I just finished reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, the economics work du jour that has been called the most important book of the century. Rather than take the time to collect my thoughts and organize them into a coherent, sensible review, I decided I’d just dump my initial impressions in a scattered fashion and let you wade your way through. I’m not sure why anyone would even by interested in what I have to say about the issue (as opposed to people much more informed than I am), but this is the Internet and being unqualified never stopped anyone before!
—It seems to me that, in all the discussion of Piketty’s book, a lot of people are misconstruing the argument he’s really making. The summary you’ll see a lot is that Piketty is saying inequality has been getting worse for the last 30 years or so. And that is sort of what he’s saying, but that’s not the crux of his argument, and he’s very open about the lack the clarity on that issue. Indeed, he says, “It is by no means certain that inequalities of wealth are actually increasing at the global level.”
Still, inequality is the central theme of the book, and Piketty paints a harrowing portrait. But the full picture he creates is not just one of the present and recent past. He goes all the way back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century and illustrates a few key points. The first is that inequality decreased substantially throughout the twentieth century. This is kind of obvious, but his next point is crucial: This decrease was essentially a historical accident. It was the result of a global Depression and two world wars of unprecedented scale, which destroyed a ton of wealth* and, as Piketty puts it, “wiped the slate clean” for the generation after World War II.
*The way this happened was not as obvious as you might think. Some of it was just the physical destruction of the wars, sure, but it also came from nationalizations caused by the war, loss of European colonies, and the huge national debts and subsequent inflation that followed. Piketty explains it all better than I could.
In other words, the decrease in inequality wasn’t some natural result of the forces of capitalism, but the legacy of specific disasters we’re only now emerging from.
The Year of Breaking Bad
This was a big year on television. Netflix and Amazon added a bunch of new shows and whole new model for making them. A bunch of big shows, from 30 Rock to Breaking Bad, aired series finales. And what the hell happened to Homeland? The result was a lot of turnover on my list of best episodes. Some shows, like Louie, didn’t air in 2013, and some, like Community, simply dipped in quality. Anyway, here are the top ten episodes of the year. With spoilers, obvs…
10) “The Marry Prankster” — Happy Endings
Happy Endings did not get one. It was cancelled unceremoniously after a season that was kind of a letdown. But it was still one of the funniest shows on TV until its dying day. “The Marry Prankster” was probably the best example of its absurdist humor to air in 2013, from the Usual Suspects homage (“I’m not as dumb as I am”) to the crafty one-liners (“Classic Brad panic move, like when 9/11 happened and you full on supported the War in Iraq…” “We were lied to!”). Happy Endings will be missed, though some of the cast have found new homes on Fox sitcoms.
What we read while waiting until midnight PACIFIC time…
Here are the best episodes of 2012. Obviously this contains spoilers:
10) “Argentina” — Dexter
One of the nicest surprises on television this year was Dexter’s renaissance in quality. After some misguided years and a true nadir of a season in 2011, Dexter finally embraced a real progression in the story—having Debra find out about her brother’s “hobby”—and was all the better for it. The tension between Deb and Dexter led to some of the show’s best scenes ever. And since Dexter didn’t spend the entire season chasing his usual Big Bad Guy, Season Seven actually had decent subplots, including great guest performances from Ray Stevenson and Yvonne Strahovski. In “Argentina,” the show was even able to address the weirdest element of last season—Deb’s crush on her brother—in an impressive and compelling way.
What we read while we all just got along…
Mad Men’s recently wrapped-up fifth season was possibly its best season yet, and at least its best since season two. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the most ambitious season thus far because it dealt most directly with morality—and was the least preoccupied with subject of happiness.
Most of the time, Mad Men is all about happiness: Is happiness an illusion? Is it ever sustainable? Are the things that make people happy the same? Etc. This can be compelling, but it tends to get self-indulgent and repetitive quickly.
What made Season Five so different, though, was that it took as its starting point the idea that Don Draper, the perpetually self-loathing protagonist, was actually happy. He was finally in a happy marriage; he had a cordial relationship with his ex-wife and he was getting along with his kids; his company was relatively safe, and his relationships with most of his co-workers were good. This was so jarring to some viewers that they seemed intent to find problems where none existed. Every fight with he had with Megan supposedly hinted at the faulty foundation of the marriage—even if the fight was minor and they made up afterwards. People seemed completely unwilling to accept the idea that Don could be happily married and generally content; it was so unlike the Don we were used to. Continue reading
What we read after Carlos Beltran’s “foul ball”…
- The best part about watching the Stanley Cup Finals (GO DEVILS!) is listening to Mike Emrick, sports’ master of verbs.