By Frances O’Neill Zimmerman
In the years before Ronald Reagan, income taxes on the One Percent were regularly in the range of 70%, including when Republicans Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were in the White House.
Amiable President Reagan brought us the exaggerated and toxic notion of “welfare queens” on foodstamps. He also fired all the striking air traffic controllers without a peep of opposition and lowered income taxes on the rich to 28%, benefitting his plutocrat LA pals. In 2012 the GOP’s own Richie Rich, Gov. Mitt Romney, paid 13% in taxes. And in 2012 Warren Buffett paid less income tax than any of his clerical help at Berkshire-Hathaway.
We’re talking serious income inequality here and now in the US of A. This is the powerful, engaging and lucidly presented thesis of “Inequality for All,” an excellent documentary film by liberal economist, former Secretary of Labor and UC Berkeley professor, Robert Reich.(Landmark Theaters in Hillcrest and La Jolla Village.)
To his great credit, Reich has not forgotten “Occupy.” He intersperses a lecture on the grossly unequal distribution of income in America to an overflow hall of young Cal students with interviews of working people struggling to make ends meet . There are couples with two jobs, no savings and $75 in the bank; working moms spending what they make on childcare and food for the table; folks facing layoffs and considering forming a union; a millionaire pillow-manufacturer who helped finance the film and believes that excessive CEO compensation relative to workers’ pay is damaging the democratic fabric of the country.
Reich shows us a suspension bridge-shaped graph with two stanchions — two high points of tremendous wealth concentrated in a few hands in the years 1928 and 2007. And then he documents the devastating cumulative litany of our troubles since 1980 — flattening wages; replacement of American workers by technology, robotics and offshore NAFTA labor; decline of labor unions; deregulated financial markets; easy credit and rising personal indebtedness; dramatically increasing cost of once-free public education; pay-to-play influentials and lobbyists undermining democracy by pouring limitless money into political races since the Supreme Court affirmed the “Citizens United” decision.
The film is interspersed with Reich’s references to his diminutive physical stature, to his beloved Mini Cooper automobile and fondness for the hopefulness of teaching over politics. He describes how being under five feet tall has influenced his world view and made him what he has become today — the pre-eminent spokesman for every bewildered, beleaguered, hard-working American man and woman.