This is a paper I delivered to the Conference of the Popular Culture Association in the South / American Culture Association in the South in New Orleans, LA on October 3, 2014.
In the first half of 2014, two works that ranked high on measures of popularity were the public television period-drama Downton Abbey and the French economist Thomas Piketty’s 700-page book on income inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (although, according to statistics collected by Amazon on their Kindle users, it is also the least finished book of the year,[i] whereas Downton Abbey was the object of much binge-watching, but I only have anecdotal evidence for that, such as my own experience). Piketty’s book— “as much a work of history as economics” (33), as he describes it—reviews the history of income inequality in the 19th and 20th century and predicts its course for the 21st century. Downton Abbey takes place over some key moments in this history, including the periods of both the highest divergence and convergence of income inequality in the last two centuries among developed economies.
In this paper, I use Piketty’s book to explain some of the plot of Downton Abbey. Alternatively, my project could just as well be described as using Downton Abbey to illustrate some of the main ideas of Piketty’s book. However it is described, I hope what I do will enhance understanding of both works. I will also share Piketty’s predictions for the future of inequality and conclude with some observations about the beliefs that endorse it, both today and in the past.