– UMSL joined colleges across nation for “Inequality For All” screening and discussion event focused on the middle class and income inequality on February 20. The event included a webcast discussion with economist and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
PHOTO: About 100 people turned out for the screening of documentary “Inequality for All” and webcast discussion with Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on February 20. Photo by Sarah Myers for The Current 2014 ©

 

By Cate Marquis, A&E Editor for The Current

The University of Missouri-St. Louis joined universities across the nation for a documentary screening and discussion that focused on income inequality and the declining American middle class. The Sundance award-winning documentary “Inequality for All” was shown on February 20, followed by webcast discussion with the documentary’s creator, political economist and former United States Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. The free event took place in the J.C. Penney Conference Center Auditorium at 4 p.m. and was sponsored on campus by the Des Lee Collaborative Vision at UMSL.

“Today’s screening of ‘Inequality for All’ is part of a national event sponsored by the American Democracy Project. UMSL has been affiliated with ADP for over a decade, working to create and offer opportunities related to civic engagement on our college campuses,” Patricia Zahn, director of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision, said.

The American Democracy Project is also a co-sponsor of “News at Noon,” a monthly current events discussion co-sponsored by The Current. The Des Lee Collaborative Vision “brings together educational, cultural, governmental and social service institutions to establish programs and share resources to benefit the St. Louis community.

The documentary is a “passionate argument on behalf of the middle class,” according to its website http://inequalityforall.com. “The 400 richest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined,” Reich notes in the documentary. While the middle class has continued to prosper in other developed nations, such as Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Sweden, the middle class has been in decline in this country. The United States now has the greatest level of income inequality among developed nations. Income inequality has become a frequent topic of political discussion in recent months.

Turnout for the UMSL event was good. “We had about 100 people, a good mix of students, faculty and staff with a few community members,” Zahn said.

Robert Reich, the force behind the film, led a discussion by webcast after the screening. Reich was Secretary of Labor under President Clinton but also served in the Ford and Carter administrations. He is now a professor of public policy at University of California – Berkeley and was a Rhodes Scholar who studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford University.

The film was shown at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking for its director Jacob Kornbluth. The film was distributed theatrically last year by the Weinstein Company and played locally at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema.

The documentary is based in part on Reich’s bestselling book “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” A study guide for the documentary describes the film: “In the wake of the U.S. economic crisis, the widening gap between the rich and the poor has gained unprecedented public awareness. [The documentary’s] narrator and guide, UC Berkeley professor and noted economic policy expert Robert Reich, helps us understand how the extreme inequality we are now facing has roots in economic and policy changes that began over 30 years ago.”

As the study guide notes, “Reich sees this disparity as a threat to democracy. ‘Inequality For All’ explains why. There is no vilifying of the rich here. Instead, ‘Inequality For All’ investigates how policy changes have stacked the deck against the middle class.”

The documentary uses graphics, new and archival footage and economic facts to explain how this economic unbalance came about and where the country is headed if that course is not changed. The film shows how policies that benefit the middle class also benefit the country as a whole, even the wealthy, through something known to economists as a “virtuous circle.” The film also offers some of Reich’s personal story as well as “his unwavering passion to return our society to one in which the American dream is possible for everyone.” The film’s website has background information and resources for further research on the issue.

©  The Current 2014