A Second Look at Second Life Analogies

My letter to the Washington Post regarding Michael Gerson’s “Where the Avatars Roam,” which appeared in the Post last week:

Michael Gerson’s July 6 piece “Where the Avatars Roam” shows that his understanding of libertarianism isn’t nearly as deep as his understanding of online games.

Mr. Gerson describes Second Life as “large-scale experiment in libertarianism,” citing the game’s lack of community structure and long-term consequences.  He describes this “libertarian” world as one in which there is not human nature, only human choices.

This doesn’t describe a libertarian world, but one of fantasy.  Libertarianism, as envisioned by the founding fathers or Friedrich Hayek, is predicated on an understanding of the world that’s very different from Second Life.  Common sense agrees with this libertarian understanding–the world is one of consequences, community institutions are vital to human life, and human beings have an innate nature that we should harness, not deny.

True, libertarians believe in the idea of spontaneous order, but Mr. Gerson treats this idea unfairly.  Libertarianism holds that society is not the product of uncoordinated human choice, but of human choice coordinated by the institutions of liberty.  Rule of law, private property, and a robust civil society together create rules within which markets operate to ensure the greatest possible outcomes, both for individuals and for society as a whole.

Denying human nature and basic economics is the forte of the modern left, not libertarians.  Perhaps Second Life would be a good testing ground for the left’s pet theories–they may work better there.  As for libertarians, we’ll stick to the real thing.