‘The World Is More Complicated’

David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme, on New Orleans, private prisons, drug policy, newspapers, and letting down libertarians

(Page 5 of 5)

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.

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  • ||

    At some points I grok what he is saying. At others it almost reads like he didn't hear the question or didn't understand what you said. Weird interview.

    And no, the video was not a hackjob.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Yeah, I haven't watched the video, but his answers seem like typical statist demo-tard, who is the tiniest sliver disappointed with The One, since they have to actually deal with poor people every once in a while.

    How anyone ever thought of him as a libertarian, or even having libertarian leanings, I have no clue.

    Just because you're occcasionally tacitly for pot legalization, doesn't make you a libertarian.

  • Redmanfms||

    Just because you're occcasionally tacitly for pot legalization, doesn't make you a libertarian.

    Bill Maher went around for years basically claiming exactly that. Politically Incorrect was an interesting program to watch as a young libertarian. What was most hilarious was when he would take the most left-statist position possible on a given topic and end with something like, "But what do I know, I'm a libertarian."

    Hell, we have Mike "Fuck Due Process" Godwin and Steve "Ends Justify, Well, Whatever" Chapman running around calling themselves libertarians and even being allowed to present articles here as libertarians.

  • Voros McCracken||

    "Hell, we have Mike "Fuck Due Process" Godwin"

    You know who else said "fuck due process?"

  • UnionBuiltOhioRoads||

    Alexander Hamilton?

  • ||

    Also, watching all five seasons of The Wire is a great way to feelspecial.

  • ||


  • JeremyR||

    Why is Reason so obsessed with this guy?

  • Bee Tagger||

    Just to annoy you. Leaving us all to wonder if reason's real obsession is with JeremyR.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    If I remember correctly, when they "published" the virtually uncut interview online (on reason TV, Drink!) he had an aneurism and put out some screed that said they set him up and edited the interview to make him seem libertarian-ish.

    Probably all of his leftist authoritarian friends threatened to not give him any more work if he didn't get back on the party line. I'm not sure what the hell he said that wasn't on the party line in any case, but that's just my read.

  • Redmanfms||

    Damn Simon is an obtuse ignorant shithead.

    Newspapers failed to cover their respective "city beats" just as much when they had 600 reporter newsrooms as they do now. The reasons may be different (leftist selective editing and general cowardice v. low manpower), but the end result is the same. The mental gymnastics this moron goes through to blame the failure of papers on WALL STREET!!!!!!, when it is in fact Wall Street that has made the failing unrepresentative, left-wing editorial, declining readership papers survive as long as they have.

    And his whole riff on how laissez-faire capitalism has "monetized" the poor as a prison commodity???? I'm going to have to smoke piles of dope just to be in the state of mind required figure out how he could possibly have come up with such a convoluted and factually challenged theory.

  • WTF||

    I'm going to have to smoke piles of dope just to be in the state of mind required figure out how he could possibly have come up with such a convoluted and factually challenged theory.

    Nah, it's actually quite simple: Everything good is the result of government, and everything bad is the result of the Market. No further thought is needed.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's all about intentions.

  • ||

    It's simply the classic mental disconnect between wanting to Do Something and being completely ignorant about the expenses required to do it. Wall Street didn't cause newspaper revenues to vaporize. But to people like Simon, revenues are irrelevant, because they are icky capitalist things.

  • Invisible Finger||

    I agree his "capitalism monetized the poor" argument makes zero sense whatsoever. Yeah, there's a lot of money in coercing people, but there's a lot of expense in incarcerating them. A private system isn't trying to make up for it in volume, and it's basically just a tax dollar transfer to a "private" system anyway. So it's basically not even valid to call it "private" - it's not more private than an other GSE.

    Simon's point about newspapers is valid though. Not all of them were started with the same goal - some were nothing but civic booster rags, others actually had the goal of informing their readers. When the papers became parts of conglomerates, any credo an individual paper followed was shitcanned. Maybe you can't tell the difference at the L.A. Times which was started as a civic booster and devolved into simply printing government press releases - one can barely tell the difference in overall "purpose". The Baltimore Sun though is a different animal entirely. For a very long time it was actually two different newspapers: this is a unique situation that neither Simon nor Gillespie acknowledge. But at least Simon lived it and while he may be wrong about newspapers in general, he's more right about the Baltimore Sun than Gillespie.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If I could understand this guy's take, I'm sure I could understand people on the left a lot better, but when I see politicians and government employees profiting off incarcerating people or government employees profiting off delivering poor service under the guise of public education, those just aren't examples of capitalism to me.

    It's almost as if he defines capitalism simply as the desire for money and then the love of money as the root of all evil. So, when government employees enrich themselves at the expense of the people they're supposed to help, that's his idea of capitalism?

    When he uses the word "capitalism", I don't think he means the same thing we mean when we use the word "capitalism. We're talking about individuals being empowered to pursue their own interests without being preyed upon by government institutions, but when he's talking about "capitalism", he's just talking about the greed in people's hearts.

    I think in his world, if you're a government employee who's in it for the money, then you're a capitalist. I think that's the disconnection.

  • sarcasmic||

    Some people really do not understand the distinction between voluntary transactions and coercion.
    Because of this they see no difference between capitalist free markets and government monopolies.

  • Utilitarian||

    Coercion is not binary, it is analog. Think long and hard about that and you might figure something out.

  • Redmanfms||

    It's almost as if he defines capitalism simply as the desire for money and then the love of money as the root of all evil. So, when government employees enrich themselves at the expense of the people they're supposed to help, that's his idea of capitalism?

    I strongly suspect this is the case.

  • Redmanfms||

    addendum: I strongly suspect this is the case with all leftists.

  • toolkien||

    If what you suspect is true, then it should only be a matter of semantics and once everyone knows the proper definitions, then debate can begin. Semantic schisms are likely the cause of much disagreement, or widening the breach between partisans, and defeats any sort of dialog/meeting of the minds. At the very root who likes misery? Poverty? "Intentions" distorting greed? Force? The human element of outcome isn't all that different from one creed to the next, the devil is in the details - what must have permanence and what must be left variable.

    But discussion can't even be attempted when the semantics of the debate aren't even in sync. We all should fear rent-seeking capitalists AND rapacious bureaucrats. But since we can't even agree on definitions we are left so far apart from each other, and given so few practical options that "lesser of two evils" has flourished as reasonable economic and political structure. And the rent-seeking capitalists among us and the rapacious bureaucrats have forged a corpora-fascistic economy and the ever increasing totalitarian political structure that is needed to support it.

    In the end, libertarians are not supposed to be left or right. It's the individual against Force. The only hope of undoing the dystopia - economic and political - that attacks and destroys individualism is to gather together those who are partially right and partially wrong, working out the semantic disconnects, and seeing what can be done to crack the Establishment.

  • Redmanfms||

    I am almost certain leftists play a game of semantics tag specifically so they can avoid any meaningful discussion of a topic, because they'd then be forced to defend what they know to be an indefensible (on top of being completely anathema to what they claim to stand for) position.

  • toolkien||

    Just to be clear, what do you mean by "left"? Do you include the fiscally liberal elements of the Republicans with that definition? Because they are just as fast and loose with terms. Also, those who broadly support capitalism refuse to discuss exactly what they mean by such when one points out the rent-seeking portion of the term as it is used in general. My own family are "righties" and they are just as dogmatic as lefties after their own causes.

    But it stands that until the semantic sleights of hand are minimized, there can be no dialog. And the sharpest blade in cutting through the gibberish is laying out an a priori reason for why Force is necessary as part of the espoused public policy, economic or political, regardless of what you call it. In the case of capitalism, that word MEANS the free market, not rent-seeking. So once it is defined in terms of Force versus non-Force, then and understanding can be forged as to what is meant, whether you call it free market, or capitalism, or splunge. But we seem to have people broadly support capitalism when what is encompassed in that modern definition is filled 70+% with rent-seekers who have long ago made their peace with interventionists and learned to prosper with the mutualism between themselves (crony-capitalists) and Pull selling bureaucrats/politicians.

  • toolkien||


    In the end, I have a belief (perhaps a naive superstition on my part) that there has to be enough socially liberal/fiscally conservative people out there that once the horrible fiscal and monetary policies bring down their inevitable damage upon us that a "third way" can be forged into the future. But that is a lot less likely to happen if people demand semantic purity of meaning despite the fact that the reality is opposite, or at least sustain confusion between interpretations.

  • Redmanfms||

    Do you include the fiscally liberal elements of the Republicans with that definition?

    You just answered your own question.

    I suppose I should have used the term progressive, though it is generally interchangeable with leftist.

    And to the rest of this post:

    The Left will argue the definition of the word Force and turn any conversation about Force into a spinning logic loop semantics game just like they do with any other "serious" discussion.

    But that is a lot less likely to happen if people demand semantic purity of meaning despite the fact that the reality is opposite, or at least sustain confusion between interpretations.

    I'm sorry, maybe I'm stupid, but isn't this statement pretty much the polar-fucking-opposite of this:

    But it stands that until the semantic sleights of hand are minimized, there can be no dialog.
  • Utilitarian||

    Redmanfms, it's very convenient for people like you to view coercion as binary. In fact, it's necessary for you overly simplistic worldview to make any sense. Unfortunately, coercion is NOT binary, it is analog.

  • Redmanfms||

    I didn't give my definition of force, so how the fuck would you know if it is binary or not?

    The Left plays a game in which they assign arbitrary definitions to words then changes the definitions once the conversation starts. Words do, in fact, have meaning dipshit, and the only people who play games with them do so because they don't wish to argue the substance of a matter because those people know they will be proven wrong regardless of how they define a word, so long as that definition is concrete.

    BTW, we were talking about Force, not coercion you illiterate fucking twat. Coercion can exist without force, but force most certainly is binary. There is either force or there is no force, and your disingenuous repurposing of my statement to play a dipshit semantics game just proves my whole fucking point.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    I think he does a lot of good research for his writing, and everything comes together nice and neatly. It's his craft after all. But when he puts down the sources of information and has to put regurgitate what he has learned in his own words, he falls short of an enlightened discussion.

    I, myself, could probably research and write a 5 paragraph article about quantum mechanics. But that wouldn't make me an expert.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I wish he'd do some research on a bunch of small businesses trying to get by, but I guess that's not as interesting on television as people's lives being destroyed by drugs in whatever way.

  • Drake||

    He seems to be motivated by a combination of nostalgia for a bygone era and liberal logic breakdowns.

    Sure some things were better in the 80's or the 50's or whenever. The newspapers might have been better when they had 3 times the staff - and nobody had an alternative source of information.

    Then he gets hostile when confronted by the liberal failures in the cities. Welfare breaks down the family (The Wire documents perfectly), but we need more. Education is bad - just because. Capitalism in bad because Wall Street and stuff. It bores me.

  • waaminn||

    Sounds like the dude might be onto something.

  • Redmanfms||

    BTW, Treme is fucking boring. There.

    My first job out of the Navy was working for Bollinger in New Orleans. This was circa summer '06 to early '08. NOLA is a far more "interesting" (good and very bad) place than this TV show makes it. I watched the entire first season and most of the second and kept waiting to see what I experienced as a very well-paid 40-hour-a-weeker with weekends off in the most famous party town in America and it never happened. This pretentious douchebag Simon peeled the orange, threw away the fruit and the rind, and gave the world the fucking Sunkist sticker (that's a shitty, "he completely missed all the neat shit, as well as the gritty, not as neat, but still interesting shit" analogy).

  • sunny black||

    reason: I saw the character played by John Goodman, and I was like: “Wow, this is awful. This is a white-guilt liberal.” And I was kind of happy when he died at the end of the first season.

    Simon: You might want to reflect on that.

    reason: Believe me, I will.

    -this is why my fantasy football team was called The Black Leather Jackets (before I renamed it "The Fuck You Obamas"

  • Citizen Nothing||

    "No, it's really not."

  • Citizen Nothing||

    And as a life-long newspaperman, I can say without hesitation that Simon doesn't understand shit about newspapers. But his nostalgia/entitlement/reporter-as-hero complex certainly isn't rare in the business.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Isn't it possible that people don't care as much about what's going on at city hall as he wish they did?

    Anyway, I'm not sure things aren't being covered as well at city hall as they used to be. It may just be that they're not being covered by newspapers as much anymore.

    We don't go to the classifieds in the newspaper to find a job or sell our used cars anymore either, but that doesn't mean people aren't interested in finding jobs or selling their cars. They just go to other sources.

    Everywhere I look, it seems like cops can't get away with brutality as easily as they used to. I hear about brutality cases in towns with local papers now that I'd never have read.

    There are lots of bloggers covering what's going on at city hall these days, too--and you don't have to buy a subscription to read them. ...and you don't have to go out in the cold on a Sunday morning to fetch the paper out of the driveway to read about city hall, either.

  • iggy||

    'Isn't it possible that people don't care as much about what's going on at city hall as he wishes they did?'

    Not just possible, but pretty much guaranteed. Newspaper revenue was always driven by two things: The classifieds and the sports section. There were newsstands that figured out that you'd make more money if you put the papers out with the sports section up instead of the front page.

    Simon really just longs for a world where he's the arbiter of truth and he doesn't have to listen to opinions he disagrees with. It's bizarre that someone like him can make such complex T.V. and have no complexity in his worldview.

  • ||

    "Simon really just longs for a world where he's the arbiter of truth and he doesn't have to listen to opinions he disagrees with."

    It's so disturbing to me that it seems like there's an awful lot of that going around these days.

  • ||

    Simon: Let’s journey down this road together because Louisiana is the jurisdiction in the world that jails more human beings per capita than any other state. That’s pure market forces. There’s profit to be made. They’ve monetized the poor down there. That’s what they’ve done. Laissez-faire. We’re all paying for that. But people are getting rich.

    I am so disappointed when I read quotes like this from intelligent people. Clearly Simon is a talented, intelligent person, and here he is, claiming that Laissez-faire policies are responsible for the government incarcerating people. As if the drug war is one big exercise in limited/no government. Sigh.

    People will look back on us and wonder how we could get out of bed in the mornings and tie our shoes, all while remembering to put our pants on first.

  • Wholly Holy Cow||

    Simon's life from day one was one of privilege and monied connections. He's a buffoon at best, an evil prick at worst.

    It's telling how Reason, which laughably posits itself as champion of liberty and freedom, treats this moderately talented doofus (who hit the gene pool lottery) with respect. Yet will go out of its way to slam Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney, even though those 3 are (unfortunately) some of the best defenders of limited government we have today.

  • Ken Shultz||


  • UnionBuiltOhioRoads||

    Lost me at Dick Cheney

  • ||

    Sarah Palin - please remove her from the pantheon of defenders of limited government.

    Her signature piece of government intervention into the private markets - AGIA - called the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act - has crashed and burned, leaving Alaskan taxpayers on the hook for $500 million to TransCanada and ExxonMobil.

    Fracking technology has made the Alaska Pipeline to the lower 48 a mute project, as it is now awash in plentiful supplies of natural gas.

    Instead, because AGIA also handicaps any other alternative to a pipeline to the lower 48, the discussion in Alaska is now to import LNG and leave the 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on the North Slope...

    The quicker Palin disappears from the national dialogue the better. Couldn't happen soon enough in Alaska.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    "Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney... some of the best defenders of limited government we have today."
    Good one, haha. You had me goin' for a minute.

  • attractions guide||

    I think culture is not similar with ours, and different place have different culture.

  • uythsb||

    the world with many parts ,so that More Complicated
    yes, it is

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  • Tablet pc||

    This world is more complicated than what we think.

  • ||

    Agreed - Treme is boring.

    I guess the reason the New York Times, or Baltimore Sunshine, only write from a biased liberal slant is that they have had to downsizetheir staff size and had to lay off all the conservative or libertarian voices in their midsts.

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  • Zhoumin||

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