Doug French

There are few movies or miniseries that depict day-to-day business as a central part of the story. Most screenwriters likely find it dull and uninteresting, believing audiences have no interest in watching how other people perform the duties that put food on their table. Moviemakers are loath to tell stories involving small-time entrepreneurs: the struggles, the long hours, the satisfaction of success, and possibly the unraveling. It's not easily done.

However, it turns out that the TV-watching public is interested in watching truck drivers haul mining equipment on Alaska's icy roads, fisherman catching crabs in the icy ocean, roughnecks working drill rigs, chefs cooking all sorts of dishes, and pawnshop dealers valuing esoteric items all the while wondering who they can sell the items to and for how much.

The fact is, when strangers meet, the typical question is "what do you do for a living?" That is virtually everyone's common ground. And most times an insider's knowledge about a profession or business is fascinating.

But Hollywood typically turns a blind eye. In the 1940s Hollywood had its chance with the third of James M. Cain's trifecta of Depression-era Los Angles novels, Mildred Pierce. Most fiction fans are familiar with only the first two, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, both of which were made into blockbuster movies. Libertarians may recognize Cain as a contributor to the American Mercury and as a close friend of H.L. Mencken, who said, "The only author I ever knew who never wrote a bad article was James M. Cain."

Hollywood wanted Mildred Pierce on film as well, but insisted that what the story needed was a murder the novel lacked. The result was a Joan Crawford vehicle that, while winning her an Oscar, barely resembles Cain's classic novel.

Todd Haynes and HBO have righted this wrong, with Haynes faithfully telling Cain's story in five parts. And as Benjamin Schwartz writes for The Atlantic,

Cain wrote the greatest work of American fiction about small business. He made compelling the intricacies of real-estate deals and cash flow, of business planning and bank loans, and of relations with suppliers and customers.

Doug French

Doug French is is president of the Mises Institute and author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply and Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth

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