Monday, May 24, 2004

Supply, Demand, Liberals, Conservatives, and Role-Playing

DISCLAIMER: This post is part of my ongoing effort to reach new heights of geekery each day. Tomorrow I'll probably post on how Voltron and the Transformers lead me to embrace the virtues of a socialist, multicultural society at an early age. Lordy, I'm a big dork-ass.

Saturday, my friends and I had our twice-a-month game of Vampire. My buddy John and I are playing Jacob and Tobias Gould, a pair of twin brothers who were Kabbalists in life, before their embrace into House and Clan Tremere.

Now Jake and Toby are pretty good at all this 'magic' stuff, and because we work together well, we're turning out to be fairly formidable, despite our relative youth, newness to the group, and high generation. It was when we, as part of a larger coterie (or 'party'), were getting geared up to take out the third Sabbat safehouse in an evening (think of the end of The Godfather: multiple surgical strikes, not leaving the enemy any time to regroup) that our storyteller, Mike, said "Man, I think next time I'm going to have to limit how much willpower you guys can start with."

Well, this lead into a discussion on how Mike would like to see more broad-based characters with less narrow specializations . . . less "I'm the mage, I'm the fighter" more "jack-of-all trades realism", in other words. His proposed solution was to limit the number of points anyone can put into any specific skill or discipline at the beginning to three. Although I share his goal (well-rounded characters can be more fun to play, after all), I dislike his solution, favoring, instead, trying to modify the way the story flows so as to encourage people to build more well-rounded characters. Reward diversity and punish specialization.

My argument, in a nutshell, is that people are Smart, Devious, Sneaky Little Self-Interested Bastards, and saying 'no' never really works out as well as we'd like it to. If you tell someone that he can't increase his melee skill to 5, instead he'll increase his melee, brawling, archery, firearms, and flamethrower skills to 3 each. Or he'll find a way to kick ass with skills at 3 points anyhow. Or he'll wait for gameplay to begin and THEN begin the race towards specialization. If, instead, you just run your game in such a way that the player realizes that putting points in "science," "expression," and "politics" rather than "whoop-ass" is good for him, then he'll do that. Make his self-interest work for your plan, not against it.

Anyway, after that digression, we finished up, and the next day I was talking over the game with John, when I realized that the argument I made was, in microcosm, the liberal argument about all sorts of social issues. The two that come to mind immediately, of course, are drugs and abortion. If you take as granted that we want to reduce the number of abortions (I know, it's not necessarily granted, but indulge me) and the number of drug addicts, there are really just two ways to do it. We can reduce supply (outlaw abortions, outlaw drugs, arrest drug dealers and abortion doctors) or we can reduce demand (spend more on drug treatment facilities, spend more on drug education, make sure high-quality contraception is universally available dirt-cheap or free, make sure high-quality child care is universally available dirt-cheap or free).

That's it. Supply and demand. Those are our only options.

Reducing supply tends not to work, like I said, because people are SDSLSIBs, so when you make crack against the law, they won't stop getting high. They'll just buy it illegally, or make it themselves, or steal it, or move to another, still-legal drug . . . and, oh look you made the problem worse. When you make abortions against the law, women won't stop having abortions, they'll just have them illegally, or go out of the country, or try to self-induce, or leave the infant in a dumpster . . . and, oh look you made the problem worse.

The basic argument pattern seems to hold true for most issues across the board. On issues where liberals and conservatives agree on our goals, we disagree on the methods, with conservatives favoring attacking the supply and liberals favoring attacking the demand. The funny thing is, free-marketers that they are, you would think that conservatives would realize that attacking the supply without fiddling with the demand just makes the remaining product that much more valuable. Hell, even if you completely WIPE OUT the supply, as long as there's demand, someone will figure out a way to provide a supply.

I guess the one caveat is that for many conservatives, abortion, at least, is a 'moral' argument, so results aren't important. "Whether we increase or decrease the number of abortions isn't the issue. The issue is that abortion is wrong, period, so it should be against the law." This is why I've always had trouble with the image of conservatives as 'hard nosed realists' willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done . . . 'whatever it takes' never seems to include doing 'stuff that works.'

Anyway, does anyone have any issues this pattern doesn't hold true for? Anything where the rightward side of our political spectrum favors fiddling with the social demand while the leftward one favors outright criminalization? I guess might guns come close, although it's more that the lefties want to impose modest restrictions, while the righties don't give much of a shit about supply or demand. Huh. Go figure.



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