Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Observer: "Inequality for All: another Inconvenient Truth?"


by Carole Cadwalladr

© The Observer - Original Article

The powerful documentary Inequality for All was an unexpected hit at the recent Sundance film festival, arguing that US capitalism has fatally abandoned the middle classes while making the super-rich richer. Can its star, economist Robert Reich, do for economics what Al Gore did for the environment?

Former US labour secretary Robert Reich at an Occupy Los Angeles rally in 2011.
Photograph: David Mcnew/Getty Images
In one sense, Inequality for All is absolutely the film of the moment. We are living through tumultuous times. The economy has tanked. Austerity has cut a swath through the country. We're on the verge of a triple-dip recession. And, in another, parallel universe, a small cohort of alien beings – or as we know them, bankers – are currently engaged in trying to figure out what to spend their multimillion-pound bonuses on. Who wouldn't want to know what's going on? Or how it happened? Or why? Or if it is really true that the next generation down is well and truly shafted?

And yet… what sucker would try to make a film about it? It's not exactly Skyfall. Where would you even start? Because there are some films that practically beg to be made. And then there's Inequality for All; the kind of film that you can't quite believe that anybody, ever, considered a good idea, let alone had the passion and commitment to give it two years of their life.
How did you even come up with the idea of making a film about economics? I ask the director Jacob Kornbluth. "I know! People would roll their eyes when I told them. They'd say it's a terrible idea for a film." On paper it is, indeed, a terrible idea. A 90-minute documentary on income inequality: or why the rich have got richer and the rest of us haven't (I say "us" because although it's focused on America, we're snapping at their heels) and which traces a line back to the 1970s, when things stopped getting better for the vast majority of ordinary working people and started getting worse.

"It always sounded so dry," says Kornbluth. "But then I'd tell people it's An Inconvenient Truth for the economy and they'd go, Ah!"

In fact, Inequality for All, which premiered at the Sundance film festival a fortnight ago, is anything but dry. It won not just rave reviews but also the special jury prize and a major cinema distribution deal, and while it owes an obvious debt to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, it is, in many ways, a much better, more human and surprising film. Not least because, incredibly enough, it's actually pretty funny. And, in large part, this is down to its star, Robert Reich.

Reich is not a star in any obvious sense of the word. He's a 66-year-old academic. And he's been banging on about inequality for more than three decades. At one point in the film he looks quite downcast and says: "Sometimes I just feel like my life has been a total failure." An archive clip of him on CNN from 1991 looking fresh-faced and bushy-haired shows that he has literally been saying the same thing for decades upon decades. And yet, as he tells me cheerfully on the phone from his home in California, "It just keeps getting worse!" [Click here to read the full article]

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This month, Zed will be releasing the new edition of The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy by renowned political economist Yanis Varoufakis, who argues that today's deepening crisis in Europe is just one of the inevitable symptoms of a global 'system' which is now as unsustainable as it is imbalanced. His book is an essential account of the socio-economic events and hidden histories that have shaped the world as we now know it.

New edition available soon from Zed Books

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