Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 29 min.
Our Advisories (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0
Our star rating (1-5): 4
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages…
Jeremiah 22.13 (also check out Jeremiah 6.13.)
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter.
Director Jack Kornblth’s documentary follows former Labor Secretary Robert Reich from his large lecture hall at the University of California Berkeley where he teaches economics to various points around the country, including Washington DC, as he spreads his message on behalf of the middle class. The message is simple, well backed up by charts and statistics: that the US has thrived economically when the gap between the middle class and the wealthy was small, and when, as has happened over the last decade or so, the gap widens to canyon-like proportions, the whole country suffers.
Backed by factory owner Nick Hanauer, Reich demolishes the myth that the wealthy are “job creators,” arguing instead that it is the middle class that buys the most clothing, appliances, cars, and other consumer products that keep our economy healthy. Mr. Hanauer, whose company manufactures pillows, says: “As a multimillionaire, I really don’t spend $500 a day on really expensive meals. A lot of times, [Chinese] take-out suits me just fine… I also don’t need 50 or a 100 pairs of jeans. Three suit me just fine.” The CEO earns 1000 times the money that a worker does, but, as he honestly admits, 40 or 50 of those workers, by spending on clothing and food, are the ones who really create jobs because they increase the demand for the products manufactured by the factories of the wealthy owners.
As in his book Aftershock, Reich deftly uses charts and statistics to support his arguments, which come across very well on a screen that favors visuals. He also injects self-deprecating humor into his serious presentations: he says that when President Kennedy was deciding on his Secretary of Labor he was on “the short list.” This is not a boast, but a comment on his own physical stature, he being just five feet tall (so that he often carries with him to speaking engagements a small box to stand on so he can be seen above the podium).
An interestingly, indeed, passionately, presented thesis, the film ends with a challenge for viewers to become involved in the political process that can turn around the present in which the middle class continues to diminish. Decla
ring that he is not fomenting class warfare, he points out that the wealthy also do better when the middle class is prosperous enough to buy the products of their factories. People of faith, aware that Jesus and the prophets often spoke of the wealthy and the poor, will find this documentary both interesting and useful in their own social justice ministries.
1. What do you think of Robert Reich’s argument that a healthy economy is impossible without a strong middle class?
2. How is his “suspension bridge” chart helpful for understanding what has happened to our society over the past eight decades?
3. He considers the period between 1947 and 1977 as “the golden years” for the middle class, with the gap between the wealthy and workers much lower than now (and income taxes on the wealth far higher). Some argue that he does not factor in that the US came out of WW 2 as virtually the only nation that did not need to rebuild its cities, this giving us an enormous economic advantage over such nations as Germany and Japan—and that once they, along with China, recouped their war-time losses, their competition changed the situation after the 70s. What do you think?
4. How are both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements both reactions to what has happened since the economic recession after 2007? How might a consideration of Reich’s arguments benefit both?
5. Were you surprised that millionaire Nick Hanauer agrees with Reich? How is he similar to Warren Buffet?
6. How are Reich’s concerns in line with the social justice teachings of the Scriptures? In addition to the James passage, apparently dealing with a congregational problem, see Malachi 3.5. Also, in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, how does Jesus reveal his position in regard to the two classes? (See Luke, in 6:17-49) In an electronic Bible you might do a word search: rich; poor; wealthy; widow; orphan; oppress.
7. How does Reich avoid the charge that he is not teaching class warfare? What do you think of his claim that the wealthy also would benefit from a strong middle class? Although he focuses upon the middle class, how might his arguments apply to the poor? Do you agree with those who argue that government programs, many now being cut or scaled back, bring dividends that more than justify their expenditures? How? The Wikipedia article “Poverty Reduction” offers a long and interesting article on this at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_reduction.
8. How is the film better on diagnosis than prescription? What might you, viewer and citizen, do to change the status quo, assuming that you agree with Mr. Reich that it needs changing?