Flat White

If lefties want to talk capitalism in the 21st century, can they at least get an honest, fresh critique?

10 December 2020

2:11 PM

10 December 2020

2:11 PM

First there was the book, now there is the “documentary” film version of French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century — French capitalism.

The book was marketed by the left as the correct line on growing inequality under capitalism and sold well as such, but it was in fact a description of the liberalisation of the previously heavily controlled French economy, made to look like universal principle.

This film goes a step even further and simplifies it into a universal description of human economic development. And then, worse again, it’s made by a New Zealander, from that terminal for ideas where they are often late, simplified, distorted and enthusiastically embraced.

The movie is on SBS On Demand and, subject to the above, recommended for people (everyone?) unlikely to read Piketty’s 700-page volume, but interested in it. But it’s not the real thing, although Piketty appears frequently.


What’s wrong with it? It uses video indiscriminately, so that fiction movies, including science fiction, are used as if evidence.

It uses as talking heads extremist thinkers who have been dug up from obscure sites to spout “huge”, “massive”, or other adjectives to abuse chosen targets.

It ignores, even as it presents, the considerable material global progress that capitalism has produced over the last few centuries.

And it takes the examples of the relatively declining British, New Zealand and French economies as if typical experiences of the last century.

It’s a good two-hour watch if you’re anti-capitalist to start with. Otherwise, you’ll just be irritated and switch channels.

Bob Catley, who was a professor and federal Labor MP, now sails quite a lot.

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