So I was watching a horror movie last night. It is called ‘The Apartment’ with Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurry and many others, written directed and produced by Billy Wilder. It came out in 1960, at the end of the black-and-white era.
At the time, it was produced as a light comedy. Since then however, much has changed.
For example, Bud, Jack Lemmon’s character (whose apartment the film is about) is one of approximately 10,000 employees at an insurance company, making about $95 per week. His precious apartment (due to its location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, close to Central Park) rents for about $110/month.
I didn’t watch it through, skipped around. But basically the higher-ups in his company take advantage of him, calling him names similar to drudge, and treat him poorly. He sits at a desk among a huge sea of desks on the 18th floor. They time when each floor can leave, so as to not overwhelm the elevators. The elevators are run by uniformed employees (including Shirley MacLaine’s character), the switchboard is still manually operated, etc..
So, let’s review.
This middle-aged man has a job of medium skill/intelligence, at a similar level as thousands of other employees, which is not yet much automated or supported via technology. He rents a wonderful apartment in a prime location, for just over 25% of his salary.
He is comfortable financially, isn’t conscious of that, and concerns himself with moving ahead. Presumably the other thousands of people he works with are also comfortable.
We know this – the 60’s were a time of widespread prosperity. It just hurts to see the characters so unaware of it. Kind of like in ‘Our Town’ how the people in the graveyard are aware of the people alive taking everything for granted.
My primary concern though is how we’re going to appear to people in 50 years. Will it seem to them that we have it amazingly well? That is what would be horrifying.
And that scenario is not very far-fetched, according to the book everyone is reading that I finally picked up: ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ by Thomas Piketty (called by some “an Alexis de Tocqueville for the 21st century”.)
This article in the New Yorker describes Pinketty’s beliefs that the consequences of staying on our current course are ‘potentially terrifying.’ Piketty’s main point – growth of capital (in the hands of the rich) is higher than growth of the economy, resulting in permanent, ever-larger income disparities unless something is done.
So now I have my own copy of Piketty’s ‘Capital’, and I look forward to writing about it further in coming weeks and months. My initial reactions to the actual book itself: it’s big! Hardback of course only right now, and officially has 685 pages. Of course, the index starts at 671, the ‘contents in detail’ (?) list on page 657 (list of text headings), and general ‘Notes’ and references etc.. on page 579. So the actual ‘conclusion’ of the main text is on page 577.
I typed in a small section of text to one of those readability sites, it assigned a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 49 (scale of 0 to 100, higher score indicating more readable). I notice just skimming that he does often state what he is going say or what he has said, provides lots of navigational clues as he’s going, there are lots of visual data items as well.
I’m excited to finally have it in my hands – kept hearing Piketty this and Piketty that the last several weeks. Finally looked him up, and came to understand that this book has broken all sales records for a book on economics! It is actually number one on multiple bestseller lists. There are suggestions that this book could actually play a significant role in changing the course we’re on. I sincerely hope so!