Learning From The Wire
Francis Fukuyama, writing in American Interest, recently touted The Wire, the HBO miniseries that ran from 2002 to 2008 to rave notices by critics and viewers. His praise is not misplaced. Created and produced by David Simon, it is true literature in a Dickensian mold. Behind its brutal realism and intermittent abject cynicism was an appreciation of the fact that all people everywhere feel a powerful need to define and protect their dignity.
A problem with such productions arises, however, when people insist on superimposing upon the story certain superficial political thoughts. Simon’s work probed deep into the human condition, into areas not easily addressed by the simple political formulations of our time.
Fukuyama fell into this trap when he concluded that what Simon portrayed—the gritty existence of people on the edge of civilized society—could be easily ameliorated with finely honed governmental policies, including “some degree of strong government actions—and, yes, wealth redistribution” to “undermine the nexus of drugs, poverty and crime.” He cites specifically Mexico and Brazil, which he says have generated economic growth and have “intelligently crafted conditional cash transfer programs.”
True, the United States isn’t generating much economic growth these days, but certainly growth has been a hallmark of its recent history since the end of World War II. And to suggest this country lacks transfer-payment programs is akin to saying, circa 1989, that Western democratic capitalism would sweep the world following America’s Cold War victory. That was Fukuyama’s famous prediction, and we all know how that turned out. Further, with the country’s top 1 percent of income earners paying nearly 38 percent of all income taxes, and nearly 50 percent of tax filers paying nothing, it’s difficult to see what Fukuyama really wants, short of a European-style system of democratic socialism.
Besides, whatever Mexico’s economic growth and transfer programs, they certainly haven’t spawned any societal nirvana down there.
The Wire is great literature. It reveals a lot about life and human nature—some of it appropriately disturbing, given the essence of human nature. But it doesn’t tell us much about politics.