Income inequality is on the forefront of the collective America brain. With economists ringing alarm bells, protestors occupying available slivers of public land, and families feeling the squeeze on a daily basis, the American status quo hasn’t been so vocally scrutinized in decades. With so much coverage, it’s easy to get lost in the details—statistics and scandals, history and histrionics. Leave it to Annie Leonard, the activist and cartoonist behind the popular series “The Story of Stuff,” to clear up a how the richest nation on earth can’t afford to pay its bills.
In “The Story of Broke,” Leonard’s most recent film, she explains in broad strokes how American tax dollars get turned into corporate pocket lining—and stolen from the people and infrastructure that need government support most. America is hardly the hard scrabble, heartless country that politicians make it, Leonard contends, “So next time you have an idea for a better future and someone tells you, ‘that’s nice, but there’s no money for that,’ you tell them we’re not broke. There is money, it’s ours, and it’s time to invest it right.”
“The Story of Stuff” series has a way of oversimplifying to introduce issues to a broader audience. For example, “The Story of Broke” paints a rose-tinted, neoliberal picture of how thoughtful government spending solves unemployment: “Instead of subsidizing garbage incinerators, let’s subsidize real solutions, like zero waste. Raising the US recycling rate to 75 percent would create one and a half million new jobs” [emphasis mine].
Sunshine on America’s liberal shoulders aside, Leonard’s strongest takeaway is that tax dollars come from everyday citizens and, to borrow the language of corporations, the customer is always right.