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Fat cats keep getting fatter

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The movie “Inequality for All,” with former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, is a humorous, enlightening expose on America’s widening income gap in which Reich answers the questions: What is happening with the distribution of income and wealth in the U.S.? Why? And, is it a problem?

Reich notes some inequality is inevitable, but the U.S. has by far the most unequal distribution of income of developed nations. In 1978, the typical U.S. male worker’s income was $48,000, adjusted for inflation, while someone in the top 1 percent made $390,000. In 2010, a typical male worker made $34,000 while someone in the top 1 percent made $1,101,000. Today the richest 400 Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined, and the top 1 percent take in more than 23 percent of total income.

Reich says consumer spending comprises 70 percent of the U.S. economy, and the middle class is what keeps it going. Concentration of wealth in increasingly fewer hands weakens the economy for everyone.

Billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer explains in the film that our economy can’t meet its growth potential because fewer people can afford to buy goods and services. Hanauer says someone calling themselves a “job creator” is not describing the economy or how it works; they are making a claim on status, privilege and power; that for the rich, the current economic arrangements are righteous and justified, but the reality is “Rich guys like me are not the job creators. Our customers are the job creators.”

Hanauer believes we need to replace trickle-down economics with middle-out economics. He notes that everyplace on earth where you find prosperity, you find massive investments in the middle and lower class. He says the most pro-business thing you can do is help middle class people thrive.

Inequality undermines democracy, especially when there are no limits on what corporations or the wealthy can spend, because with money comes capacity to control politics. The rich abuse their wealth by lobbying for bailouts, subsidies and low tax rates that further entrench their wealth.

Hanauer, after revealing he paid an 11 percent tax rate on an eight-figure income, says: “When you give rich people tax breaks, all in the name of job creation, all that really happens is the fat cats get fatter, and of course that’s what’s happened over the last 30 years.”

The movie ends with an upbeat message: We make the rules of the economy, and we have the power to change them.

For more key points and statistics from the movie, go to www.shwindow.org/resources.

“Inequality for All” is available on DVD, Netflix, iTunes or on Demand. Ask your librarian if it’s on hand for viewing. Invite some friends over to watch it with you, and then discuss how inequality affects all of us, how it threatens our democracy, and what we can do about it.

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