Mamet on government and markets

by Russ Roberts on March 12, 2008

in Complexity & Emergence, Politics

David Mamet has written an extraordinary confessional for the Village Voice (I’ve edited this link, ht: Drudge) where he describes his philosophical change of heart from being an anti-American, anti-market believer in man’s perfectibility to something different. An excerpt:

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it
was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things
which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see
an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond
sorrow.

But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?

I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer,
and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I
referred to my own—take away the director from the staged play and what
do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period,
and a better production.

And then Mamet shows an understanding of public choice theory applied to theater:

The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her
presence impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed
to appeal to Authority—that is, to set aside the original goal (staging
a play for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which
may be to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the
endeavor.

He goes on to say he’s been reading Sowell and Friedman (and Paul Johnson and Shelby Steele). Sounds like he would like some Hayek if he hasn’t tried him already.

Read the whole thing, although the site is slow right now from the raft of comments (190 and rising rapidly) and Drudge’s link.

And if anyone out there knows Mr. Mamet or someone who knows him, I sure would like to invite him to be a guest on EconTalk.

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{ 17 comments }

FreedomLover March 12, 2008 at 1:28 pm

He's still a shitty Democrat. When I hear he votes for a conservative Republican, he'll be off my shit list.

David White March 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Yes, Hayek is his next logical move, and I pray that he makes it, not stopping there, however, and moving on to the Promised Land of Mises and Rothbard.

Oh, what a (screen)play he could then write (glimmers of which are to be found in his Anthony Hopkins character in "The Edge").

olivier blanchard March 12, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Mamet sounds like he is talking about a monarchy.

As talented as he is, you can always tell a Mamet production (even on film) from the dialogue and the manner in which it is delivered: Enjoyable but canned. Just because he doesn't allow his actors to breathe doesn't mean that politcal leaders HAVE to fall in the same trap – even if most of the time, they indeed do.

When we talk about "the government" and its intrusion in our daily lives, we might want to draw a straight line between the role we play – as voters – in creating the very governments we like to criticize and shove away.

Mamet should ask himself whether his actors are there to serve him, or if he is there to serve his actors.

the same question applies to EVERYONE in public office.

Good post.

BGC March 12, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Freedomlover – please cut-out the potty-mouth teenage stuff.

BGC March 12, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Freedomlover – please cut-out the potty-mouth teenage stuff.

john pertz March 12, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Why is it because Mammet has become non-left that he has to be automatically defined as conservative? I hate the fact that in the comments section of his article the debate is largely defined as liberal versus conservative. I wish that libertarianism or classical liberalism was distinguished from the two in the context of such debates. I think what gets branded as conservative in our contemporary political discussions is often so general, and comprised of so many contradictory views, that many must find it confusing to understand what they really believe. I mean both Ron Paul and George Bush are both branded as men of the right, yet who in their right mind would find any congruency between their policy views?

REW March 12, 2008 at 4:20 pm

For me, the money quote was his description of the Constitution.

"Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms."

The faith in an all-powerful, all-caring government always come crashing down when one's own property is at risk.

M. Hodak March 12, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Almost as inspiring as George McGovern's turn.

With regards to distinctions that matter re: pertz, I have known many conservatives who became (modern) liberals (e.g., Hillary, believe it or not), and quite a number of liberals who became socially conservative, especially after they started raising families. However, using finer distinctions, I have seen plenty of both become libertarian, but I have never known a libertarian to become more (modern) liberal or socially conservative, although I have seen a number of libertarians become completely insane.

Nathan Bowers March 12, 2008 at 6:02 pm

"The faith in an all-powerful, all-caring government always come crashing down when one's own property is at risk."

Well said, REW.

I was a bit surprised to hear Mamet lavish praise on Thomas Sowell. I'm a fan of Sowell's, but he's a bit more politically incorrect than even a "free market-curious" liberal could take.

FreedomLover March 13, 2008 at 12:35 am

Nathan:

No self-respecting liberal who makes the cocktail rounds would be caught dead reading Thomas Sowell. Social death.

happyjuggler0 March 13, 2008 at 3:52 am

Am I the only one or does anyone else find BGC's comment to be terribly ironic, noting that Mamet simply loves his curse words.

By the way, Mamet's State and Main could be argued as foreshadowing his article. Not to mention being an enjoyable movie.

LowcountryJoe March 13, 2008 at 6:46 am

However, using finer distinctions, I have seen plenty of both become libertarian, but I have never known a libertarian to become more (modern) liberal or socially conservative…

Ron Paul? Don't know much about his pre-presidential run ideology but he's xenophobic at this stage. And his positions on trade an immigration are not seemingly libertarian — certainly not embracing enough of the free market, as it relates to those two issues.

…although I have seen a number of libertarians become completely insane.

Okay, well there's the catch-all that explains Rep. Paul

Keith March 13, 2008 at 7:37 am

Quote from olivier blanchard: "When we talk about "the government" and its intrusion in our daily lives, we might want to draw a straight line between the role we play – as voters – in creating the very governments we like to criticize and shove away."

Then perhaps there's an inherent flaw in having a government beholden to the whim of the majority. Perhaps there should be some limits on what the government can do, no matter how many people might want it.

shawn March 13, 2008 at 8:44 am

keith…great idea…i wonder how those limitations might constitute into some sort of list or law.

I'll work on pulling that together.

"Mamet should ask himself whether his actors are there to serve him, or if he is there to serve his actors.

the same question applies to EVERYONE in public office. "

This is what small kings do; good luck fixing it: Public Choice

shawn March 13, 2008 at 8:45 am

sorry, that's "might constitute some sort of list or law"…changed half of the sentence w/o changing the other half.

artvar March 13, 2008 at 11:52 am

Straight logic (and certain amount of intellectual honesty/bravery) should lead Mamet to the following question of utmost importance: what responsibility (if any) he personally bears in propagating (all his life and with all the might of the given talent) the very same stereotypes he now found so false?

vidyohs March 13, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Well now, I managed to get to be 66 years old and never heard of David Mamet.

From the comments and the wikki-link I don't think I missed a thing.

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