George W. Bush’s economic program–focused on tax cuts and (somewhat) restrained spending–has come under criticism from many quarters. The strangest critique, however, came even before the President took office. “I’m very, very concerned about the Bush presidency,” said Sarah Jessica Parker, actress and budding policy analyst. “I’m worried about the kind of cuts he might make in domestic programs that mean something to a lot of people, including people in my own family who depend on certain things from the government.”
Now there’s a social problem that’s gone seriously underreported. While everyone’s been focusing on trivial things like the economy, education, and health care, there are relatives of gazillionaires desperately in need of help. How can we live with ourselves knowing that the downtrodden of Bel Air are just a Bush budget cut away from personal disaster?
I could go on, but Parker has already received plenty of ridicule for her statement. It seems everyone from Rush Limbaugh to People magazine jumped on her. The disturbing thing, though, is that such forays in public policy analysis are far from unique among celebrities. A recent issue of Elle magazine featured Gwyneth Paltrow’s growing concerns over bioengineered foods (“I understand the capitalist ideal,” she explained, “but it’s gone a little far.”). And Leonardo DiCaprio has made us well aware of his views on climate change, through–among other things–an op-ed in Time (given his role in Titanic, he may know a thing or two about rising sea levels).
Of course, there’s nothing new about actors taking political stands. It’s been going on at least since John Wilkes Booth. But lately the whole thing seems to have reached a new level. Just look at the last election. Carl Sagan would have had trouble counting the stars in Gore’s camp–which included Cher, Ben Affleck, Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, and many more.
Of course, not all celebrities are liberal. Bush had a small stable of celebs in his corner, ranging from Loretta Lynn to Bo Derek. Others such as Charlton Heston and Arnold Schwarzenegger have made themselves fixtures in conservative circles.
Still, there’s no denying that your typical star or starlet slants left. Why that is true is a tougher question. Some say it’s an occupational hazard–working at a Hollywood studio affects your mind the way that working in a West Virginia coal mine affects your lungs.
More likely, the tilt has deeper causes. It’s not just Hollywood–the arts have never been a hotbed of free-market economics. (Just try saying “Gingrich” at a community theater cast party.) One explanation may lay in the nature of the field and those drawn to it. Acting is a profession where emotion and feeling are at a premium. The cold, hard deductive logic that may appeal to engineers just doesn’t go as far.
This points to a major challenge for free-market supporters. As regular readers of UpDate know, we need to move beyond proving the logic of supply and demand curves. We need also to show that economic freedom will actually help people. Do you want to reduce malaria in Africa? Reduce highway fatalities? Feed the hungry? The answer is less government, not more.
I’m under no illusions. Free-market supporters will probably always have fewer stars on our side. We will always face a celebrity gap. But we can do a whole lot better in communicating our ideals to people who don’t think like economists.
Who knows? Maybe even Sarah Jessica Parker will someday come around. Even if her relatives do lose their government aid.