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Justin Pemberton’s documentary, based on the bestselling book by French economist Thomas Piketty, tells us a story no less depressing or gruesomely hypnotic for being so familiar – like observing a slo-mo driverless car crash from the passenger seat. Piketty’s contention is that in the 21st century wealth has become more and more concentrated in the form of capital, owned by a minuscule few who sit happily on its colossal growing income – like the aristocrats of pre-revolutionary Europe and non-revolutionary Britain – and that the politically galvanising forces of the Industrial Revolution and vast democratising movements of the 20th century – the New Deal, the welfare state, bank regulation, rent controls etc – are increasingly looking like a blip.
After a slightly perfunctory look at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism, the film takes us through the triumph of capitalism and its egregious excesses, this with the help of bling montages that reminded me of the opening credits to HBO’s TV show Succession. These excesses include the super-rich global investment in property, that one area which has fulfilled the Reaganite dream of “trickle down”: it inflated property prices from top to bottom, creating gorgeous nest eggs for silver-haired boomers while putting property ownership way beyond the reach of most twentysomethings.
There are shrewd comments from observers including Piketty, the FT’s Gillian Tett, Paul Mason, author of PostCapitalism and economic historian Francis Fukuyama – whose reputation has evidently survived his contention from 30 years ago that the USSR’s collapse meant the triumph of liberal democracy and the “end of history”. It is an engaging film, although Piketty’s suggestion of a progressive wealth tax is surely one that a huge number of countries would have to sign up to. And one important issue is overlooked: the environment. At any rate, Piketty’s picture is no less dismaying for being so lavishly detailed.
• Capital is in cinemas from 25 September.
Source: The Guardian
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