Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lie to Me and Public Choice

I have been watching the TV series Lie to Me (Season 1) recently and was pleasantly surprised to see that script writers seem to understand public choice. Most crime shows these days have elements to show the fight against terrorism, pedophiles being apprehended and such items where the government and its agents are the heros. Lie to Me is different. The investigating agency is a private company founded by one man who has studied facial expressions for decades and can solve crimes by telling if the person he is talking to is lying. The most interesting part to me is not how he solves the crimes, but who gets implicated in the end. In at least two episodes, they reveal corrupt bureaucrats and politicians who caused people to die. 
The bureaucrat in the immigration office uses his power to grant Visa extensions to aliens and uses them in an illegal surrogacy racket. One of the characters talks about how long and expensive formal surrogacy procedures are which is why she chose the cheaper side-market. That I think is a wonderful explanation of how well-intended regulations go awry all the time. In another episode, the Mayor of the city anonymously bribes the city engineer to clear a site without inspecting for Methane under the building site which leads to an explosion killing some people. Her reasoning was that she needed the factory to be built to bring in jobs to the town where several people were unemployed. Here again we see a person in power, pushing her own agenda not only with the bribe to forgo inspection of the site, but through licensing and zoning laws. She admits that she used the latter two methods to force the company to hire more people than they needed. 
I am skeptical about claims of lie detection using facial expressions, because I think there are too many personal variables that cannot be objectively measured; however, this series (at least as far as I have seen it) understands Economics and more importantly Public Choice better than other TV series I have seen. I already have a few ideas to use some of these clips in my classroom exercises when I teach Public Choice. 

1 comment:

Visu said...

Long time, no post. And finally...