The Guardian carries David Simon’s remarks on the “horror show” that is modern America. These were, evidently, impromptu comments, so no fair, I guess, critiquing them too closely. But it’s hard not to note that Simon has lumped in “I’m not a Marxist but” with the other unpersuasive disclaimers, “I’m not a feminist but” and “I’m not a racist but”.
The political landmarks are implicit in his dates – 1980 was when things began to go seriously wrong, after having taken a turn for the better in 1932.
We understand profit. In my country we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we’re supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn to face God. Turn to face Mecca, you know. Did you make your number? Did you not make your number? Do you want your bonus? Do you not want your bonus?
And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we’re going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.
And yet, Simon notes, we are not pure profiteers. We understand socialism. It’s just, we only understand socialism for a small group of people very like us.
And the argument comes down to: “Goddamn this socialist president. Does he think I’m going to pay to keep other people healthy? It’s socialism, motherfucker.”
What do you think group health insurance is? You know you ask these guys, “Do you have group health insurance where you …?” “Oh yeah, I get …” you know, “my law firm …” So when you get sick you’re able to afford the treatment.
The treatment comes because you have enough people in your law firm so you’re able to get health insurance enough for them to stay healthy. So the actuarial tables work and all of you, when you do get sick, are able to have the resources there to get better because you’re relying on the idea of the group. Yeah. And they nod their heads, and you go “Brother, that’s socialism. You know it is.”
He goes on a nice riff about how the real end of history is the mixed economy. It’s not something we can all rally around, exactly, but it works; its provisional and limited triumphs are what make life just about bearable.
It reminds me a little of another impromptu set of remarks about a divided America.