What We'll See as Downton Abbey Heads into the Crash

By Eve Kaplan

NEW YORK (AdviceIQ) -- TV drama Downton Abbey has moved into the 1920s. We all know what is coming: the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression. Today, does an impending economic calamity await, ready to trash our assets?

We survived the 2008 financial crisis, with the economy inching up and stock market recovering (the winter downturn notwithstanding). The Standard & Poor's 500 is above the pre-crash peak. So maybe we don't have anything left to worry about. Unfortunately, catastrophes have a habit of sneaking up on us.

Economics and their unpleasant surprises animate the PBS series, set on an estate of wealthy English aristocrats. We are now in the fourth season. Even though Downton Abbey appears to be a relic from a bygone era, it has much to teach us today: Be careful with your finances.

Season 1 began with the sinking of the Titanic (1912) and the introduction of electricity to Downton Abbey. Servants ironed the morning newspaper and the status quo ruled. By Season 4, World War I has come and gone, leaving emotional scars. Now that we're in the Roaring Twenties, social mores and class barriers continue to weaken (relatively) and there is talk of installing a refrigerator in the kitchen. Upstairs and downstairs dramas play out against the backdrop of sequined flapper girls dresses and sexual emancipation.

Money issues drive much of the plot. Downton Abbey faces a crippling inheritance tax after the death of Matthew Crawley, a middle-class lawyer who, to everyone's surprise, inherits a chunk of the family estate. Matthew fought to make it more economically viable. Mary Crawley, his widow, hints at taking out bank loans to prevent the estate's breakup. She's at loggerheads with Lord Grantham, head of the family, when it comes to running the estate, just as her deceased husband was.