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Monday, February 10, 2014

New World Order, Downton Edition

The Washington Post's chief economics policy writer, Steven Mufson, has an eight-point primer on how the financial travails of Downton Abbey's Grantham family and its servants reflect our current financial upheavals. 

Viewers should recognize their own precarious economic times in Mrs. Patmore's epic struggle to master the new technological advances invading her kitchen, Molesley's downward mobility from butler to footman, and Lord Grantham's inept investments that result in the loss of nearly all his wife's fortune. (Mufson points out that a 21st-century Lord Grantham would likely have fallen for subprime mortgages or perhaps a Bernie Madoff feeder fund. His son-in-law did talk him out of investing with that most compelling American businessman, Charles Ponzi.)

At least Lord Grantham--unlike, say, CEO Peter "Workers don't starve in a capitalist economy" Schiff--does feel a social and moral obligation toward the people working on his estate. He allows the son of a deceased tenant farmer to remain, and loans him the money to pay the back taxes.  

But Mr. Molesley's situation--during a time of 12 percent unemployment-- is perhaps most emblematic of the 21st- century precariat. The article quotes Harvard economist Eric S. Maskin: “I see Molesley as the 1920s counterpart of the contemporary highly skilled worker in manufacturing — left behind by changed circumstances." (h/t nakedcapitalism.com)

Meanwhile:  Pigs are to supposed to save the bacon of the Grantham family, as Lady Mary herself punned in last night's episode that had her mucking about in pig slop as she helps to pump and carry water to the newly delivered but accidentally  dehydrated pigs (a knocked-over trough sets the potential catastrophe in motion.)  The Guardian, wanting to confirm the validity of that premise,  checked in with farmer Bruce Garside, who loaned his own pigs to the show. He indeed confirms the premise, but notes "an economically viable pig operation – not to mention one that could save a castle – would probably have to be a bit larger than the one you see on Downton."--Barbara Bedway

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