Now he’s done it. It wasn’t enough for Francis Fukuyama to declare (rather prematurely) the “end of history”; now he’s gone and declaimed about The Wire, the greatest television show ever done (except for Firefly, but that’s a rant for another day). Actually, it’s quite a good piece. Fukuyama notes that the series creator, David Simon, is a lefty who thought he was making a proto-Marxist critique of American society:
As David Simon put it in an interview, The Wire “is a meditation on the death of work and the betrayal of the American working class, it is a deliberate argument that unencumbered capitalism is not a substitute for social policy.”
But like any ambitious or complicated artistic representation, the intention and what comes across to many viewers may not match up. Simon might, for example, be dumbfounded to learn that Milton Friedman’s favorite book about the wrongheadedness of the Progressive Era was by a Marxist—Gabriel Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism, which, instead of converting readers to a Thorsten Veblen-style view of “political capitalism,” essentially laid out a devastating public choice style critique of crony capitalism and an unintentional brief for de-regulation. (Note to Occupy Wall Street: put down your solar-powered bongs long enough to recognize who is the chief practicioner of crony capitalism today—the Democratic Party.)
Sure enough, several aspects of The Wire fit with the left-liberal narrative about America’s supposed moral turpitude—especially Season 2, with a main story line about the decline of unionized dockworkers—but other seasons could have been taken straight from the neoconservative pages of Edward Banfield, James Q. Wilson, and Charles Murray. Check out the third season (main theme: drug legalization), and the fourth season (corruption of city hall, ineptitude of the public school bureaucracy) and fifth season (corruption of the media); I’ve told Charles Murray several times that he could have written the scripts for Seasons 3 & 4. As Fukuyama describes it:
The black mayor of Baltimore, his black police commissioner and white deputy chief of operations don’t actually care much about quality of life in the inner city; they focus instead on getting homicide numbers down so that crime can’t be used against them or their bosses in the next election.
While Fukuyama expresses some sympathy for David Simon’s implicit view that we’ve abandoned serious attempts at positive social policy to remedy the social pathologies depicted on The Wire, it seems to me you don’t have to be a libertarian to watch The Wire’s depiction of the dysfunctionality of urban government ask the question—why would we want to give these people more power and money?
Even better: Fukuyama notes that “Tommy Carcetti, the Martin O’Malley figure who wins election as a white mayor of Baltimore by making crime his issue, has by the end of the series moved to the Governor’s office, where he now needs to cater to a wealthy white suburban electorate.” Carcetti is a completely repulsive and grasping politician on The Wire, and indeed this does seem like a good case of art imitating life, as I find Gov. O’Malley to be just as repulsive and grasping in real life. Kudos to Simon for nailing this one!
Meanwhile, Browncoats rule!