Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2019)

*. I’m really glad they made this movie, as I was never going to read the book it was based on. Thomas Piketty’s surprise 2013 bestseller ran over 700 pages in its 2014 English translation and I was fine with just reading reviews that summarized the argument.
*. The main point, as I understand it, is that under normal operating conditions (i.e., without any crisis like a Great Depression or a World War) capitalism creates social and economic inequality on a scale that is unhealthy for a functioning democracy. Power and wealth become concentrated in a class of oligarchs and we fall into a state of social immobility.
*. Despite the best efforts to undercut Piketty’s findings, I think his analysis has been shown to stand up. In any event, it’s a point of view I’m in broad agreement with, leaving me to nod along with the talking heads who provide the play-by-play for the film version.
*. That said, I can’t say I learned very much here. The most interesting part was the discussion of a social psychology experiment that had people playing a rigged Monopoly board game. What’s more, we really only get to the twenty-first century in the last part of the film, the rest being taken up with a general economic history of the modern world that I didn’t think was always on point. The presentation follows what has become a uniform documentary style that mixes contemporary footage with archival material, music, and the aforementioned talking heads. Think of movies on similar subjects like Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar’s The Corporation and Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job. Contrary voices aren’t heard from and there is little if any attempt to present the data behind Piketty’s conclusions visually.
*. So a decent documentary on a very important subject, but not groundbreaking in terms of its technique and without the kind of bite I think you’d expect it to have. But if the facts are on your side you can indulge a bit of anger.

3 thoughts on “Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2019)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      The Monopoly game experiment really was interesting. They change the rules of the game so that only one person can possibly win, and explain this before they get started. Then after the player with the rules on his or her side wins they ask them why they think they won and they all say it’s because they played better or had a winning strategy or something. Even though they knew that the game was rigged in their favour.


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