A commenter writes:
Is being a libertarian strongly positively correlated with being a WoW enthusiast? David Friedman, son of Milton, seems to be an example
Indeed, that guy is a total nerd. In addition to blogging a lot about World of Warcraft, he’s also into the Society for Creative Anachronism and other uber-nerdy activities.
But responding to the question, I think that if there is a link between online role playing games and libertarianism, it’s that the economies in online games work the way that libertarians like to think the real world works.
The economy in online role playing games is much closer to the model of perfect competition, which is the standard method of analysis that libertarians like to use to evaluate the real world economy even though there is very little perfect competition in the real world.
The irony is that the key to perfect competition, based on the online gaming model, is government regulation. In an online role playing game, the company which owns the game, such as Blizzard (which owns WoW) or Square Enix (which owns Final Fantasy XI), acts as the government, and creates inviolable laws ensuring fair competition.
1. The rules of the game ensure that all goods of the same name are completely fungible. All +1 mythril swords are exactly the same. You can’t “craft” a +0.95 mythril sword and call it a +1 mythril sword, because the rules of the game don’t allow it. You can’t craft a +0.95 sword at all. The number of different items in the fantasy world is pretty finite.
2. The government ensures that everyone has fair access to the markets by operating a single store in each city known as the Auction House. Anyone is allowed to sell a certain number of fungible items at the Auction House, and whoever sets the lowest price will sell his good first. Each character has a limited number of auction house slots, so everyone has a fair chance to sell his goods without all of the auction house slots being dominated by a single brand.
To contrast with the real world, try taking some stuff you manufactured at home to the local Walmart and putting it up for sale. Sorry, that’s not going to happen. In the real world, there is a huge barrier to entry involved to just getting your stuff on store shelves. And even if you could somehow put “Bob’s homemade sneakers” on sale next to Nike, people would buy the Nikes because they won’t trust your no-name brand. Unlike in WoW, in the real world there’s no guarantee that Bob’s sneaker’s are identical to Nike—in fact, they clearly aren’t just based on the fact that Nike sneakers have a “swoosh” on them which advertises your prole tastes to the world.
3. In the online role playing game, there is no assembly-line production. Every player operates as his own sole proprietorship with no employees. Thus there is no vale transference from employee to employer. You get to keep 100% of the value of your production.
4. In the online role playing game, there are no insurmountable barriers to entry. In the real world, once you’ve gone to the wrong law school, you can never get into a lucrative BIGLAW job. But in the online role playing game, if, per chance, you wasted time raising your leathercraft skills, and then discovered that goldsmithing is actually the more profitable trade, nothing prevents you from putting in the time to raise your goldsmithing skills.
5. In the online roleplaying game, there is a huge disparity in earning ability between the “rich” and the “poor,” but every character in the game has the full potential to obtain the same human capital (or perhaps “avatar capital” is the better word) as the richest people in the game. All you have to do is play the game for a really long time. Once you reach level 80, then you too can kill the monsters that drop the most expensive items, or mine ores from the highest level zones without dying. The game is set up in such a way that the reason why a level 80 character can earn a thousand times as much gold per hour as a level 1 character can be easily explained by the level 80 character have much higher human capital which allows him to create a lot more value.
Libertarians like to believe that the real world operates this way; that the only thing that prevents you from being as rich as Bill Gates is that Bill Gates put in the effort to raise his character to level 99, while you were too lazy to do the same thing. In the ideal libertarian world, there is no HBD, no luck, no credentialism, no irrational behavior, no Black Swan events (to use the term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb), no winner-take-all effects, no insurmountable barriers to entry, no value transference.
In other words, the online role playing economy is fair in a manner that the vast majority of people would define fair, but the real world is not.