6:01pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Robert Reich on America's Widening Income Gap: It Must Be Talked About for 2016 (Q&A)
Could a 2013 Oscar long-listed documentary about America's economic woes impact the outcome of the 2016 presidential election? Its director and famous subject hope so.
Last week, I met up at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles with the director and subject of RADiUS-TWC's Oscar long-listed documentary feature Inequality for All, Jake Kornbluth and economist/economics professor/former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, respectively, to discuss the film and its focus: the causes and effects of the widening disparity between the income of America's wealthiest citizens and that of everyone else in the country.
"It’s hard not to be grandiose about it, but I’ll level with you," Reich, 67, told The Hollywood Reporter. "Our hope is that we change the national conversation in time for it to affect 2016 and beyond, so at least the issue of inequality is right there, front and center, and even the Republicans have to talk about it."
Shortly after President Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996, Reich decided to step down from his position in the Cabinet to spend more time with his young children. Not long thereafter, he began teaching at Brandeis University, where his signature course was "Wealth and Poverty." In 2006, he left Brandeis for the University of California, Berkeley, where he continued to teach the course. It was out west that Kornbluth, 40, an indie filmmaker with two narrative features under his belt, first connected with Reich and convinced him to tape several YouTube videos about the American economy and then, eventually, to cooperate with a documentary feature about his life and work.
The resulting film, Inequality for All, had its world premiere at January's Sundance Film Festival, where it received standing ovations after each of its screenings -- which only grew louder when Reich stepped into the spotlight after the credits began to roll -- and where it was awarded the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking. RADiUS-TWC picked it up there and released it theatrically on Sept. 27. Over the month-and-a-half since, it has received rave reviews (it's at 91% on RottenTomatoes.com) and performed extremely well at the box-office (grossing $1.15 million so far, more than any issue-oriented doc since Waiting for Superman three years ago).
Harvey Weinstein, whose The Weinstein Co. is the parent company of RADiUS-TWC, emailed me the following statement upon learning that I would be speaking with Reich: "As I told Bob [Reich] when we met at Sundance, Inequality for All hones in on the most important issue of our time. The film is resonating across the country -- demonstrated by the fact that it has already crossed $1 million (a rarity for an issue-oriented doc). RADiUS has done an outstanding job getting the film out there and I can't tell you how many people have come up to me asking for an intro to Bob. He's our new movie star!"
We'll find out soon if Academy members are as bullish about the film as Weinstein: voting to determine the short-list from which the five best documentary feature Oscar nominees will ultimately be chosen closes on Friday. In the meantime, here is the transcript of my conversation with Kornbluth and Reich.
I don’t know if you know this, but I was one of your students at Brandeis...
REICH: Oh, is that right?
In "Wealth and Poverty," actually...
REICH: No kidding? All right! [high-fives Scott] That’s fabulous.
Yeah, when I first heard about the film I didn’t realize it was actually sort of structured around that class. So when I started to watch it, I was—
REICH: It’s the direct lineal descendant.
KORNBLUTH [to Scott]: How had it changed? How had it? Could you tell?
I think you’ve certainly incorporated multimedia more...
REICH: Yeah, I think I used a projector at Brandeis. Also, the classroom was smaller.
Yeah. That looks like a huge class at Berkeley...
REICH: It was 805 students with a waiting list. For next term I’ve got already 500. So it’s a big difference.
KORNBLUTH: It’s pretty amazing to step into that class and feel it. You know, the energy of it, it was like a concert almost.
REICH: What year were you?
I graduated in 2008...
REICH: I left Brandeis in--let’s see, it must’ve been 2005.
Yes, I think I was a freshman when I took your class. And I agree with what Jake said -- it was such a fascinating course that parents of students who were taking the course who lived in the tri-state area would sometimes drive up and just stand in the back of the classroom so that they could listen in. It was a big treat.
KORNBLUTH: Well, I had no idea, honestly, when we made the movie that the class was going to be a part of it. I just showed up at the class. It wasn’t the first thing we shot. We were just shooting some of it. And I wanted to take the class kind of, you know?
REICH: Yeah, I said to Jake, you know, “If you really want to get into this and you want to understand this subject, you ought to come to the class.”
KORNBLUTH: And we brought cameras. And then it felt like the spine of the movie, eventually.
REICH: And I said to the students, “Look, if you don’t want your face on the film, I’ve gotta—for the privacy law and everything else, sit up in that back area. Otherwise, you’re fair game."
And was this shot this past year?
And how long have you been teaching the class? I'm sure it has evolved a lot over the years...
REICH: Well, it started at Brandeis. It started as a graduate class in the Heller School [for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis]. I didn’t really have the plan in my head. I just wanted to integrate politics, economics and sociology. It wasn’t being done anywhere. And it was clear that inequality was getting out of control. It could’ve been ’98. Yes, it was ’98 because it was my second year at Brandeis. And inequality--I thought it was a big deal. Now, frankly, nobody else in those days thought it was a big deal.
Because everybody was riding high, right?
REICH: Everybody was riding high but, you know, the trends were worrying. And so, by your year, by 2005-- You remember. I mean, I was talking about how dangerous these trends were towards the economy.
REICH: You know, and that there was going to be a day of reckoning because you just couldn’t have that much—
KORNBLUTH: Do you have a memory of that?
Absolutely. I have my notes, still. They’re in Connecticut, but I kept everything.
REICH: So that’s—
KORNBLUTH: That pre-dates the crash. That’s three years before the crash.
Totally. And so, by the time I graduated in May 2008, things were, I think, ominous, but nothing had really happened. When was the big crash?
REICH: Oh, the big crash was that summer or fall.
Yeah, so that’s when I came out into the real world...
KORNBLUTH: Wow. Welcome to your professional life.
REICH: It’s still going on. I mean, the students who graduated in 2009 and ’10 got the brunt of it and they’re still having problems. The 2012-ers that are in the film did a little bit better, but you know, it’s still a huge problem.
And when you start out so behind in a way like those ’09, 2010, sometimes you don’t catch up.
KORNBLUTH: That’s right.
How do you make up for if you don’t have work experience? After a couple of years, as things get a little better, they’re going to hire people who do...
REICH: Now you’ve got retirees who are clogging up the job queue because they don’t want to retire. And these young people have got a lot of student debt and, you know, they’re not going to move out. They’re going to move back in with the parents. So a lot of the stuff that I was talking about with your class and, you know, sounding the alarm about when nobody was listening—
KORNBLUTH: Well, see, that’s the thing about the film. I was having the same conversations that you’re talking about having with your friends. I’m older than you, but we were just as worried. And this is the story, right? I mean, this is what’s happening to people. And man, it’s really hard if you haven’t taken this class or don’t know this stuff to get it. It just really is. It’s one of those rare times when there’s the biggest story happening right under our noses, and people kind of know it, but—
REICH: It’s really the story of the generation.
KORNBLUTH: Yeah, it absolutely is.
REICH: I mean, it’s the biggest story of their generation, if not, for the country. And I think that’s why we’ve had such a response from young people, from the recent graduates, who don’t normally go to movies. I mean, you know, people between 22 and 35 are not big moviegoers—
KORNBLUTH: Not documentary-goers!
REICH: Well, certainly not documentary. They’ll go to blockbusters. But they’re not even that big into blockbusters. I mean, you’ve got a little bit of a dip. Teenagers will go. But, the college crowd is hard to get. We're getting huge responses from college audiences.
I don’t know if you can even anticipate with this Congress but what do you think the next couple of years hold? Is there any hope for any kind of meaningful change? Or, is this just the way it’s going to be?
REICH: Well, at least for a time -- that is, the next few years -- I don’t see much changing, honestly. I think the big question mark is 2016. And our hope -- now, it’s hard not to be grandiose about it, but I’ll level with you -- our hope is that we change the national conversation in time for it to affect 2016 and beyond, so at least the issue of inequality is right there, front and center, and even the Republicans have to talk about it.
KORNBLUTH: And they haven’t been resistant so far, really. Like, even though I think you’d imagine that this would play out in a more partisan way, I haven’t really-- I’ve talked to plenty of Republicans who think it’s a big issue, too. My alma mater is Michigan State. I just went back and screened it there, and it was a pretty split audience, politically. But, you know, both sides of the aisle said, “We’re terrified," because it’s the economy, right? I mean, they’re worried about what’s going to happen to their jobs. That’s really what the people are thinking about. And I think that plays across the aisle.
REICH: You know, we had a number of screenings with the top one percent before the release. I screened it in Silicon Valley -- I mean, everybody was top one percent and half of them were Republicans, in fact, more than half of them -- and they gave a standing ovation. You know, people said, “I have not thought about it this way.” And so it’s important to reach beyond people who would normally be receptive.
The Tea Party obviously has impacted things in a lot of ways, but in terms of the way that the Republican Party's approach to economic issues, what do you see as their impact? It seems to me that they are less about big corporations and things that the establishment Republicans has always looked out for. So in that sense, is that actually one positive impact of the Tea Party?
REICH: Well, as the film shows, the Tea Party grew out of the same Wall Street bailout that the Occupy Movement grew out of, and it is really just the mirror image. I mean, the anger, frustration, suspicion, distrust of big centralized power, whether it’s big corporations or big government -- it is exactly the same. And I think that even with the Occupy Movement, the sentiment is still there -- I mean, the expression is not there, but, as I go around the country, people are still fairly pissed. And so I don’t think the division is left or right as much as it is populist versus establishment.
But have these movements forced the establishment to be a little more receptive to populist concerns about the things you guys focus on in the film?
REICH: Well, we don’t know yet, but you know, the question is, how bad does the economy have to get, in terms of slow -- I mean, ridiculously anemic -- growth? And how bad does the politics have to get, in terms of polarization and big money dominating everything, for there to be a tipping point? I mean, I personally think we’re very close.
Well, if we had defaulted, what do you think would have happened?
REICH: Oh, that would’ve been truly economic Armageddon.
But it seems like a lot of these guys were ready to do it and are ready to do it again...
REICH: I don’t think they’re ready to do it again. I think cooler heads are prevailing, but I think the question you just asked me a moment ago is really the key question. That is, what about reforms that are going to spread prosperity more broadly and get us back to some sort of a balance? I mean, things have been so unbalanced since the recovery began, in ways that I couldn’t have foreseen in 2005, when you were taking the course. But, 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the top one percent -- 95 percent. I mean, that is not sustainable. And yet, there’s nothing slowing that down.
KORNBLUTH: That’s been a big difference since the film came out. I remember as we were making it, the economy had crashed, and there was, of course, a hope that the economy would recover, but questions about how to handle it. The basic premise of the film was that if the structure wasn't fixed, then the recovery would be stagnant, and that’s exactly what’s happened. It’s grown in the Bay area, where I live -- people have rebounded quite a bit -- and in LA and certainly in certain other areas it’s doing a lot better. But when I go back to the Midwest, where I lived, it’s not. It really isn’t and they’re really feeling it. And not only that, but it’s been so long now that nothing’s worked out that they’re just feeling less hopeful about it, you know? They feel a little bit let down and you can feel the frustration really building. So, I have certainly noticed that in the last few years.
REICH: Well, you know, I’m getting emails every day from places where the film is being shown -- like Boise, Idaho and Tulsa and Cincinnati -- and people say we nailed it, and it can’t go on and that they’re at their wit’s end. Well, you know, they don’t describe themselves as Republicans and Democrats and I don’t think most of them think of themselves as that. They’re just basically struggling and they think that this recovery is a sham.
KORNBLUTH: But you know, I gotta say, my favorite comments have come from the people who are feeling the economic squeeze but who didn’t think that they could "get it" [as in, understand the issues at the center of the film]. It feels like too big of a topic for them. They don’t really like economics and politics. And then they say, “Oh my God, there was all this information, but I still was able to follow it.”
Right. Well, guys do make it understandable...
KORNBLUTH: Accessible, yeah.
REICH: Well, Jake really deserves huge credit. I mean, my respect for you [Kornbluth] is boundless because, you know, to take an entire course and books and boil it down to 90 minutes and make it, you know, as compelling-- I don’t know. We had an ongoing debate -- a friendly debate -- during the course of putting it together about how much of my personal story should be in it, because you know, I’m only interested in the story of inequality. But you [Kornbluth] convinced me that the audience has to relate emotionally to the messenger.
[The interview continues after the jump...]
Jake, how did you get into economics and what led you to reach out to Secretary Reich about doing this?
KORNBLUTH: Well, I guess I got into it primarily because I grew up [in rural Michigan] poor, with my mom making between $9,000 and $15,000 a year and raising a family of four. I got free lunches, so every year I had to bring in the form that showed how much she made, so that's how I kind of knew; otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have known. I didn’t feel poor, but I was aware that we didn’t have any stuff. I always felt like we were an educated family. I always felt like I could "hang," you know, kind of intellectually or conversationally. But, when you grow up poor, everybody makes you aware of it, so I was always kind of aware of who got what and why and thought about it probably all the way through my life. Like, it’s a lifelong interest that is just about why it’s broken out this way and why people have stuff. That’s the best way I can describe it. But I was more of an armchair thinker about this stuff than a serious one. I was an artist but I wasn’t an activist. I’ve never done anything political. This is my first documentary. And I didn’t know anything about economics, frankly, when I made this -- no formal training. But I woke up after the crash of 2008 and I thought that nothing else seemed to matter. I got obsessed with watching cable news and I felt like the more I watched about why the crash had happened, the less I understood. And so at some point it seemed like if you’re a filmmaker, you should pick up a camera and do something about it. So it was a genuine passion project in that way. It wasn’t motivated. I had no background or reason to think I could do it, but I just felt like, "Maybe I can point a camera at somebody who does know what they’re talking about and we can do something about it." I actually met Bob because we both live in the same town, and I was trying to cast him in a comedy, is the truth of the matter.
KORNBLUTH: It didn’t work out. But, immediately, I think we just got along. And I had all these questions about the economy that I was sort of formulating, and he had some interest in how he could reach younger people. For some reason, he thought maybe they weren’t reading his books. So we had sort of mutual interests, and I started making these short videos -- two-, three-minute long -- and putting them on the Internet. And lots of people watched them! Hundreds and thousands of people started watching these videos, which were very simple, and it just gave me this sense that there was an audience for this stuff that went beyond-- That other people were like me. They kinda wanted to "get" this stuff. They didn’t feel like they were getting it, for whatever reason, from the media and the news, the way it was going. And the big question was, "What’s happened to our generation? What’s happened to the economy?" This almost felt too big to do. It took me a year of just reading, because even when you’re sort of educated about this stuff and you’re reading the news, when you try and make a movie about it, that’s like a level of understanding way past like, "What are taxes? How do they supplant?" And all this stuff that I lost months of my life trying to understand. But it felt like you needed to put the dots together. It wasn’t one thing -- just unions or campaign finance reform or Wall Street reform; it was the way they all kind of work together, and the way economic inequality has been growing and was kind of affecting my life. It kind of defined what had happened to me and my friends. And so that felt like the story. And when I heard this story -- that it’s bad for everybody, that even the rich would be doing better without it -- when the framing of it changed for me, so it was not like, "These are the bad guys" and the "us versus them" story that I’d been told -- that’s when I thought it was a movie because I thought, “Okay, you can connect the dots and show it’s maybe not adversarial, but it is in everybody’s best interest. That’ll maybe change the way people think about it and maybe it’ll change the types of solutions that are on the table to fix it."
REICH: And where did you [Jake] get that framework?
KORNBLUTH: From you. Oh, yeah. The book Aftershock that the movie’s based on—
REICH: The book actually emerged from the course--
KORNBLUTH: Which I didn’t know. I read the book. And actually, you [Reich] gave me a manuscript pretty early on. And it was one of those perfect frameworks. I mean, he [Reich] is such an unbelievable writer and clear thinker. You think you get a story but then when you see it laid out so clearly and simply for you, it’s just-- That’s when the "a-ha" sorta hits you. And I’ve had that a bunch of times reading his work. In fact, when I was trying to understand this stuff and read everybody’s writing on it, his was so clear. It is so to the point.
REICH: I’m curious, in 2005, Scott, I think I was beginning to formulate the notion of "coping mechanisms" -- that is, with stagnant incomes, how is it that people keep going and the economy keeps going without a recession, you know? One is women going into the workforce. Two is everyone works longer hours. And the third coping mechanism, which I remember talking about with you guys, is going into debt. And I remember saying, “But this is going to come to an end. You know, this is not sustainable.”
I’m pretty sure that was the case. I'll be going to my parents' for Thanksgiving, so I’ll get my class notes and check. But, in the meantime, I have to ask you: over the years, other people must have wanted to make documentaries about you. (a) is that the case? And (b), what convinced you that this was the documentary project to actually cooperate with?
REICH: That’s a good question. People have wanted to make documentaries, but I didn’t want to do a documentary about me. I mean, what’s the point? And secondly-- I didn’t really— There were a total of maybe three other documentarians who have ever approached me, but I didn’t have a relationship with them. I didn’t have a working relationship. I didn’t trust them. I didn’t know them. Jake and I had done a series of these videos, and we got to know each other and really like each other. I mean, I respected him enormously. I trust him. And you can’t do this sort of thing without trust. I didn’t even realize how much of my life I was putting in his hands. But I basically did.
KORNBLUTH: You know, it goes both ways. It was my first documentary, so I might not have also known what I was asking for out of him. It was more than I thought. I didn’t realize it was going to take so much of your [Reich's] time. I know you didn’t.
REICH: I didn’t either. [laughs]
So, aside from when you shot in the classroom, when else were you together?
REICH: We did a lot of shoots that were outside the classroom. One, where I’m talking directly to the camera. Jake made it look very easy and seamless, but boy, it’s really hard work.
KORNBLUTH: Well, it wasn’t clear what the story was when we started. There was no script. I mean, it reads now like, "Oh, you’re just telling the story of income inequality," but we didn’t know how the sections were going to break out. We didn’t know what the focus of the film was, really. So it was a really long process of delving in and figuring that stuff out.
REICH: I wrote something that we called "the spine," which was sort of the basic element of the argument. But, very quickly, Jake realized that it was didactic -- too didactic for film -- and it didn’t flow naturally. But, you know, Jake got me to talk to the camera without a script and in a way that was much more conversational and emotionally real than I would ever be normally capable of doing. I mean, I've done a lot of talking to cameras over the last 30 year but, you know, normally it’s a different format. And then, whenever I had any meetings, union meetings or Washington meetings, I would tell Jake and ask him and he'd come. Or, you know, Alan Simpson and I were doing something together and I'd say, “Why don’t you come." Alan and I are good friends. And Fred Wertheimer is an old friend. "Join me. I think there may be something in it.”
KORNBLUTH: That’s true. And a lot of them didn’t work and a lot of them did. We shot I think -- with the archival footage and the film footage -- hours of media that we obviously turned into an hour and a half movie.
As far as choosing what made it into the film and what didn’t, did you both have input, or did you [Reich] just say, “Just do what you can with this?”
REICH: Well, on the stuff that was personal, I really didn’t want to get involved. I mean, I knew I had an informal veto--Jake was not going to do something that I--
REICH: But, it would’ve been inappropriate for me to get involved. As far the argument, though, the substance, we talked.
KORNBLUTH: You know, there is an important point, though: I had to make the argument for myself, even though it was clearly his argument and his life that we were dealing with, because I had to sort of stand behind each one of the points in the story. That felt like an enormous burden in the making of the film, because it’s not just, like, pointing the camera and reflecting light. You have to kind of make this argument in a way that you can stand behind. That was enormously challenging because I had to figure out what was the story that I thought it should be, but also have it be completely true to his worldview. I mean, at the end of the day, you [Reich], I think, were very-- He was very trusting -- scarily so -- and generous with his time.
REICH: Extraordinarily so. [laughs]
KORNBLUTH: [laughs] I think it wound up feeling, at the end of the day, like a wonderful and true collaboration. But each one of us was in our own worlds for much of it. He had his agendas of what he wanted to see happen in the film and I had mine. And then we sort of talked about it, you know, like, "Well, what do you want?"
REICH: I have worked, as you can imagine, both in government and academia, with huge numbers of people on a lot of projects, and I’ve never had as pleasant and lovely a working relationship. I mean, really.
That’s great. One thing that I wanted to ask you is this: You could have gone and done what a lot of former government officials do and sort of sell your soul to become a lobbyist for a considerable amount of money, but instead you became a teacher and it seems to me, from the film, that the reason you want to teach is that it offers you an opportunity to reach a lot of people, and especially young people. So, with regard to this film, was the main appeal that you could do that on a much larger scale?
REICH: Exactly, exactly. I mean, I chose to teach. I choose to teach because it is exactly as you put it. It is the best way of seeding the future. I mean, "the multiplier effect." You know, I teach 800 or 500 graduates a semester; you know, there are going to be x-percentage of them who are going to take these ideas, and even if they’re not going to become President or an official, they’re going to be there and they’re going to do something with it. So yes, doing a film is a natural extension. And, you know, I don’t think I expected a response. I mean, first of all, getting in to Sundance—
That’s a big deal...
REICH: That was a big deal, and I was sort of, "Wow!" You know? And then getting a jury award, I thought, “Holy cow. What is this?!”
KORNBLUTH: Yeah, it was fun because you [Reich] didn’t really know, you didn’t know like, what to expect.
REICH: I didn’t, really.
You [Reich] went with him to Sundance, right?
REICH: Yeah. And then having, you know, Sony Pictures, and Magnolia, and Harvey Weinstein and everybody, you know, wanting to [distribute] it, I thought, “This is really interesting and wild!”
KORNBLUTH: Yeah. I think that was an interesting point that you made, though, because it took me a long time to learn that the reason -- the underlying reason [for why Reich does the work that he does] -- is that he wants to educate, he wants to reach out and educate people. It took me a while to sort of land that, but it sounds like you picked up on it.
Well Jake, for any first film to get into Sundance is an awesome accomplishment. But did you ever imagine that your film would be this well received, where it not only gets into Sundance, but it wins a jury award there and has now grossed over a million dollars nationwide? That doesn’t happen for issue docs...
KORNBLUTH: For a doc? Right. Actually, somebody said it’s the best box office for an issue doc since Waiting for Superman. That’s pretty good. No, it’s my first documentary. I’ve made fiction films before that have been at Sundance, but I just never made a documentary. I didn’t know what I expected from this. What was great about it is I didn’t care. I thought I wanted to do it because I kinda couldn’t think of anything else. And it was like that sort of, you know, mad passion -- just like, "I want to tell this story. I want to do it right." And that’s sort of full-stop, you know? And what’s weird is that most of the film business isn’t that. I mean, people pretend it is, but it’s not that. But in this case, from very early on, I knew that I was driven to do it and that was kind of all there was to it. But then when we were getting ready to go to Sundance, I was like, "I hope Bob can come up. I would love to see a standing ovation." But they don’t usually give standing ovations at Sundance. Like, it’s rare, you know? He doesn’t know, by the way, that it’s rare. But I told my wife, "I kinda secretly hope we get one. I don’t want to say that out loud." And then, the first screening, you know, we go up there and it’s just like, "What’s going to happen?" And this eruption, you know?
REICH: Every screening, every screening.
KORNBLUTH: I think it was honestly because he [Reich] was there.
REICH: I don’t know.
KORNBLUTH: I think when you see the film and you see him afterwards, it’s a pretty emotional experience.
REICH: I’m still getting emails from around the country from places I would never have imagined people saying that there was applause at the end.
So it's playing tremendously even when you're not there...
REICH: Jake's background is comedy and I think that’s one of the reasons why this film works. Because I like comedy. And, you know, right from the beginning, people told us they laughed, and they cried, and they had a really strong emotional reaction. You know, people usually can’t absorb a lot of facts, but if they’re emotionally connected they can.
KORNBLUTH: The anecdotal evidence is somebody comes up and says, “All at dinner I was complaining to my friend that I didn’t want to go see this. I didn’t wan to go and see something heavy, you know? Like, the economy, politics, you know, come on. I want to go out and have a good time. They dragged me to the movie. And now it’s my favorite movie of the year." You know? Those are the funny ones.
REICH: I still think it should’ve been titled, Sex, Violence and Inequality.
KORNBLUTH: Yeah, Sex, Violence and Inequality.
What would you like people to leave the movie and do? And what, realistically, do you think we are in for for the next four or five years?
REICH: Well, I want to change the actual conversation, not only making this issue understandable to people but also putting that in absolutely the center of the debate over the economy and domestic policy and everything else, every place else we’re going, including our democracy. You know, one of the hats I wear is a chairman of the group Common Cause. It’s non-partisan, but it is dedicated to making our democracy work by getting big money out of politics. And I think the scenarios are either, over the next four, five, six years, we get serious about reforming the system or the demagogues on the right or left or both take over. It’s a big blame game and it can get out of hand. Blame games -- when people are angry, frustrated and scared -- we know, historically, can get ugly.
KORNBLUTH: The best of these kinds of movies release endorphins because they change the way you think because your brain feels like it opens up and sees things in a new way. And, coming out of movie, I hope that people understand this issue better. When I’ve seen stuff like this, it sort of filters down in big ways and small ways. It changes my worldview in a big way, but then maybe I change some of my actions, some day-to-day things that don’t feel big but, I think, taken accumulatively, matter. These are personal things, though. That’s on a very personal level, and this is a very big issue. So it’s really interesting to think about how changing the way you think about a big issue can filter down and into people.
REICH: But that’s the only way society changes, Jake. I mean, look at the Progressive Era, look at the '30s, look at the '60s. These all were premised on people changing the way they thought.
KORNBLUTH: Yeah. Well, I mean, we hope it goes there and that it filters in, gets in a little bit. I think it’s hard because it’s so polarized out there and I think it’s hard for people to take in new stuff, but I feel like it’s getting in, you know, somewhat. And I hope that for the next four years-- I mean, look, I was afraid when we were making the film that the economy might not come back if we don’t fix the structural problem. And you know, it’s been a bunch of years since the Great Recession, and it still hasn’t for most of America. And so yeah, like Bob said, what happens if we just don’t fix it, if we just leave them behind? Like, where does that play out? I mean, when you’re a young person and you don’t get a job for a bunch of years, your earning power for your whole life is diminished. That’s terrible. That’s a terrible outcome. This issue, of all of the other issues that seem big to us, feels the most kind of day to day relevant. Everybody’s so worried about what’s happening to their pocketbook. Even if you think you’re sort of middle-class or doing well, I know there’s tons of anxiety out there, and I don’t think we’re doing anything about it. I don’t think the conversation is up to the challenge that the problem is presenting, and that terrified me just as somebody who’s not in the day to day policy discussions. So, I don’t know where that leads us in 2016. But, I’m a little worried.
REICH: Well, you know, as somebody who has dedicated a big chunk of his life to public policy and improving this country, the false debates we’re having probably scares me almost more than anything. So, you know, my books, the class, the movie are all, you know, ways of hopefully getting the national conversation back on track.
Well, I thought it was great, the movie, and I really appreciate you guys doing this and it was great to see you, Mr. Secretary...
REICH: It was great to see you.
KORNBLUTH: Thanks for coming out.
REICH: Yeah, thank you. I can almost remember you in that class.
REICH: I can.
There were too many...
REICH: You sat on the left of me.
Yes. That is true. 50/50 guess... [laughs]
REICH: I remember!