This movie, a documentary and a call to action with Robert Reich, former head of the Department of Labor in the Clinton administration, is a fascinating and depressing tale of income inequality in the United States.
It's been around for nearly two years, but I never sat down to watch it before, not because I had any issue with the movie, only that I already was in full agreement with Reich and didn't feel the need to watch it. I'm already in his camp.
I had some free time this past weekend, so I finally watched it. Yes, Reich was clearly spelling out what I've heard from him before and from his writings. It is entertaining for a documentary, not dry at all. Like I said, though, it is depressing.
It's depressing because he illustrates the economic trends in this country for the past thirty years, the decline of the labor movement, the destruction of the middle class, and the increasing accumulation of wealth by those at the very top of the heap, those one percenters.
Truth be told, there's nothing really new here. Even the outrage that accompanied the Occupy Movement has dissipated. Banks have been bailed out and are bigger than ever. Nobody has paid for the economic crimes that brought the world to the brink during the financial meltdown of 2008.
The hardest thing for me to take from the movie was a scene where Reich is at a meeting of workers discussing whether or not to unionize. The utility in question, Calpine, is reducing worker benefits and downsizing it's workforce. In the tense meeting, he is exhorting the workers to unionize, that being the only way for workers to have a voice or to protect their salaries, benefits and livelihood.
There is a misguided worker who speaks up. He feels that the company has always "treated him well", and that he understands why the company needs to do what it is doing. He says that if he were "smart enough, but I'm not", he'd be on the management side. To him, the workers are entitled to nothing more than what the company says they are entitled to.
This sad exchange totally captures the world we are living in today. A world where huge swaths of people have been convinced, brainwashed, into sheepishly acting and voting against their own self interest because they totally believe the lie that Saint Ronald foisted upon them, that "trickle down supply side" economics works and is a morally superior system. They unquestioningly believe that one day, they too will own a mansion on the hill and bask in the glory of modern unregulated capitalism.
The movie is a call to action, with it's attempt to rally support for corrective policies and initiatives. Reich himself claims to be optimistic about being able to start the ball rolling on these changes. I hope he succeeds, and I'll be voting for every progressive program that comes down the pike.
I just don't feel optimistic about it. The big trends are big for a reason, and there are too many ignorant people allowing these trends to continue.