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Downton Abbey and the Economy

Grab your tissues! Downton Abbey is coming to an end. Will Edith find happiness? Will Mary find a man who can tame her? Will poor mean Mr. Barrow finally learn how to develop friendships?

As I have watched the show over the years I can’t help but notice some similarities with the Edwardian economy in England and our present day economy. The show begins in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and ends in the mid 1920’s. The large estate, Downton Abbey, is undergoing tremendous change. Initially, dozens of servants are needed to handle all aspects of the running of the house, from the kitchen to the gardens to dressing the ladies and gentleman. Huge amounts of resources are spent on just a family of five. After World War I, the working class preferred factories where they enjoyed “weekends” off, and could participate in cultural activities. Unlike living on the estate where they were expected to work from dawn until late, often with only two days off during the month. Estates struggled to manage the change, recruit workers, and adapt to the new economy. Technology was also revolutionizing the estate. Toasters, refrigeration, and the automobile created efficiencies. A man who could not read or write would normally get a job on an estate working the fields, horses, or as a footman. Now, he was no longer needed on the estate and he better adapt to the modern 1920’s economy of factories to survive.

Our own economy is undergoing a lot of change as well. It takes even fewer workers to accomplish many tasks that just a few years ago provided secure employment. I can take a picture of a check and deposit it into a bank. I don’t have to process a photo’s anymore. I just snap it with my phone and post to Facebook. In the 1990’s when the world wide web was just getting started it was similar to the railways of the mid nineteenth century. They were laying tracks to nowhere. Towns, cities and industries built up around those tracks, just like what is happening with the internet today.

There will be winners and there will be losers. I predict that the autonomous car will revolutionize our economy and aging. Just think about it. No longer will we be forced to take away the keys of an elderly relative because they can’t drive safely anymore. They will just get in their car and say “Take me to the store”. On the other hand, truck and cab drivers won’t be in much demand, I am sure we will still need some but it probably won’t provide job security.

The new economy will demand new set of skills: innovation and imagination. The worker of the future will be smart and adaptable. The millennials are bringing their own spin to the world- they don’t see a job as a way to just secure “stuff”, they see it as a way to participate and impact their world. Very different than their baby boomer predecessors.

Lady Edith on Downton Abbey has always been seen as “Poor Edith”, because she hasn’t been too lucky in love yet she is probably the one person from the estate who will survive and thrive in the new world of the 1920’s and beyond. She has adapted to every crisis that has befallen her; death of a loved one, running a magazine, being a single parent, living in London alone. I imagine her as an old lady in the 1960’s, holding a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other, telling her grandkids about the old days on Downton Abbey and laughing.

Financial planning and advisory services offered through Athena Advisory Services, Inc.

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