David Simon, onetime journalist and the creator and producer of the award-winning TV drama shows The Wire and Treme, has just produced a very long and passionate essay for The Guardian in which he argues that economic inequality in the United States has increased to the point that there are two Americas today, in socioeconomic terms, and that Karl Marx’s diagnosis of the causes of economic problems are correct even though his solutions were not.
Simon also briefly and correctly decries the collaboration between government and big business in which the latter get favors from the former (by hobbling smaller, more efficient, up-and-coming competitors) and pay for it with election campaign money and cushy post-public-service jobs in the private sector. (Unfortunately, he fails to recognize, or at least acknowledge, that without the abuse of government power, the greed of any corrupt businesses would be thwarted by natural market processes.)
In his essay, Simon rather desperately searches for a Third Way in which the productive energies of the free market can be harnessed to whatever he considers to be socially positive ends, in this case the reduction of economic inequality:
Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox if you’re trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn’t want to go forward at this point without it. But it’s not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.
I don’t know of anyone who suggests that market freedom in itself is enough to build a good and just society. The point is not that it is sufficient but that it is necessary. The additional point most defenders of free markets make is that the very virtues people like Simon wish to encourage are strengthened by market freedom and radically undermined by statism.
Ignoring these realities, Simon argues that socialism is the necessary path to justice, and he offers the catastrophic economic policies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the model we should emulate today:
In 1932, it got better [really? Look at the numbers.] because they dealt the cards again and there was a communal logic that said nobody’s going to get left behind. We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get the banks open. From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.
Simon comes to this unoriginal and disastrously wrong conclusion because he builds his entire case on an obviously false premise: that market capitalism creates the economic dysfunction that leads to “two Americas”—one rich, one poor.
This premise is untrue, and the facts prove it. One, the gini coefficients show that inequality in the United States has not increased since 1960. In addition, the difference between the “two Americas” has one major correlation: marriage before childbirth. The two Americas are divided by attitudes, largely those regarding marriage and family formation, not some mysterious flaws of liberty. The solution to the problem of inequality—which, it should be reiterated, is not increasing—is not more government nannying but instead more liberty and the sense of personal responsibility and pursuit of rewards that come with it.
The poor, we shall always have with us, but economic, religious, and social freedom do create a rising tide that lifts all boats and has done so whenever they’ve been tried. Socialist policies such as Simon’s, however well-intentioned, only make for more poor people and more human misery.