CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich keeps protesting that America is being damaged by erosion of the middle class and ever-greater concentration of wealth among billionaires of the top 1 percent elite.
First, Reich attacked this social gulf in a book titled Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. Now he has distilled his protest into a documentary film titled "Inequality for All."
On the PBS Newshour, Reich -- now a University of California professor -- said "I really bore myself" because he is "trying to get across a point that nobody is listening to, and the situation gets worse and worse."
Reich indicated that the United States is becoming like a Latin American banana republic where the rich live in guarded palaces, surrounded by oceans of peasants.
"Even if you don't particularly worry about issues of fairness or public morality," he said, the spreading income chasm is harmful "because no economy can continue to function when the vast middle class and everybody else don't have enough purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing without going deeper and deeper into debt. Seventy percent of the entire economy is basically consumer spending. And if consumers don't have the wherewithal to spend because all the money's going to the top ... then the economy is almost inevitably destined to slow."
Reich pointed out that nearly one-fourth of American children now live in poverty, while "the wealthy have so much political power, they've been managing to reduce their tax bills and enlarge their tax benefits."
He notes that rich Americans formerly paid income taxes of around 70 percent, but Republican President Ronald Reagan cut their rate to 28 percent.
His film shows a graph that looks like a suspension bridge supported by two high towers. The first high point represents wealth concentration at the top in 1928, just before the historic stock market crash and Great Depression. The second tower indicates top riches today.
The former labor secretary quotes legendary 20th century Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said:
"We can either live in a democracy, or we can have a huge amount of wealth concentrated in a few hands, but we can't have both."
In a 1770 poem titled "The Deserted Village," Irish novelist-playwright Oliver Goldsmith wrote:
"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates and men decay."