The Philosopher’s POV MUST SEE MOVIE OF THE WEEK: INEQUALITY FOR ALL

November 4, 2013 1 Comment

Professor Bruce Russell has written a riveting review of a MUST SEE FILM.  It’s stay at local theaters was very brief( of course), but the film will be available on Netflix this month.  He has called it the “must see movie of the year”!

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Inequality for All is a documentary directed by first-time documentarian Jake Kornbluth and featuring Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. Near the beginning of the film Reich says that it will address three questions: (1) What is happening in the U.S. economy and, in particular, what inequalities in income and wealth currently exist; (2) Why has it happened, that is, what caused us to be in this economic situation; and (3) Is it a problem?

Here are some of the facts that Reich offers as evidence that there are huge inequalities of income and wealth in our country: (a) the top 400 richest people in the country have more total wealth than the total wealth of the 150 million people at the bottom of the ladder; (b) the average CEO’s salary is 350 times that of the average worker.

Why are there such huge disparities in income and wealth? There are several causes, but Reich cites globalization, technology, and the decline of unions as leading factors. By sending jobs out of the country, corporations were able to drive wages down. At home jobs were lost when advances in technology allowed employers to use fewer workers to produce the same amount of goods. By breaking the strike of the air traffic controllers, Ronald Regan helped weaken unions that were already under attack by corporations who could threaten to send jobs out of the country if workers unionized. When workers’ wages were higher, 35% of workers were represented by unions and now it is only 7% (a comment by Reich in Q&A following the showing of the film in Berkeley, CA, Oct. 30, 2013).  Another contributing factor was the increasing cost of pubic higher education. In the 1960s in-state tuition at UC Berkeley (where Reich now teaches) was free; in the 1970s it was $700/yr.; now it is $15,000/yr. The reason that it increased so much is a direct result of the decreasing percentage of the tuition costs covered by state legislators. More education is positively correlated with higher income.

So there are now huge inequalities of income and wealth in the country, and Reich cites various factors that explain how they came about. But so what? Why is this a problem? Robert Nozick was a philosopher at Harvard in the late 20th century and wrote a widely read book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. In it he gave what has now become a famous example among philosophers. It’s called the Wilt Chamberlain example. Nozick imagines that the Philadelphia 76ers decided to pay Wilt a huge salary to get him to play for their team. To finance this salary, they add a one dollar surcharge to each ticket, and Wilt will receive a bonus equal to the total of the ticket surcharge for the season. Assume a million fans are willing to pay the extra dollar. Wilt gets an extra million and becomes a very wealthy man. As long as no force or fraud was involved, who can object to the huge inequality in wealth that results between Wilt and many of his fans? If this particular exchange between Wilt’s fans and Wilt is fair, why aren’t all market transactions fair if no force or fraud is involved in the transactions?

The answer is that there can be undesirable systemic effects when millions of such transactions occur even though no such bad effects result from any individual transaction. And what are the bad systemic effects that inequalities in income and wealth can produce? Well, the first bad effect is the decrease in well-being in the lives of poor and middle class families. Reich argues that to cope with declining wages, families adopted three strategies: (i) more women went to work so that the family had a second wage earner; (ii) people worked longer hours, both husband and wife in families; (iii) families took out home equity loans on their homes whose value seemed to increase yearly without limit. Of course, the latter led to foreclosures when people lost their jobs when the economic bubble burst in 2008.  So now the middle class is even worse off than it was.

So inequalities have had bad effects on human well-being and flourishing.  They also threaten democracy. How? Well, wealthy individuals and corporations (especially with the infamous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United) can hire lobbyists to influence legislation that favors them. Wealthy individuals have also been contributing more and more to the campaigns of their favorite candidates hoping that it will give them access to those potential legislators. And inequalities have caused political polarization between those who represent the haves and the relatively powerless have-nots. That results in the sort of legislative stagnation that we’ve seen in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives. It also creates anger and animosity between groups within our society. Further, it kills hope. As inequalities increase, upward mobility decreases. Reich claims that in the U.S. 42% of those born into poverty cannot hope to emerge from it in their lifetime while this is true of only 25% of those born into poverty in Denmark and 30% in Britain. Fair equality of opportunity allows those who work hard and follow the rules to do well, but fair equality of opportunity is compromised in a society with huge inequalities in income and wealth.

Things are bad! But what’s a body to do? Reich and Kornbluth encourage a multitude of approaches. People need to organize to strengthen unions again, to increase taxes on the wealthy, to increase funding of public higher education, etc. However, Reich supports capitalism and does not think that his proposals amount to declaring war on the wealthy. That’s because there will be a bigger economic pie to divide when the purchasing power of the middle class increases. Even if the percentage of the total economic pie the wealthy will receive is smaller than it now is, their slice of the bigger pie will then be bigger than their current slice of a smaller pie. As Reich says, “this is not a zero sum game.”

I fear that I have made Inequality for All sound like a dull lecture delivered by a pointy-headed academic economist, full of nothing but statistics and graphs. Nothing could be further from the truth! The film includes interviews with real working-class people and wealthy egalitarian individuals, including billionaire Warren Buffett (whose income tax was 17.7% while the average for his workers in his office was roughly 33%) and a pillow manufacturer who makes 10-30 million a year. It also shows clips from Reich’s popular Wealth and Poverty class at UC Berkeley which has an enrollment of about 700 students! Reich provides lots of self-deprecating humor (often directed at his diminutive height of 4′ 10″, plus a smidgen!) and a touching story about a best friend from high school who was tortured and killed while registering voters in the south. There is something for everyone in this documentary: history, humor, heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories, evidence about inequalities, explanations of their origins, and even something for philosophers who are concerned with fairness and social justice.

This is a Must See Movie of the Year, not just of the week! Please see it, and tell two friends to see it, and tell them to tell two friends, and so on. Reich is upbeat and optimistic that we can make a change. One way to start is for each of you to see this film and to encourage at least two people to do the same. Don’t wait because it may not be playing at the Royal Oak Main for much longer.

           

Inequality for All is a documentary directed by first-time documentarian Jake Kornbluth and featuring Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. Near the beginning of the film Reich says that it will address three questions: (1) What is happening in the U.S. economy and, in particular, what inequalities in income and wealth currently exist; (2) Why has it happened, that is, what caused us to be in this economic situation; and (3) Is it a problem?

Here are some of the facts that Reich offers as evidence that there are huge inequalities of income and wealth in our country: (a) the top 400 richest people in the country have more total wealth than the total wealth of the 150 million people at the bottom of the ladder; (b) the average CEO’s salary is 350 times that of the average worker.

Why are there such huge disparities in income and wealth? There are several causes, but Reich cites globalization, technology, and the decline of unions as leading factors. By sending jobs out of the country, corporations were able to drive wages down. At home jobs were lost when advances in technology allowed employers to use fewer workers to produce the same amount of goods. By breaking the strike of the air traffic controllers, Ronald Regan helped weaken unions that were already under attack by corporations who could threaten to send jobs out of the country if workers unionized. When workers’ wages were higher, 35% of workers were represented by unions and now it is only 7% (a comment by Reich in Q&A following the showing of the film in Berkeley, CA, Oct. 30, 2013).  Another contributing factor was the increasing cost of pubic higher education. In the 1960s in-state tuition at UC Berkeley (where Reich now teaches) was free; in the 1970s it was $700/yr.; now it is $15,000/yr. The reason that it increased so much is a direct result of the decreasing percentage of the tuition costs covered by state legislators. More education is positively correlated with higher income.

So there are now huge inequalities of income and wealth in the country, and Reich cites various factors that explain how they came about. But so what? Why is this a problem? Robert Nozick was a philosopher at Harvard in the late 20th century and wrote a widely read book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. In it he gave what has now become a famous example among philosophers. It’s called the Wilt Chamberlain example. Nozick imagines that the Philadelphia 76ers decided to pay Wilt a huge salary to get him to play for their team. To finance this salary, they add a one dollar surcharge to each ticket, and Wilt will receive a bonus equal to the total of the ticket surcharge for the season. Assume a million fans are willing to pay the extra dollar. Wilt gets an extra million and becomes a very wealthy man. As long as no force or fraud was involved, who can object to the huge inequality in wealth that results between Wilt and many of his fans? If this particular exchange between Wilt’s fans and Wilt is fair, why aren’t all market transactions fair if no force or fraud is involved in the transactions?

The answer is that there can be undesirable systemic effects when millions of such transactions occur even though no such bad effects result from any individual transaction. And what are the bad systemic effects that inequalities in income and wealth can produce? Well, the first bad effect is the decrease in well-being in the lives of poor and middle class families. Reich argues that to cope with declining wages, families adopted three strategies: (i) more women went to work so that the family had a second wage earner; (ii) people worked longer hours, both husband and wife in families; (iii) families took out home equity loans on their homes whose value seemed to increase yearly without limit. Of course, the latter led to foreclosures when people lost their jobs when the economic bubble burst in 2008.  So now the middle class is even worse off than it was.

So inequalities have had bad effects on human well-being and flourishing.  They also threaten democracy. How? Well, wealthy individuals and corporations (especially with the infamous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United) can hire lobbyists to influence legislation that favors them. Wealthy individuals have also been contributing more and more to the campaigns of their favorite candidates hoping that it will give them access to those potential legislators. And inequalities have caused political polarization between those who represent the haves and the relatively powerless have-nots. That results in the sort of legislative stagnation that we’ve seen in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives. It also creates anger and animosity between groups within our society. Further, it kills hope. As inequalities increase, upward mobility decreases. Reich claims that in the U.S. 42% of those born into poverty cannot hope to emerge from it in their lifetime while this is true of only 25% of those born into poverty in Denmark and 30% in Britain. Fair equality of opportunity allows those who work hard and follow the rules to do well, but fair equality of opportunity is compromised in a society with huge inequalities in income and wealth.

Things are bad! But what’s a body to do? Reich and Kornbluth encourage a multitude of approaches. People need to organize to strengthen unions again, to increase taxes on the wealthy, to increase funding of public higher education, etc. However, Reich supports capitalism and does not think that his proposals amount to declaring war on the wealthy. That’s because there will be a bigger economic pie to divide when the purchasing power of the middle class increases. Even if the percentage of the total economic pie the wealthy will receive is smaller than it now is, their slice of the bigger pie will then be bigger than their current slice of a smaller pie. As Reich says, “this is not a zero sum game.”

I fear that I have made Inequality for All sound like a dull lecture delivered by a pointy-headed academic economist, full of nothing but statistics and graphs. Nothing could be further from the truth! The film includes interviews with real working-class people and wealthy egalitarian individuals, including billionaire Warren Buffett (whose income tax was 17.7% while the average for his workers in his office was roughly 33%) and a pillow manufacturer who makes 10-30 million a year. It also shows clips from Reich’s popular Wealth and Poverty class at UC Berkeley which has an enrollment of about 700 students! Reich provides lots of self-deprecating humor (often directed at his diminutive height of 4′ 10″, plus a smidgen!) and a touching story about a best friend from high school who was tortured and killed while registering voters in the south. There is something for everyone in this documentary: history, humor, heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories, evidence about inequalities, explanations of their origins, and even something for philosophers who are concerned with fairness and social justice.

This is a Must See Movie of the Year, not just of the week! Please see it, and tell two friends to see it, and tell them to tell two friends, and so on. Reich is upbeat and optimistic that we can make a change. One way to start is for each of you to see this film and to encourage at least two people to do the same. Don’t wait because it may not be playing at the Royal Oak Main for much longer.

           

Inequality for All is a documentary directed by first-time documentarian Jake Kornbluth and featuring Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. Near the beginning of the film Reich says that it will address three questions: (1) What is happening in the U.S. economy and, in particular, what inequalities in income and wealth currently exist; (2) Why has it happened, that is, what caused us to be in this economic situation; and (3) Is it a problem?

Here are some of the facts that Reich offers as evidence that there are huge inequalities of income and wealth in our country: (a) the top 400 richest people in the country have more total wealth than the total wealth of the 150 million people at the bottom of the ladder; (b) the average CEO’s salary is 350 times that of the average worker.

Why are there such huge disparities in income and wealth? There are several causes, but Reich cites globalization, technology, and the decline of unions as leading factors. By sending jobs out of the country, corporations were able to drive wages down. At home jobs were lost when advances in technology allowed employers to use fewer workers to produce the same amount of goods. By breaking the strike of the air traffic controllers, Ronald Regan helped weaken unions that were already under attack by corporations who could threaten to send jobs out of the country if workers unionized. When workers’ wages were higher, 35% of workers were represented by unions and now it is only 7% (a comment by Reich in Q&A following the showing of the film in Berkeley, CA, Oct. 30, 2013).  Another contributing factor was the increasing cost of pubic higher education. In the 1960s in-state tuition at UC Berkeley (where Reich now teaches) was free; in the 1970s it was $700/yr.; now it is $15,000/yr. The reason that it increased so much is a direct result of the decreasing percentage of the tuition costs covered by state legislators. More education is positively correlated with higher income.

So there are now huge inequalities of income and wealth in the country, and Reich cites various factors that explain how they came about. But so what? Why is this a problem? Robert Nozick was a philosopher at Harvard in the late 20th century and wrote a widely read book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. In it he gave what has now become a famous example among philosophers. It’s called the Wilt Chamberlain example. Nozick imagines that the Philadelphia 76ers decided to pay Wilt a huge salary to get him to play for their team. To finance this salary, they add a one dollar surcharge to each ticket, and Wilt will receive a bonus equal to the total of the ticket surcharge for the season. Assume a million fans are willing to pay the extra dollar. Wilt gets an extra million and becomes a very wealthy man. As long as no force or fraud was involved, who can object to the huge inequality in wealth that results between Wilt and many of his fans? If this particular exchange between Wilt’s fans and Wilt is fair, why aren’t all market transactions fair if no force or fraud is involved in the transactions?

The answer is that there can be undesirable systemic effects when millions of such transactions occur even though no such bad effects result from any individual transaction. And what are the bad systemic effects that inequalities in income and wealth can produce? Well, the first bad effect is the decrease in well-being in the lives of poor and middle class families. Reich argues that to cope with declining wages, families adopted three strategies: (i) more women went to work so that the family had a second wage earner; (ii) people worked longer hours, both husband and wife in families; (iii) families took out home equity loans on their homes whose value seemed to increase yearly without limit. Of course, the latter led to foreclosures when people lost their jobs when the economic bubble burst in 2008.  So now the middle class is even worse off than it was.

So inequalities have had bad effects on human well-being and flourishing.  They also threaten democracy. How? Well, wealthy individuals and corporations (especially with the infamous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United) can hire lobbyists to influence legislation that favors them. Wealthy individuals have also been contributing more and more to the campaigns of their favorite candidates hoping that it will give them access to those potential legislators. And inequalities have caused political polarization between those who represent the haves and the relatively powerless have-nots. That results in the sort of legislative stagnation that we’ve seen in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives. It also creates anger and animosity between groups within our society. Further, it kills hope. As inequalities increase, upward mobility decreases. Reich claims that in the U.S. 42% of those born into poverty cannot hope to emerge from it in their lifetime while this is true of only 25% of those born into poverty in Denmark and 30% in Britain. Fair equality of opportunity allows those who work hard and follow the rules to do well, but fair equality of opportunity is compromised in a society with huge inequalities in income and wealth.

Things are bad! But what’s a body to do? Reich and Kornbluth encourage a multitude of approaches. People need to organize to strengthen unions again, to increase taxes on the wealthy, to increase funding of public higher education, etc. However, Reich supports capitalism and does not think that his proposals amount to declaring war on the wealthy. That’s because there will be a bigger economic pie to divide when the purchasing power of the middle class increases. Even if the percentage of the total economic pie the wealthy will receive is smaller than it now is, their slice of the bigger pie will then be bigger than their current slice of a smaller pie. As Reich says, “this is not a zero sum game.”

I fear that I have made Inequality for All sound like a dull lecture delivered by a pointy-headed academic economist, full of nothing but statistics and graphs. Nothing could be further from the truth! The film includes interviews with real working-class people and wealthy egalitarian individuals, including billionaire Warren Buffett (whose income tax was 17.7% while the average for his workers in his office was roughly 33%) and a pillow manufacturer who makes 10-30 million a year. It also shows clips from Reich’s popular Wealth and Poverty class at UC Berkeley which has an enrollment of about 700 students! Reich provides lots of self-deprecating humor (often directed at his diminutive height of 4′ 10″, plus a smidgen!) and a touching story about a best friend from high school who was tortured and killed while registering voters in the south. There is something for everyone in this documentary: history, humor, heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories, evidence about inequalities, explanations of their origins, and even something for philosophers who are concerned with fairness and social justice.

This is a Must See Movie of the Year, not just of the week! Please see it, and tell two friends to see it, and tell them to tell two friends, and so on. Reich is upbeat and optimistic that we can make a change. One way to start is for each of you to see this film and to encourage at least two people to do the same. Don’t wait because it may not be playing at the Royal Oak Main for much longer.

           

The Philosopher's POV

One Comment to “The Philosopher’s POV MUST SEE MOVIE OF THE WEEK: INEQUALITY FOR ALL”
  1. Bruce Rrussell says:

    Hurry and see “Inequality for All.” It’s no longer playing at The Main in Royal Oak, but it is at the State in Ann Arbor until Nov. 7. Jolyn says it will be out on Netflix in Dec. That’s what Reich indicated in Berkeley in late Oct.

    It looks like my pattern of posting my comments twice continues! See above!

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