The Wire

I really like the HBO series "the Wire" about the Baltimore police force and the pursuit of various drug gangs, which I have been catching up on via DVD.  While season 2 and 3 were not quite as good as 1, they still are quite good.

In many respects, this is a very libertarian series in outlook.  A central part of the show is that government officials nearly universally do wrong and wasteful things.  However, only a few of them are overtly corrupt.  The vast majority are regular folks responding rationally to the types of incentives government employees are given and which result in really bad outcomes.

In fact, I may just be screwed up from too many years in a past life working on corporate performance metrics, but at some level the show is all about incentives.  Even within the drug gangs, there is an interesting interplay between Avon and Stringer due mainly to the fact that though they face roughly the same circumstances and inputs, one has a goal of making money while the other has a goal of reputation and street cred.  I can see now why the Freakonomics blog discusses the show so often.

Oh, and the season 3 experiment with effective drug legalization is also interesting.

Highly recommended.


  1. jeh:

    For my money, the best series ever of any sort (despite having to use subtitles regularly). Season four is better still than 1, 2, or 3, taking a hard look at education in the city. I'll have to wait for the DVDs for the 5th and last season that is showing on HBO now.

  2. Mark:

    The first four seasons were definitely chock full of libertarian themes. Seasons 1,3, and 4 were some of the best television I've ever seen. But this season has been a huge let down so far - the show's realism seems to have been replaced with a pessimism about human nature that is far more over the top than in the previous seasons. The show has also added a deeply anti-capitalist message to its theme.

  3. noahpoah:

    Ah, another convert to The Wire. Season 4 is great. You'll love it.

  4. me:

    I disagree with Mark about Season 5, but am not surprised that he detects a "deeply anti-capitalist message" in the show -- from everything I've read, the show's creator (David Simon) considers capitalism to have run amok, and he intends the show to convey that message.

    Nevertheless it's the best thing I've ever seen, or expect to see, on TV.

  5. RDub:

    Great, great show. Not so great that I'm willing to pay for HBO in order to get it new, but a fine DVD set to own or rent.

    David Simon is hugely critical of capitalism "run amok", per the point 'me' makes above. Mark Bowden just had a good article on him in the Atlantic that goes into some of the details (available online, don't have the link handy at work).