens the film very effectively. Being so small of stature, Reich has always felt on the side of vulnerable people- in the present day, that's essentially means the poor.
. "The figures that Reich supplies are simply gobsmacking. In 1978, the typical male US worker was making $48,000 a year (adjusted for inflation). Meanwhile the average person in the top 1% was making $390, 000. By 2010, the median wage had plummeted to $33,000, but at the top it had nearly trebled, to $1,100,000 Something happened in the late 1970s," we hear him tell his Berkeley class.
And much of the rest of the film is working out what happened. Some inequality is inevitable, [he says]. Even desirable. It's what makes capitalism tick. But at what point does it become a problem? When the middle classes (in its American sense of the 25% above and below the median wage) have so little of the economic pie that it affects not just their lives but the economy as a whole.
He argues that anti-union legislation and deregulation of markets produced a situation where markets boomed but very little wealth 'trickled down'. For a while, people coped and nobody really noticed- more women went out to work and people worked longer hours but then in 2007 it all came crashing down once all the options had been exhausted.
Recent editions of The Economist, show how worried world leaders are at growing Grand Canyon of a wealth gap is and the Observer editorial reinforces this ,a href="l http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/03/capitalism-reform-essential">today
. Lets hope the film reaches a wide audience but, though I hope I'm wrong, I'm as cynical as ever as to anything happening as a result.