Libertarianism in a Computer Game

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Writes Matt Rowe:

I am playing the very popular and much awarded computer RPG game, Dragon Age: Origins. Like many modern RPGs, it contains moral choices, from good to evil, to shades of gray. It is a very good game, and I am sure many of your readers play it.

There is a quest in the game in which you are asked to stop a merchant from price gouging. You come across the merchant being harassed by a clergy member and a couple of men identified as refugees. The clergy member, backed by the tough looking ‘refugees,’ demand that the merchant sell at prices that they consider to be fair.

As for the merchant, he stands his ground and insists that he has a right to charge whatever prices he pleases.

You have an opportunity to side with the clergy/refugees, or the merchant. To be “good,” I was expected to threaten the merchant and get him to sell his goods at the price that the clergy/refugees consider fair.

But Libertarian, free market economics teaches us there is no such thing as price gouging, only market prices and voluntary transactions. High prices bring in other competitors attracted by the potential for profits and encourages increased production in the high priced product (both of which bring down prices).

Furthermore, this merchant was heroically putting his life at risk to provide valuable goods in a dangerous area threatened by monsters called “darkspawn.” Yet it is considered “good” to deprive him of any incentive to perform this valuable service. Given the harassment of merchants, it is a wonder any merchant would want to service that area, especially with the risk to life and limb it poses.

In the end, I chose the libertarian, free market action, and sent the clergy and thuggish refugees on their way. The merchant paid me for helping him drive away the extortionists, and gave me a discount at his shop, but I suffered a negative reaction from my companions (bar one) for my “evil” act. The only one that approved is the one with supposed evil tendencies.

I write this because I think that this shows the thinking of the average man on the street when it comes to prices and “price gouging.” Professor Block’s “Defending the Undefendable” opened my eyes to how “price gouging” is a natural market force and self correcting.

8:03 am on March 6, 2010