EEC: Documentary Studies

David Brancaccio’s thoughts on “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”

David Brancaccio Jan 14, 2021
Heard on:

Hello,

One of the beautiful things about documentary film is value for time spent. “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” took a manageable one hour and 43 minutes of my time. Its inspiration, French economist Thomas Piketty’s widely cited 2014 book of the same name, comes to 700 (and four) pages. Yes, I can speed-read, but not that fast, and that’s not the point. The persistence of economic inequality over the centuries is the point, along with the argument that we are headed quickly for a society where a few people are wicked rich and most are poor, with no middle class.

New Zealand filmmaker Justin Pemberton’s movie is eclectic: Piketty mixed with Jane Austen, “Les Misérables” and Monopoly. The lean-forward-in-your-seat moments come fast and furiously. How about the finding that two-thirds of people in advanced countries are on track to be poorer than their parents?

Or, back to Monopoly (the game, not the antitrust issue) and peer-reviewed experiments out of the University of California, Irvine, showing that when people are rewarded randomly in a game, they develop a sense of entitlement — consistently coming to believe their achievements are due not to luck, but to their superiority. This is one of the reasons inequality is so hard to fight.

While I concede we will be watching more entertaining docs in the coming months (we’re considering one about the cutthroat business of truffle hunting), “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” makes its points vividly. Viewing it will turn you into the inequality authority at your next Zoom gathering.
— David

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” is available to watch using the library service Kanopy, as well as on Netflix or(for a fee) on Amazon Prime, YouTube and other services.Next week, we’ll share some expert analysis as well as reactions from you.

Email us your thoughts and hot takes at morningreport@marketplace.org. And watch this space for next month’s movie selection.

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