Wednesday, September 14, 2011

outlaw or entrepreneur

Here is another lesson from the wire. The police hero Jimmy Mcnulty  is with out a doubt self centered, but he is passionate about police work. In the service of "taking down" Milo Standfield and his gang, he simulates several crime scenes to suggest that someone is murdering street people. In truth he wants to create a crisis so that the mayor's office will release funds to the police department -- for overtime pay and equipment--that he hopes to use to get Stanfield.  In the process, he also uses an illegal wiretap which ultimately compromises the case the district attorney can bring against the Stanfield gang. But despite his stepping outside the bounds egregiously, we experience him as passionate about the policeman's  "primary task" of making the streets safe for ordinary people.

By contrast, Scott Templeton the young reporter makes up the news- pretending that the murderer of the street people  (who does not in fact exist, which Templeton does not know)  has phoned him. He does this  in order to create good copy and garner credit and glory for himself. The narrative is clever in linking these two developments. Both McNulty and Templeton lie, but presumably Templeton breaks the rules in the service of his own glory, while McNulty breaks them in the service of his primary task.

But is this distinction always so clear? The drama in fact suggests that McNulty while talented and committed, is vulnerable to grandiose feelings himself. What distinguishes the passionate entrepreneur who is willing to break rules from the outlaw who breaks the rule for his own selfish advantage?

Abraham Zaleznik once said that to understand the psychology of the entrepreneur one had to understand the psychology of the juvenile delinquent. Michael Milken created an entire new bond market, enabling companies with limited credit standing, to access the capital markets But he also was accused of insider trading. It is said that in considering the qualities of a person we must consider the "whole person" not just the parts we like. What are the dark sides of entrepreneurship?


  1. Someone is teaching a course on the wire at harvard:

    Although journalists and media critics around the world have heaped deserved acclaim on The Wire, many people do not recognize its contribution to social science. Students in this seminar will watch, critique, and discuss selected episodes of The Wire along with assigned readings on urban inequality that relate to these episodes. The assigned readings will feature academic books and research articles that describe and analyze life and experiences in inner city neighborhoods, as well as the social, economic, political, and cultural factors that shape or influence these experiences.

  2. Hi Larry, did you really mean "whose person" on the second last line? I read it as "whole person" and that makes sense; can't seem to reconcile it as written. Andrew