Dungeons and Dragons and Central Planning

Table top games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and Traveler are all great ways to stimulate your imagination, bond with friends, and practice your problem solving skills whether you are a game master or a player. The first time I was a player I was surprised by the freedom given to you in the game.

If you are unfamiliar with these kinds of games, just imagine a videogame like Skyrim or World of Warcraft, except there are no limits. In videogames you can run into plastic walls, can’t talk to certain non-player characters, can’t use certain items, etc, but in a tabletop game it is all in your imagination. You tell friends what you are doing, whatever that may be, and the game master describes how the environment or non-player characters react to those actions while other players decide for themselves how they will react to those same actions. As someone who has played role playing videogames, like Guild Wars, and strategy games, like Age of Empires, for my entire life, I was honestly delighted by the liberty you had as a player in a table top game. Of course the only reason this is possible is because a human can make cleverer responses to actions than a program can, especially when dealing in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction.

However, when I prepared for my first time being a game master I had a ‘conflict’ with some of my political ideas. Was I being a central planner for this world to the players? I was directing the “economy” around them and how all social interactions occurred with the players. However, I think you go further than being just a central planner when you are a game master. You aren’t just the mechanics of how players get money and how much any item costs, but you are also the trees, the bees, the deer, and the beer. You are literally all the universe that isn’t directly the players themselves. In this way, you are the god of this imagined universe (but the god of gods since there are gods that exist within most of these universes).

At this point, it should be noted that there is a significant difference between being a game master and being a central planner, which make it significantly easier to be a game master. When being a game master, you don’t have to deal with scarcity of any kind. It is an imagined world. There is no lack of cows, food, sand, water, swords, monsters, or anything else that might appear. I only have to think about it, say it, and it exists. The only thing I have to keep in mind is not creating an extreme rate of inflation for gold or experience among the players or else the numbers become unkind to work with and confusing to the players.

Without there being scarcity to worry about as a game master, directing this world as a planner must be an easy task. It is like writing a story or a book. Just imagine something entertaining or exciting and we will have smooth sailing. Except… Not really. Actually any interesting game for the players is the opposite of smooth sailing. It is frustrating, confusing, and everything is unexpected even as a game master, and it is all because of those pesky human players. They are too volatile of a variable. As players sit at the table, they create a narrative for their characters that have their own desires, motivations, fears, and beliefs. How am I suppose to plan around that?

I planned an entire quest going down the path to the burning Castle of Prince Ralley the Mighty, but then the elf rogue played by my friend decides they feel something calling to them in the forest and runs off the path into a mysterious forest I had only considered for 5 minutes before the session. What if the other players’ characters don’t want to follow him into the forest? What if one decides to attack the other? What if none of them are interested in the burning castle? Human players are a pesky variable that you can never predict.

So in this way, even when I don’t have to deal with scarcity in this world, I still struggle to plan for the players because I am not the players. I don’t have all the knowledge, motivations, and thoughts as the players, so I will never be able to perfectly plan for them. And sometimes, that lack of planning can show for a really crappy sessions, but most of the time I would like to think I am clever enough to rebound.

Regardless, I think tabletop games teach a valuable lesson on humans as a chaotic variable. The main take away for me being that humans are too complicated to plan around. Ludwig von Mises describes this problem to a great extent in his treatise Human Action, but to put it down to small excerpt from the piece:

“Since nobody is in a position to substitute his own value judgments for those of the acting individual, it is vain to pass judgment on other people’s aims and volitions. No man is qualified to declare what would make another man happier or less discontented.” –Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics

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Being a Good Samaritan

The United States suffers from a problem of drug overdose from illegal substances, whether it be underage drinking or the use of heroin. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 2001 and 2014, deaths due to cocaine overdose increased by 42%. In 2014, death due to heroin exceeded 10,000. Rose Rudd, Noah Aleshire, and several other authors from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), described the United States as “experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%”. Furthermore, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that out of the 94,200 respondents (all under the age of 21), 15.9% self-reported that they had engaged in binge drinking in the last 30 days.

These numbers are staggering. Why has there been such a sharp increase in overdose deaths recently? How can so many underage individuals be getting their hands on alcoholic beverages? While there are many hypothesis to answer these questions and a proven answer may never be known, that does not mean that there aren’t ways to combat these numbers.

The War on Drugs has a long history in the United States from the institution of prohibition in 1920 to Nixon coining the term “War on Drugs” and declaring it in 1974. Yet, even with this long fight against drug use, we still see drug use climbing, and we unfortunately see overdoses increasing as well. So perhaps tighter prohibition would not be the solution to this overdose dilemma, but ending prohibition (meaning legalizing cocaine, heroin, etc.) does not yet seem to be an option a wide majority of Americans are willing to accept, making it a politically infeasible goal for now. According to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll, only 11% of the thousand respondents wanted to legalize cocaine, 9% supported legalizing heroin, and 8% supported legalizing methamphetamines.

With this in mind, the current best and most feasible solution to decreasing the current drug overdose problem in the United States is to push for reform in good samaritan laws. Good samaritan laws comes in a lot of different variations such as freeing medical professionals or private citizens from liability if they try to help someone that is in immediate danger. However, this could go further to protect those in danger of overdose. With reform, people that call emergency services or seek medical attention for someone in danger of an overdose (or alcohol poisoning in the context of underage drinking) should be immune to any kind of criminal or civil punishments in the context of the event. For example, if there are teenagers that are drinking underage and one is suspected of being in danger of alcohol poisoning, the other participants should be immune to any kind of punishments should they call 911 to assist their friend. This could also be said about those that are using illicit substances. Furthermore, this law needs to be upheld unflinchingly and be well known in order for it to serve its purpose.

The strongest counter-argument for this proposal, and one that is quite common among prohibitionists, is that this could encourage drug use. If people know that they could use drugs and get out of a situation safely if an overdose were to occur, this fact would incentivize people to use illicit drugs.

Even if this were true, the main purpose of this law is not to decrease drug use, but to decrease deaths due to drug overdose, which is the problem we are facing in the United States. Furthermore, some states, municipalities, and universities have already instituted similar ideas of good samaritan laws. According to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Cornell University Instituted this form of good samaritan ruling in 2006, and not only found that there was a major increase in emergency calls, but that there was also a fairly constant rate of alcohol use on campus. Several states have also instituted good samaritan laws, like North Carolina, which is specifically for underage drinking, and California, which institutes this kind of reform fully, and neither of these states has seen a drastic increase of use after this kind of reform.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the #1 cited reason for people not calling 911 in the case of an overdose is the fear of criminal punishment. Since this is the case, it is clear that the only feasible way of alleviating death due to overdose is to ensure immunity of punishment through medical amnesty.

What does it mean to be agnostic on energy?

Simplistically, it means that we support the free market methods of finding a preferable energy source, whether it be renewables, fracking, nuclear energy, or some other energy production method.

It seems that there are many conservatives and libertarians across the United States that are against renewable energy, namely wind and solar, in and of itself. However, this shows a complete misunderstanding of the free market position. Oil and natural gas are not libertarian sources of energy, whatever that may mean. The whole point of a free market is that it is undesigned. There are no winner and losers chosen, but instead our energy source is “chosen” through consumer demand, prices, supply, and a multitude of other factors.

The truth is that I have a soft spot for renewable and clean energy. The environment is important to me, and I wish for people for years to come to enjoy the same Rocky Mountains I have enjoyed my entire life. I hope most people would think it would be absurd to claim otherwise. However, I still do not think it is appropriate for the government to mandate or skew markets for the sake of what a few may determine is a preferable energy supply, as it would most certainly be arbitrary.

For example if I were to choose, I would probably choose nuclear energy as a preferable form of energy production as it is clean, really awesome (totally not a value statement), and relatively effective. However, nuclear energy is not perfect as it can be really expensive to build the infrastructure for and takes incredibly specialized professionals to do the job. If some environmental leftists were to choose, I assume they would choose wind energy. Wind energy production doesn’t create emissions, and the wind is a resource that won’t be going away anytime soon. However, wind is not a reliable enough source of energy to depend on and the materials used to build these farms are not environmentally friendly either. Similar things could be said about solar energy. If a traditional conservative were to choose, they might choose hydraulic fracturing, which is relatively cheap and cleaner than crude oil drilling. However, fracking is not emissions-free and is also not currently politically desirable in many ways.

So when we set up a system that chooses winner and losers, the winner is only dependent on who the chooser is, which is not something that I think anyone is particularly interested in.

However, that does not mean we can’t have an effect on the energy being used today. We certainly can, but we can’t use government preferences for these ends. Consumer demand is a powerful element of a market, and it is something that we all can affect. If you are interested in cleaner energy, educate people about it. Make people really desire having cleaner energy or whatever form of energy you think is best. This isn’t an impossible task, but it is more difficult than using the government as a tool to your ends.

Furthermore, as surprising as this may sound, we must check our own privileges when discussing sound energy policy. Yes, the environment is important and we should protect it, but this does come with a higher bill. While this higher bill is mostly affordable to the high and middle class, the same can’t be said for the less fortunate and lower class. While they would certainly benefit from a cleaner environment, I am not sure they would find the tradeoff of being able to afford more food, better clothes, and so on desirable. However in a free market of energy, they could make such a choice if they so desire.

When it comes down to it sound energy policy is quite difficult, and even more so when you think the government should pick winners and losers in the market. People think that it is so easy when they post things to Facebook like “of course the government needs to subsidize renewable energy” yet they know very little about the costs of such a policy and who it effects. Likewise, people think it is so easy to say “oil and gas is the cheapest therefore the best”, but they don’t even bother to consider the externalities of such a decision or how different people may value its environmental effects.

Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, recently wrote about the difficulties of gun policy in which he explains that the gun control argument is not as obvious of an argument as its advocates would like you to believe and the gun rights argument is not as obvious of an argument as its advocates would like you to believe. The same could be said about energy policy, and most policy matters. It is hard. It is nuanced. There is no cure all policy or energy source, for that matter.

This is why I am agnostic on energy sources, and this is why the free market is so important. There are certainly market failures in addressing issues throughout history, but freeing up the market takes the hard decisions out of the hands of an arbitrary decider, or deciders, and into a complex system in which we all are a part of.