The Wire creator David Simon on "America as a Horror Show"

Above: The Wire creator David Simon suggested that Tom Perkins sell his $300,000 wristwatch and use the proceeds to open a couple of drug rehab centers in Baltimore.

From Bill Moyers' essay, Advice to Plutocrat Perkins: Time to Shut Up!:

“I don’t regret the message at all,” [Tom Perkins] said. “Anytime the majority starts to demonize the minority, no matter what it is, it’s wrong and dangerous and no good comes from it.”

[in this Bloomberg TV interview] Perkins also said that he has family “living in trailer parks,” but bragged like some cackling James Bond villain that he owns “an airplane that flies underwater” and a wristwatch that “could buy a six-pack of Rolexes.” That watch, on prominent display during the Bloomberg interview, is a Richard Mille, a charming little timepiece that can retail for more than $300,000. At that price, a watch shouldn’t just tell you the time, it should allow you to travel through it, perhaps back to the Gilded Age or Versailles in 1789, just as the tumbrils rolled in. Here in the office, our $85 Timex and Seiko watches have crossed their hands over their faces in shame.

That Richard Mille watch triggered TV producer David Simon’s comment on Moyers & Company that it should be sold and used to open drug treatment centers in Baltimore, the city where Simon was a crime reporter and which served as the backdrop and central character of his classic HBO series The Wire.

Notable Replies

  1. I don't think David Simon is actually suggesting that police should take Perkins' watch by force and give the money to drug addicts. He's using the watch as one example of how people at the top are now so many orders of magnitude better off than people at the bottom that they might as well be living in a completely different plane of existence.

    A couple of generations ago a "financially successful" CEO might have made ten times as much as the average worker. Now the number is somewhere north of 300 times as much as the average worker. Just because people want to push that ratio back toward where it was for most of our country's history doesn't mean they want to "make it impossible to attain any sort of financial success."

    You may not understand why the vast and ever-growing chasm between the rich and the poor is a problem, but wealth is a very real measure of power. The means to influence this country's economy or political process is falling to an ever-shrinking number of ultra-rich people: even if the bottom 50% of all Americans rallied together for a common goal they could be outspent by a handful of Wal-Mart heirs. That's bad for Democracy and it's bad for the long-term prospects of our country.

  2. The moment someone with a net worth of > $100 million is actually murdered by a mentally stable person whose net worth is < $500 and who declares the reason for the murder to be class-based, I'll take this class warfare bullshit seriously. Until then, I'm pretty sure you and your watch and your big house can handle it. Fuckin' crybaby.

  3. Tell you what, why don't you spend a few scant seconds on the Google machine before you say stuff like that. Even the Washington Post, hardly known for being a liberal rag, puts the ratio around 300-to-one.

    As I've already stated, it matters because wealth is power and it's dangerous to concentrate too much power in the hands of too few people. When half a dozen ultra-rich people have as much power and influence as half the rest of the country put together, you're not living in a democracy anymore. You're living in a Plutocracy.

    Oh, you think wealth is strongly correlated to effort/merit/productivity. How adorable.

    So riddle me this: why has the gap grown so precipitously over the last few decades? CEO compensation has shot up over 700% since the 1970s while average worker pay has been virtually stagnant. Have the peons at the bottom been getting lazier or do you really believe the guys at the top are working 7-10 times harder than their daddies did?

    No solution is ever completely un-corruptable, but there's no reason we couldn't have the same effective tax rates today that we did in the 1950s. You know, the era Conservatives like the wax nostalgic about as America's "Golden Age."

  4. Watching this, the longer first bit of Moyers program and his talk (particularly the Q&A) in Sydney drove home a very interesting point, to me:

    The 0.1%ers (or their mouthpieces) who are complaining about others inciting "class warfare" are simply annoyed that somebody else noticed their game and is now putting up a fight.

    So far, they had simply been beating up people below them, rigging the system against the have-less as they went along. But they were used to beating up people who don't notice, can't or won't defend themselves and are never heard.

    Now the white middle class is waking up to the realization that they have been dragged straight into that theater of war, that they have already lost most of the battles (well, other, even less fortunate groups have lost them in their stead - "first they came for the" drug addicts, criminals, people of color, immigrants etc.) and when the mere notion inequality, of warfare is voiced, they are then being blamed for trying to start something that has been ongoing for decades.

    So now we have arrived at a point where saying: I have (through direct action, blissfull inaction or indefensible ignorance) been systematically pushing people down the ladder, leaving them utterly desparate. Then brutally beating up and incarcarating people, destroying their lives, the lives of their families, tearing down communities or entire cities with them. Been profiting from that in such an order of magnitude that I could never hope to spend and in fact probably will never spend those profits in my lifetime, While at the same time suggesting that this is actually the best way to invigorate the economy as a whole. And all this while blaming "the government" (that I have either paid to be elected and/or paid to make laws that benefit me and to not make laws that benefit others) is actually not doing enough to make things better, because for some weird reason, everything just continues to get shittier and shittier for most of the population.

    Correctly identifying my anti-social behavior as one of the root causes of what is destroying the fabric of our society makes you a Nazi.

    How can you be so cruel? Have you no decency?

  5. This is the basic tenant of libertarian/free market thought, and it's entirely predicated on the concept that the poor have multiple, really good options available to them even in the face of monopolistic and politically influential corporate practices.

    The theory goes: in a truly free market, private entities will do what's best for everyone because if they don't then everyone will get up and leave. But this is never how unregulated markets work. In real life, ANY institution - be it a government, a corporation, a church, it doesn't matter, if it's a man made institution it falls under this rubric - will strive to gain advantages over its competition. If that's the goal, and someone has to win, this will eventually lead to consolidation of power, which will lead to an influential minority shaping the rest of the world as they see fit. It's about checks and balances aka regulation - without regulation, free markets create monopolies and exploit the citizenry for economic and political, every time. Without checks and balances, governments exploit their citizenry for political and economic gain, every time.

    What's the alternative to working for a shitty corporation in an unregulated free market? Unemployment, that's what. Sure, the employee can leave, but with no guarantee of employment elsewhere, certainly no guarantee of better employment, because there are no protections.

    So the entire debate is about what these "checks and balances" aka regulations aka laws will be about. Who do they protect, and to what extent? And laws are about protecting what we value and disincentivizing what we don't. Allowing someone to become 300 times richer than the average citizen is just as arbitrary as allowing average citizens to earn a minimum wage no matter what they do. It's no less arbitrary to decide that workers do not have to share in a company's growth, that indeed it's okay for the company to un-employ the very workers that helped them grow. To decide that there's an executive tier that are legally protected from not sharing in a company's growth but below this tier anything goes. Nothing in the universe claims that only a handful of people involved in the company are the only ones deserving, and everyone else should be grateful they were ever given anything at all like a paycheck. These outlooks on how institutions should work and what protections we allow are ALL arbitrary, so we have to actively discuss them and select them.

    We choose these things to strike a balance, that balance is whatever we choose it to be. But wealth does equal power and influence, and when laws begin to subsidize companies that are already profitable while gutting social safety net practices for those who are already below the poverty line, that's an obvious imbalance. When minimum wage stagnates far below the rate of inflation, while top tax rates decline, that's an arbitrary choice that reflects the outsized influence of the super-wealthy.

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