Time to Drop Hamilton’s Economics

Review of that other Broadway play about Hamilton in The Washington Times, September 10, 1917. Public domain.

The July 3 premiere of Hamilton on streaming service Disney+ marked the end of a five-year wait for audiences who hadn’t seen the hit musical on stage.

Alexander Hamilton’s rivals in Hamilton concede that he “doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.” To the contrary, as Voltairine de Cleyre noted a century ago, Hamilton “devised a financial system of which we are the unlucky heritors,” an economic order designed “to puzzle the people and make public finance obscure to those that paid for it.”

Broadway stage performance might seem a retrograde medium for the likes of Hamilton and The Book of Mormon during the decade when web media went mainstream. To the latter’s co-creator Matt Stone, this merely shows that “if you tell good stories, the platforms are sort of beside the point. We made the most analog thing you can think of, a play at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, and it worked out as well as anything we have ever done.” But as Paul Goodman noted in People or Personnel, the capital-intensive, high-risk nature of Broadway (or Off Broadway aspiring to move off Off) “powerfully influences the choice of plays and style of acting and production.”

Skyrocketing rents in and around the Broadway theater district in midtown New York City — with access to real estate depending on political favors rather than business skill — restrict the space available to fresh talent. A production like Beetlejuice which reliably draws devoted crowds can be shuttered due to lack of available theater space. The Drama Book Shop, the space where Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda penned his previous Broadway show, In the Heights, was set to close until Miranda personally bailed it out.

For the fortunate shows that make it to Broadway, it can be lucrative to stay there. In the realm of what Goodman calls “un-free enterprise,” restricting supply reaps the benefit of stoked demand without the pressures of competition (while clamping the release valves of legal loopholes or ticket resellers). COVID-era theater shutdowns moved the filmed Hamilton premiere to the Internet instead of movie theaters. If the benefits of withholding had not been artificially inflated, it might have long been viewable via live broadcasting (a la  the Metropolitan Opera’s productions since 2006), research collections like the New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, or DVDs.

Hamilton arrives on an Internet video landscape well on its way to consolidation. Like Marvel Comics antagonist Galactus, compelled to continually devour entire worlds to survive, Disney has absorbed Pixar, Star Wars, the Muppets, Marvel itself, and even major-studio equal Fox into its vault. Those collections make it to home viewing missing words (including an expletive cut from Hamilton), visuals, or even entire episodes.

As de Cleyre understood, the creativity restricted by Hamiltonianism can best be unleashed by “the voluntary association of those interested in the management of matters of common concern, without coercion of the uninterested or the opposed.”

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases

Officers and men of Company F, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, in Fort Stevens, 1864
Officers and men of Company F, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, in Fort Stevens, 1864

In July 1864, Confederate forces led by General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens and Fort DeRussy on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Union forces drove them away after two days of skirmishes, but the battle threw a scare into the capital city and constituted a high point in the Confederacy’s Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

More than a century and a half later, the Confederates are back in Washington, meeting stiff resistance on Capitol Hill but garnering support from the White House.

This June, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sought the removal of portraits and statues honoring Confederate figures from the Capitol and its grounds.

Meanwhile,  the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the annual National Defense [sic] Authorization Act, offered by US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The amendment would give the Pentagon three years to re-name military bases named after Confederate figures.

US president Donald Trump says he’ll veto the NDAA if it comes to him with that amendment intact.

Will he? Almost certainly not.

The NDAA is the US government’s largest annual corporate welfare and middle/lower class workfare bill. This year’s version isn’t even at full pre-passage bloat yet and it already tops $740 billion in sweetheart payouts for “defense” contractors, plus salaries and benefits for more than three million jobs in, or related to, the military.

If Social Security is a political “third rail” (touch it and you die), the NDAA is the train that runs down the tracks on either side of that rail (get in its way and you’ll be run over and smooshed).

So no, Trump’s not serious about a veto. He’s just virtue signaling to those members of his southern and rural base who were weaned on pro-Confederate “Lost Cause” mythology (basically every southerner and most midwesterners who came of age before the 1990s). And yes, Pelosi and Warren are virtue signaling to their side of Culture War, 2020 Election Edition, too.

Both sides will drag this fake, silly fight out until after Election Day because it’s the fight itself, not the outcome, that brings in the campaign contributions and the votes. Style over substance, as usual.

But just for laughs, let’s think about what a compromise could look like if the two sides actually worked for the taxpayers instead of for the military industrial complex. How about this:

Don’t rename those “Confederate” bases. Instead, shut them down. Completely. Move or destroy the weapons, move or discharge the troops, and sell the real estate (with contract clauses forbidding use of the bases’ names or namesakes in subsequent uses).

For the sake of balance, shut down an equal number of bases named after Union military figures, on the same terms.

Then cut that NDAA by $100 billion or so, and call it a good start.

No, that’s not going to happen, at least while we keep sending Republicans and Democrats to Washington. They’ll occasionally slap new labels on their wicked and murderous behaviors, and sometimes assign blame to the old labels for those behaviors, but they won’t willingly change.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.