Our documentary film series begins
French economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has been hailed as one of the most important economic texts of the past decade. Over 700 pages of analysis, Piketty lays out how the wealth-to-income ratio is rising around the world and projects a future that looks a lot like the 19th-century aristocracy. But rather than grind through all 700 pages of “Capital,” we’re going to watch the movie version: The 2019 eponymous documentary from director Justin Pemberton is our choice for this month’s Econ Extra Credit film series.
We’re kicking off our 2021 project with an economic history lesson — fitting, we thought, given the themes it shares with the first chapter of the textbook we read together around this time last year, “Economy, Society, and Public Policy.”
“The capitalist revolution made the escape from poverty possible,” the textbook authors wrote. But it was accompanied by “unprecedented global economic inequalities” and, in many parts of the world, “unequal access to growing affluence led to social unrest and demands for a new political system: democracy.” The push and pull between capitalism and democracy remains dynamic today.
“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” is available to watch on Kanopy (a video service that’s free for public library card holders), as well as on Netflix or (for a fee) on Amazon Prime, YouTube and other services. The film runs 01:42 and contains good music, compelling graphics and plenty of interviews with Piketty and other economic historians. Like Piketty’s book, the film focuses more on earlier centuries than it does on the one referenced in the title — but the parallels to our present moment are clear.
Next newsletter, David will offer a few of his main insights and takeaways from the film. Meantime, we’d love to hear from you — your immediate reactions, questions and what you thought the film did well or what it missed. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Later in January, we’ll share some of your thoughts here.
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