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Simon: Right, and they damn near bankrupted the state. Look at the Rockefeller drug laws. Look at the drug war. There are some things that the market is not supposed to dictate.
reason: But is it the market?
Simon: Of course it’s the market!
reason: In the case of immigrant incarceration and deportations, it’s the Obama administration, which has doubled the rate.
Simon: Absolutely. Very disappointing.
reason: I understand where you’re coming from, but these people might be drafting off of policies that were put in place ahead of time. Nelson Rockefeller didn’t need drug laws to get rich or to make his cronies rich. He was doing that already.
Simon: No, he needed them to get elected, but I absolutely agree with that. It has got to be across the board. Politicians will follow the path of least resistance if you let them and reward them for that. The whole idealized notion that the private sector can do this better than government—I don’t want the private sector doing prisons better than government. I want government doing it reluctantly. I want my prison department. I want my corrections department in the state of Maryland or any state that I’m in to be a reluctant agent of government.
reason: About drug laws, do you see any positive trends? I mean, there are marijuana legalization initiatives out there.
Simon: I do. The only positive trend that I see that really matters is that more people are calling bullshit. And this is where at some point during the run of The Wire I became a fellow traveler of the libertarians. And then a great disappointment to them. But the libertarian position on drugs absolutely works. It absolutely works because it’s morally correct.
reason: Do you take Obama at his word that The Wire is his favorite show? Because it seems odd that he and Attorney General Eric Holder would have watched the show and then be pursuing the policies they have.
Simon: I do take Eric Holder at his word because he hosted the actors, and they told me he knew the show. And I don’t disagree with Obama’s fundamental politics or some of his purposes. I’ll be voting for Obama. I have a choice of two, and I’m not wasting my vote. It can always get worse.
reason: Do you think New Orleans is getting better? The show is a couple of years back in time, but the actual number of people who have returned is higher than the initial projection or expectations. Is it actually flourishing?
Simon: It depends on who you are. They called the area that didn’t go under the water “the sliver by the river,” “the isle of denial.” There is a schizophrenia. You go out to the Gentilly area, and there are blocks where you’ll see two or three people back and house after house still not restored.
But before the storm, 77 percent of the population was born there. That’s unheard of in America. Everyone is from somewhere else in this country. But if you’re born there, if you grow up with that culture and that essence, it’s very hard to say goodbye.
It’s not a museum piece. The number of Latinos—Central Americans and Mexicans—that came to New Orleans to do construction work after Katrina and now have stayed on means you’re going to start seeing some version of the Mariachi second line band, and it won’t just be on Cinco de Mayo. They’re going to contribute to the musical culture and to the cuisine.
All the attendant problems of the American city are there, and I think city living is what Americans have to master. But, man, they make it hard. That’s the 21st-century challenge, among other things. There are a lot of 21st-century challenges, but one of them is how do we learn to love a city for what it is because we have no choice.