New Essay at the Federalist – War Stories: An Interview with David Mamet

It is nearly impossible for me to measure the influence that the work of David Mamet – one of America’s greatest writers – has had on my thinking, my ideas, and, I hope, my writing.

Needless to say, I was thrilled and honored to spend 90 minutes with the literary genius and giant on the phone. The Federalist has published the result of that conversation – an essay that ranks among my best work, and one that I am very proud to have written.

The essay, because of Mamet’s brilliance and wit, contains so many gems of insight that it really becomes required reading.

I am particularly happy with the essay, because it truly gets to the essence of Mamet’s philosophy and personality. We spend time discussing his greatest work – Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, Edmond, The Verdict – along with his newest book, Three War Stories.

We also spend time on his political conversion from liberalism to libertarianism, which is similar and influential on my own same ideological travel route, and on his early life on the streets and in the theaters of Chicago.

It is my hope that the large swath of people who will continually find Mamet’s work worthy of study will use my interview and profile as a source of knowledge for many years.

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New Essay at The Daily Beast: Richard Hofstadter and America’s New Wave of Anti-Intellectualism

Twenty-first century philistines, suffering from a lack of imagination and curiosity, have seized upon understandable economic anxieties since the financial crash of 2008, to shepherd an increasingly large flock of American sheep into the livestock freight carrier Pulitzer prize winning historian, Richard Hofstadter, called “anti-intellectualism.

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life—one of Hofstadter’s best, among many great books – was a pile of dynamite in 1963, when it was first published and blew a sizable hole in the house of America’s self-comforting delusions of intellectual superiority. In 2014, one can only hope that some of its initial blast still reverberates, as media commentators, university administrators, and even the President, have exposed themselves as adherents to what Hofstadter indicted as the “lowest common denominator criterion” of thought and “technician conformity” of lifestyle. Suspicion, and often outright hatred, of ideas is making American culture as riveting as oatmeal. By reading Hofstadter, one learns that the resurgence of a new anti-intellectualism isn’t new, at all. In fact, Hofstadter identified the particularly poisonous strain of the virus that now infects the American mind and kills the imagination.

Read the rest at the Daily Beast.

February Trilogy of Essays on The Free Market

One of the most profound political, and personal, changes I’ve made in my lifetime is the shift from central planning advocacy – “big government” – to robust belief in limited government and the free market. I no longer believe in centralized power, heavy regulation, high taxation, and other forms of interference in the economic system that, as Hayek explained, most effectively recreates humanity’s natural state of evolution, adoption, and adaptation.

The free market is not only best at broadening the benefits of prosperity. It also creates and maintains the maximum levels of freedom in a society, and ensures the most wild and fun amount of cultural variety and diversity.

In February, I wrote a trilogy of essays on the virtues, strengths, and attributes of the free market. In each essay, I also, as a former liberal, attempt to expose the flaws, and hypocrisies, at the heart of modern liberalism.

The first essay ran on the Federalist – “Understanding Liberal Schizophrenia About the Free Market”

This essay looks at the inherent contradictions of leftist attacks on “consumer culture”, and the leftist obession with inequality. It also argues that the free market is an affirmation of individual choice. Those who oppose the free market are often using their economic position as a cover story for the desire to limit people’s choices, and thereby gain control over their behavior.

The second essay also ran on the Federalist“Diversity and the Free Market

This essay demonstrates how the free market succeeds, above everything else, in creating and maintaining a diverse society full of cultural variety and vitality. Drawing on the development of jazz music, and the opportunities for exploration and adventure in Chicago, I show how the free market make things interesting and fun. I also undress liberal platitudes about diversity that, if put into practice, actually undermine it.

My third essay on the free market ran as a column in the Indianapolis Star. Titled “The Moral Case for Capitalism”, it is reprinted here in its entirety.

The Moral Case for Capitalism

By David Masciotra

Many believers in a robust, lively, and muscular free market have made the empty-headed error of punting on third down.

Since the financial collapse of 2008, which seemingly demolished the job market into debris, capitalism has come under heavy artillery attack from the off key chorus of liberal journalists, activists, and politicians who have not learned a new song in decades. More importantly and disturbingly, world leaders, such as President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, have made out of tune contributions to the farcical nonsense that condemns“unbridled” capitalism as the exploitative and destructive creator of vicious“income inequality.”

Libertarians and defenders of the free market have reacted to the lunacy of central planning advocacy with appropriate mockery and anger, but have largely missed the crucial truth of human history that would deflate the hot air balloon of government spending enthusiasm.

Most often, they merely make the correct, but uninspiring point that gluttonous deficit spending, coupled with the bloat of entitlement expansion, will turn the entire country into a rickshaw for the morbidly obese. You can only get so far following the liberal model, and eventually, the entire thing will fall apart.

That fact based argumentation contains compelling and undeniable veracity, but it misses the moral case for capitalism.

According to the joint research of Xavier Sala-i-Martin, an economist at Columbia University, and MIT economics professor, Maxim Pinkovskiy, since 1970, the world’s worst poverty, meaning the amount of people living on one dollar a day or less, has declined by eighty percent.

News of this stunning achievement is like a damaging secret about a gangland enforcer. No one is going to spread it around out of fear of the repercussions. The major media, much like the Pope and President Obama, would prefer to keep alive the idea that capitalism is an evil that anointed agents of goodness – themselves – must unite to regulate and eradicate.

Capitalism is the very system of economics, however, that is responsible for the reduction of poverty in Africa and Asia. Martin and Pinkovskiy credit private property, commercial activity, and free trade for the uplift of millions of the world’s worst poor.

Bono, the lead singer of U2 whose organization DATA works to“eradicate extreme poverty in Africa”, recently told students at Georgetown University that “in dealing with poverty, welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid, free enterprise is the cure.”

As if the improvement in the conditions and lives of millions of the world’s poorest people wasn’t enough to demonstrate the ethical superiority of the free market over intrusive governmental involvement and interference in business, there is also staggering evidence available in the world’s richest country, the United States of America.

For all of the obsessive self-pity and envy that comes with derision of the “one percent”, all Americans remain in the one percent of the world. According to every measurement of health, safety, and welfare, the world’s one percent not only enjoys a high standard of living, but takes comfort from the continual increase in standard of living. The free market is effective at broadening the benefits of prosperity, and anyone who doubts thecase, can compare living in Miami and Havana.

Even within America’s borders, people unwilling to wear the intellectual shackles of ideology can make instructive comparisons: Would you rather look for a job in California or Texas? Would you rather raise a child in Detroit or Indianapolis?

The states and cities with lower levels of government spending, lower taxes, and less regulations are more livable. In the world and in America, the places with a stronger and freer market, have healthier and happier people.

The moral case for capitalism is easy to make, and it should amplify the voices of free market advocates, while overpowering the sputtering whimpers of its detractors, and shaming them into silence.

New Essay at Splice Today: Racial Conflict and Tension in American Life

The news media is a relic, an over-the-hill, front porch swinging, sclerotic, dementia-debilitated, half-dead, halfwit trying to tell everyone “how it used to be.” The sports media, and specifically ESPN, is what now offers the most racially smart and sophisticated programming in pop culture….

Read the rest of my essay on ESPN and race in America at Splice Today.

New Column for The Indianapolis Star: Marijuana Legalization Makes Sense for Indiana

I don’t like marijuana, and I don’t enjoy socializing with people under its influence. But what separates me from most elected officials is that I am not so arrogant as to believe that my personal preferences function as divine mandates. Just because I don’t enjoy something, does not mean that you should not have the option of trying it, and if you do try it, you should face the risk of criminal penalty.

There are many practical reasons to legalize marijuana…

Read the rest of my column on legalizing marijuana at the Indianapolis Star.

New Essay at The Daily Beast: Books to Transform Your Sad Life

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, I offer a syllabus for self-transformation. From my introduction to the book list:

As the New Year dawns, let’s admit that the American psyche is a dilapidated maze of funhouse mirrors that leads nowhere. It should not shock even the most credulous patriot that many people who spend their internal lives within this maze of narcissism and dysfunction have major problems. One in five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The New York Times recently reported that suicide rates are rising so rapidly and steadily that more Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In a turn that vindicates Aldous Huxley, one in ten Americans ingests their daily Soma supplement in the form of antidepressants.

Many Americans are like Soren Kierkegaard’s allegorical corpse who did not realize he was alive until the morning he woke up dead—aimlessly wandering around in a drug addled haze, indulging smart phone addiction, disconnected from reality and community, while wondering why they feel unhappy and unfulfilled.

To worsen their condition of alienation and dejection, many Americans, in an attempt to feel better, read books that manipulatively sell mindless optimism and pathological hope. The cult of positive thinking turns out one hit after another, both secular—The Secret—and Christian—Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel. The delusion that changing a life is as simple as believing it will change, and the poison that pretends God wants people who pray early and often to win the lottery, only raise expectations to unrealistic heights, and set desperate people up for a crushing fall with a crash landing.

Since Americans seem to love making New Years resolutions, now might be a sensible time for many to resolve to gain maturity and perspective in 2014. Such a process of self-education can and should begin with the close reading of books containing wisdom that will alleviate their anxiety, provide edifying purpose, and begin to transform their minds from circuses to cathedrals.

Check out my ten book recommendations, including Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal, American history books, sexual advice, and a “loafer’s manifesto”, at the Daily Beast.

New Column for the Indianapolis Star: Mike Pence Leads Way Against Government Bloat

In my new column for the Indianapolis Star, I defend Indiana Governor’s miserly cuts to the higher education budget, picking up on the thread I’ve deemed the “higher ed hustle” in American life.

I also reference the brilliant theory of Jonathan Rauch – “demosclerosis.”

The column is an interesting and important read for anyone still caught in the 1960s and suffering from the belief that the modern university is still a dilapidated school house where professors wearing clip on ties lecture to students on scholarships sharing a single text book.

It is, in fact, one of the most profitable, and selfish, institutions in the world, and it is continually scamming American students and their families. Pence’s small cuts to the budget are necessary, helpful, and one can hope, the beginning of a new precedent throughout the country.

New Column for Indianapolis Star: State Has No Business Banning Gay Marriage

State Has No Business Banning Gay Marriage

Indianapolis Star: December 5, 2013

The Indiana State Constitution is based on the United States Constitution – perhaps the most important document in the history of humanity’s fight for freedom. Considering the legal brilliance, political empowerment, and spiritual hope that the Constitution embodies, it would set a dangerous precedent, and betray the meaning of America to amend the constitution – at the state or federal level – to limit liberty, rather than enlarge it.

The ink that the American founders used to write the Constitution doubled as the concrete that provided the foundation for Republican Democracy around the world. An essential part of its vision is the separation of church and state. While that actual phrase might not appear in the Constitution, the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, made it clear in letters that they intended to keep bureaucrats out of the business of religion, and keep clerical bullies from imposing their dogmas on the duties of governance. The Supreme Court has upheld and validated the separation interpretation of the Establishment Clause in dozens of cases dating back hundreds of years.

It is for these reasons that any thoughtful, reasonable, and moral person must vehemently oppose the proposal to change the Indiana State Constitution to include an amendment banning gay marriage.

It is not the State’s role to make judgments on the consensual sex lives of adults. If America is to remain a friendly home for freedom, it must extend that freedom, and the equality of opportunity and dignity that goes along with it, to gay Americans – the majority of whom are law abiding, taxpaying citizens who conduct themselves with decency and responsibility.

Homosexuality is not only a form of sex. It is also a form of love. All Americans, but especially those who wear the label of “family values conservative,” should seek to honor that love in the maintenance of a society that values romantic commitment and familial care.

The entire debate surrounding gay marriage is cartoonishly absurd, given that there is no credible argument against it. One side uses legal precedent, philosophical argumentation in keeping with the American tradition of individual liberty, and simple kindness, while the other recites passages from a book written thousands of years ago.

The Bible, along with any other religious text, is to have no influence on the laws of our secular government. Any religious doctrine can influence the way people think and behave in a free country, but the Constitution clearly prohibits the exercise of religion during legislative activity or judicial decision-making.

When gay marriage opponents claim that their argument is The Bible, they are confessing that they have no argument.

American opinion is reaching a favorable consensus on gay marriage, and when legalization does inevitably occur, no church will have to marry a gay couple. The beauty of the separation of church and state is that it is mutually protective of religion and governmental autonomy and interest.

That being said, on the issue of religion, gay marriage opponents have yet to answer important questions.

The Bible prohibits adultery, divorce, eating shellfish, working on the Sabbath, wearing clothing of mixed fabrics, wearing gold, and touching a woman experiencing her period. For most of these crimes – including working on Sundays – the penalty is death.

Why are the loudest defenders of Biblical law, who so eagerly denounce gay marriage, not insisting that these injunctions also influence government legislation?

Might it be that they are not truly motivated by religion, but that they are using religion as a cover story for the exclusion and hurtful treatment of people they just don’t like?

David Masciotra is the author of All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp (forthcoming, The University Press of Kentucky) and Against Traffic: Essays on Politics and Identity. For more information visit http://www.davidmasciotra.com.

New Column at The Indianapolis Star: Why Indy Prospered and Detroit Declined

I was once an adherent to the liberal narrative of government growth and economic planning. Lucidity and literacy, however, changed my mind. Simple comparisons, at the municipal and state levels, of alternative models of government settle the case – California versus Texas, Illinois versus Wisconsin, and the story of two cities that provides the basis of my new column for the Indianapolis StarIndianapolis versus Detroit.

As Detroit’s promises of remuneration for public sector employees became unrealistic, its taxes became punitive, its regulations became unnavigable and incomprehensible, and its government became bloated to the point of obesity, the home of the American automotive industry and Motown Records went bankrupt. The once rich, populous, and culturally vibrant city now fails to offer its residents basic services, has an official unemployment rate of 20 percent, and a housing market comparable to undeveloped countries.

In the 1960s, journalists gave Indianapolis the unflattering nickname of “Nap Town.” “There is only one thing to do in Indianapolis,” the joke went, “take a nap.” Its downtown resembled an abandoned movie set. Businesses, along with families, fled the city, and the situation seemed hopeless. Now, it is considered a “sports capital” of the country, its downtown is busy, full of commercial, social, and recreational activity, and its unemployment rate is lower than the national average.

Many factors account for the revitalization and resurrection of Indianapolis, but the politically undeniable aspect is a consistent fidelity to low taxes and deregulation. Indianapolis leaders, from both the Republican and Democratic parties, intended to incentivize investment and entrepreneurship, attract business and home owners, and create a legal system to encourage risk, rather than punish it.

The sights outside of the window as one takes a drive through each city – one a clean, efficient, bustling, and growing center of commerce and community, and the other a dangerous, dilapidated, and dysfunctional home of corruption and crime – makes the political conclusions obvious to all but the most ideologically stubborn .

Read the column here.

New Column for the Indianapolis Star: Obamacare Website’s Failure Highlights Private Sector’s Superiority

In my latest column for the Indianapolis Star, named one of the best of the week around the country by USA Today, I address how critics who called Barack Obama a glorified celebrity five years ago, despite being ruthlessly attacked, are now proven as painfully correct in their assessment.

I then transition into how the HealthCare.Gov fiasco demonstrates the superiority of the private sector in accomplishing important tasks, both large and small.

It seems the only people still defending the disastrous lack of leadership from President Obama are those still enamored by who he is, and indifferent to what he does. That is the classic case of a personality cult.

Christmas In Washington 2011