Hollywood mocks capitalism, which seems odd because the people who make movies are such aggressive capitalists — competing hard to make money. But Hollywood’s message is that capitalism is shallow and cruel.
Take the 1992 movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” (based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play). It’s about cutthroat real estate salesmen who work for a heartless company. It was written by the celebrated playwright David Mamet, author of “American Buffalo,” “Spanish Prisoner,” and more than 50 other plays and movies.
I assumed that Mamet was another garden-variety Hollywood lefty, but then a few years ago, I was surprised to see an article he wrote titled, “Why I’m No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal.” Now he’s followed up with a book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture.”
I asked Mamet what turned a “Hollywood liberal” into a conservative.
Was he a brain-dead liberal? The newspaper, not Mamet, put that headline on his article.
“I referred to myself as one,” Mamet told me. “Political decisions I made were foolish.”
Foolish because he wasn’t really thinking, he said. Since everybody around him was liberal, he just went along.
“I met a couple conservatives, and I realized I never met any conservatives in my life. … (O)ne started sending me books. His books … made more sense than my books.”
Mamet was suddenly exposed to ideas he had never encountered before.
“Shelby Steele’s ‘White Guilt,'” he said, “led me to the works of Tom Sowell and through them (F.A.) Hayek and Milton Friedman.”
Two things hit him especially hard: the benefits of economic competition and the limits of leaders’ ability to plan society.
“If you stop licensing taxi cabs, tomorrow you will see guys and women on every street corner saying, ‘Who wants to go to XYZ address?’ (The cabbie) will put five people in the car and drive them to that address. … When the guy drops them off, if he’s smart, he’ll say: ‘Tomorrow — same thing, right? What do you guys want to drink for breakfast?’ There will be cappuccino and ice tea and glass of milk. After X months, he will have three cars; after X months, he will have a fleet. And everyone will be competing to meet the needs of the commuters, which also is going to reduce traffic. Why are they allowed to compete? Because the government got the hell out of the business.”
Mamet also read Hayek’s last book, “The Fatal Conceit.”
“What Hayek is talking about is that we have to have a constrained vision of the universe. The unconstrained vision, the liberal vision, is that everything can be done, everything is accomplishable,” he said. “We don’t have the knowledge. … There is only so much that government can do. … It would be nice if giving all of our money to the government could cure poverty. Maybe, but giving money to the government causes slavery.”
For Hayek, the “fatal conceit” is the premise that politicians and bureaucrats can make the world better — not by leaving people free to coordinate their private individual plans in the marketplace — but by overall social and economic planning.
Imagine trying to plan an economy, Mamet said, when we barely know enough to raise our kids. “(T)he guy in government can’t know everything.”
As you can imagine, when Mamet went public, he bewildered many of his showbiz peers. A Los Angeles Times critic called his book “a children’s crusade with no understanding of real politics.” The Nation called Mamet a “great playwright, (but a) moronic political observer.”
Mamet said to his wife: ‘Isn’t it funny? … The New York Times, the supposed newspaper of record that has been reviewing my plays for 40 years, isn’t even going to review this book.’
“She says: ‘Dave, grow up. The purpose of all newspapers is political.”
Maybe the Times thinks it’s insignificant that a celebrated cultural “liberal” now questions his faith in the supposed healing power of government. But as we sit mired in this endless jobless “recovery,” with the wreckage of government failure all around, we should ask ourselves which one is out of touch with reality.