Even the most pointed documentaries occasionally need to show exactly what they’re jabbing at. The intriguingly wonky Free Lunch Society takes a distinctly favorable look at the concept of an Universal Basic Income, drawing copiously from the past—as well as a few ominous glimpses down the road—to make its case. The lack of any real opposing viewpoints, though, make it tough to dispel the aura of propaganda.
Framed as a report from the distant future (complete with a vaguely Siri-sounding narrator), director Christian Tod’s film explores the idea of citizens receiving a living wage from the government, referencing examples such as the ongoing oil payments to Alaskan residents, economic experiments conducted in Namibia and Switzerland, and the White House’s scuttled attempt at redefining welfare in the '70s. (Viewers should prepare themselves to feel a brief twinge of admiration for Richard Nixon and Donald Rumsfeld.)
Even with all the data on display, Tod happily also finds the time for some memorable semi-digressions, such as what the development of a Jeopardy-playing robot might eventually mean to the upper and middle classes. Even more interesting is the discussion of whether people would still find value in their jobs under this new system, or instead just, to quote one deadpan economist, “disappear into the woods with their hammocks.”
Fascinating as all the number-crunching is, however, it becomes apparent as Free Lunch Society progresses just firmly it stacks its chosen deck, with the voices against limited to a couple of quickly dismissed sound bites. That said, when viewed against the current backdrop of growing economic inequality and ever-more-apocalyptic tax plans, the information compiled here still makes for a pretty compelling argument, no matter how one-sided the delivery may be. To parrot one interviewee, what have we got to lose?
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