One can understand the complexities of socio-economics by looking at works of fiction, like this one. Gregg Ochaita told me about the very popular show, The Wire. Slate has a pretty good article by Drake Bennett about how social scientist are using this show as a teaching tool:
Asked why he was teaching a class around a TV drama, Wilson said the show makes the concerns of sociologists immediate in a way no work of sociology he knows of ever has. "Although The Wire is fiction, not a documentary, its depiction of [the] systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the urban poor is more poignant and compelling [than] that of any published study, including my own," he wrote in an e-mail.
For Wilson, the unique power of the show comes from the way it takes fiction's ability to create fully realized inner lives for its characters and combines that with qualities rare in a piece of entertainment: an acuity about the structural conditions that constrain human choices (whether it's bureaucratic inertia, institutional racism, or economic decay) and an unparalleled scrupulousness about accurately portraying them. Wilson describes the show's characters almost as a set of case studies, remarkable for the vividness with which they embody a set of arguments about the American inner city. "What I'm concentrating on is how this series so brilliantly illustrates theories and processes that social scientists have been writing about for years," he said in an interview.
I have used fiction to teach institutional economics, and science fiction to teach law and economics. What I like about this approach is that it presents a general equilibrium kind of environment. In other words, there is no "ceteris paribus" and everything is a mess, just like "real life."
A scene from The Wire: "it's about the product:"
HT: Gregg Ochaita