Income inequality is one of the most prevalent issues in American politics.
In the coming 2020 American presidential election, income inequality under our current capitalist system has led to widespread debate across the political spectrum. While some want to retain or even expand our less regulated, more corporate laissez faire capitalistic system, others argue for increased fiscal regulation and an expansion of socialized public services. A number of modern films have highlighted the consequences of our failing capitalist systems, such as in Margin Call (2011) Big Short (2015), and 99 Homes (2015). This documentary, Capital in the Twenty First Century, deal into the history of the development and mindset of capitalist systems highlighting trends that can still be seen today. Based on the book of the same name, the film works as an engaging history lesson regardless of one’s political leanings, while keeping an ideologically focused narrative on capitalism.
The strongest element of the film is its focus on history. The film ties capitalist ideology to income inequality from the 18th Century to the present day. These scenes help provide cultural context as to how capitalism initially became popular while effectively integrating archival footage and film clips to act as a cultural backdrop. The director, Justin Pemberton, makes the history of capitalism accessible especially for people who are relatively inexperienced studying economics. The pacing is well handled, and the interviews are detailed and focused without getting bogged down in boring data.
The film falls flat when addressing the nature of privilege tied to inherited wealth in the modern day. I found those scenes less interesting because they felt like preaching to the quire, pandering to the crowd that was already skeptical about the effectiveness of capitalism. Thankfully this is only a small portion of the film, and the subsequent scenes about the growth of tech companies were informative.
Overall, I think the film would appeal to anyone interested in learning more about income inequality regardless of one’s political leanings. Since the film is so focused on providing the history behind capitalism, it’s really informative. I don’t think this film will necessarily change people’s minds, but it does provide interesting historical points worth thinking about while evaluating an economic system’s effectiveness.
Capital in the Twenty First Century is currently available to rent on Kino Marquee. Rental fees support independent theaters.