Sundance 2013 Review: Inequality for All

'If you wonder how countries and governments can keep making bad decisions, Inequality For All explains how it happens.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

I really hope all these documentaries about the financial crisis can reach enough people to sew the seeds for some social change. The audience is more limited but if just a few people are inspired to be the change we need to see in the world, maybe it’ll happen.

This documentary follows economist, professor and former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in his university lectures on the economic crisis. He’s hoping to reach a few hundred students a semester, and now the audience of those with enough disposable income to watch movies and go to film festivals. It’s not An inconvenient Financial Truth though. The documentary illustrates Reich’s classroom topics with real world examples, on location and with stock footage, showing how families cope, and a few billionaires who regret contributing to this problem (and some who don’t too).

It may help that I agree with Reich, but this is an illuminating explanation of how we got here. It’s still the CEOs’ fault, but this movie holds them accountable for specific actions going back to the ‘70s, so that gives us a lot more to make sense of than just abstract blame. It’s important for people to understand this so they can see the patterns repeating themselves. Every new step seemed like a good idea at the time but had unintended consequences.

Spoiler alert for the actual economy, but Reich traces things back to the ‘70s when certain political decisions began to be made. No surprise, the Reagan policies had a big impact, and deregulation, the mortgage/housing bubble and speculative investments. However, no crisis is the result of only one cause, so it’s also the influx of women joining the work force, families requiring two incomes, increases in work hours and families borrowing against their houses.

This is all very important history that is often buried in rhetoric and emotion, but Reich is very funny about it. It’s an entertaining film, and if you wonder how countries and governments can keep making bad decisions, Inequality For All explains how it happens. It wasn’t just abstract bad luck. Some people at the top were playing a trick on us, some people in government were misguided, it was a series of wrong thinking and bad decisions, motivated by self-interest rather than the greater good but we all have to work together to fix it. This movie gives me hope.

For example, women joining the work force was a triumph for feminism, but families getting used to double incomes meant that single incomes for either gender spiraled downward. That’s not sexist, it means we have to think further ahead than just “Yay, gender equality!” We also have to think, “Let’s make sure we compensate for doubling the work force so we don’t run everybody into poverty.”

It is a problem of critical thinking, and decision makers either couldn’t or didn’t anticipate the consequences of those decisions, so they became someone else’s problems. Reich calls them bubbles that keep bursting. I would compare them to pyramid schemes. Doubling the work force will work for now, doubling our work hours will work for now, but we always end up at the bottom of the pyramid. Inequality for All is an entertaining guide for people to be informed of bigger picture issues, perhaps beyond those that relate specifically to them, with examples of better alternatives.

I ended up reviewing the economic crisis more than the movie but it is a testament to filmmaker Jacob Kornbluth that I am so engaged in the discussion. That is the power of film, when I can live the sequel, which will hopefully be better than the original economic crisis. 

Photo Credit: Svetlana Cvetko

Make sure to check out all of Crave Online's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival here!

And check out these other reviews from Sundance 2013:

Who is Dayani Cristal?; starring Gael Garcia Bernal
Two Mothers
; starring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts
Austenland; starring Keri Russell
Emmanuel and the Truth About Fishes; starring Kaya Scodelario
Don Jon's Addiction; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson
Virtually Heroes; produced by Roger Corman
Breathe In; starring Felicity Jones and Guy Pierce
Blue Caprice; starring Isaiah Washington and Tim Blake Nelson
Fill the Void; starring Renana Raz
Running From Crazy; featuring Mariel Hemingway
Wrong Cops; starring Steve Little
Hell Baby; starring Rob Corddry
Stoker; starring Nicole Kidman
Escape from Tomorrow; shot without permits at Disney World
Before Midnight; starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
We Are What We Are; starring Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner
Afternoon Delight; starring Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple
Ass Backwards; starring Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael
I Used to Be Darker; starring Deragh Campbell
Magic Magic; starring Juno Temple
Prince Avalanche; starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch
Sweetwater; starring January Jones, Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris
Crystal Fairy; starring Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffman
S-VHS; sequel to found footage horror film V/H/S
Lovelace; starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard and Sharon Stone
The East; starring Brit Marling and Alexander Saarsgaard
After Tiller, about abortion doctor George Tiller
Citizen Koch, about The Koch Brothers and campaign finance contributions
Gangs of Wasseypur, a 5 1/2 hour Indian crime epic
In Fear, a horror movie set entirely within a car
The Rambler, starring Dermot Mulroney
What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love, about a school for the blind and deaf
Upstream Color; starring Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz


Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.