Feb 21, 2014

Piketty and Pop Culture

This piece was a little bit tongue-in-cheek:
The French economist Thomas Piketty has a new book coming out soon, Capital in the 21st Century. It is a great work, a fearsome beast of analysis stuffed with an awesome amount of empirical data, and will surely be a landmark study in economics. It also references The Aristocats, a 1970 animated Disney film about some upper-class cats who stand to inherit a fortune.
But there's actually kind of a genius technique there. Piketty uses pop culture references throughout the book (and not just Disney films, mind, but also Balzac and Austen) to show how the logic the economic system percolates down through a society. Austen's day was a time of extreme rentist inequality, so in her books the whole of upper-class life revolves around securing a big enough fortune to live "comfortably" on the interest (i.e., with 20-50 times the average income), because even profession work (like being a lawyer) didn't account for nearly so much money. It's a brilliant toehold not just for cultural analysis, but as a road into the general thesis.

Anyway, it's a great book. Well worth a look when it comes out.

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