Our SimCity government
By Paul Driessen and David Legates
Back in 1983, during the information processing Cretaceous Period, Maxis developed a new genre of educational, yet entertaining computer games. The latest version will be released next year.
SimCity allows players to build virtual cities by zoning land, adding buildings to enhance the needs and desires of Sim-citizens, adjusting tax rates, building power and transportation networks, and making other municipal decisions. Players don't win or lose. They employ their knowledge of city life and urban planning to determine whether their SimCities thrive – or become uninhabitable urban deserts.
Sim-citizens are essentially helpless. They don't populate your city unless you, the benevolent dictator or mayor, give them what they need and want. You can zone land residential, but citizens cannot live there unless you create commercial land nearby, so that a supermarket can be built. They can't get to the supermarket until you build a road. Now they are happy but have nowhere to work. So you zone more commercial land and create jobs, by establishing businesses, highways and rail lines. To keep them happy, you, the all-seeing, all-knowing mayor, build stadiums and parks. And on and on it goes.
The beauty of SimCity is threefold. First, players get to be overseers of growing virtual communities, calling the shots and having the citizenry respond to their decisions. They really can tell their Sim-citizens, "If you are successful, it's because I invested in roads and bridges, and created this Sim-system that allowed you to thrive. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. I made it happen!"
Second, the lives of every Sim-citizen are completely dependent on the actions of the players/mayors, who succeed only if they are intelligent, thoughtful and responsible. However, no matter what happens, the virtual citizenry can't assemble, protest or vote them out of office.
Third, even if players make monumental mistakes, create a fetid urban cesspool, or even kill off their virtual populations, they just start over, without accountability or penalty. After all, it's only a game.
The problem with SimCity game theory is likewise threefold.
First, it has intruded into our real world. Far too many politicians, planners, bureaucrats and judges see themselves as intellectually gifted rulers, who know what's best for us citizens. They treat communities, businesses, families and people like let's-pretend virtual realities in a SimCity, SimState or SimNation – helpless, ill-prepared to make our own decisions, and in need of constant, pervasive "guidance." They live in a theoretical world, in which their actions have only hypothetical consequences on virtual people.
Instead of limited government focused on real needs, problems and priorities, we now have massive, intrusive government deciding and regulating every facet of human life and behavior. Instead of free, responsible people making free, responsible decisions, so long as they do not harm others, supposedly omniscient, benevolent governing elites seek to control energy and transportation systems; what people may eat, drink and even say; what kinds of cars they may drive, toilets they may flush, and shopping bags they may use; even what kinds of views they may hold if they want permission to open a business.
Government of, by and for the people has almost "perished from the Earth." Instead, government by fiat presents us with 2,700-page laws drafted by legislators who "know what's good for us," coercively enacted so that "we can learn what's in them" – and turned over to unelected, unaccountable, equally omniscient and benevolent technocrats who convert the laws into 27,000 pages of new regulations and 270 new criminal sanctions.
Second, SimCity methods too often substitute for the real world. Our ruling elites increasingly use computer models to create virtual reality energy, economies and businesses, and "observe," "measure," forecast and govern the real world outside their windows. Too often, the models are based on erroneous or politicized assumptions, compounded by outdated or incorrect data – and yet are used to produce GIGO analyses and conclusions that determine and justify agendas, decisions, taxes, laws and regulations.
If predictive models say we are depleting our oil and gas reserves, we should ignore new exploration, drilling and production technologies that are dramatically increasing petroleum output. If hockey stick models say rising carbon dioxide causes catastrophic global warming, we should discount actual global temperature trends and past weather and climate events of equal magnitude and duration. If Keynesian models conclude that higher taxes and deficit spending will bring prosperity, then 8.3% unemployment and 1.7% growth simply mean we need even more taxes, regulations and "stimulus."
A spinoff program, SimEarth, purported to model the climate and allow players to regulate climate conditions by adjusting atmospheric gases, continental drift, reproductive rates of various life forms, topography, solar output and other factors (which is more than most IPCC climate models consider). Players could also create oxygen generatorsand othertechnologies, to fine-tune their planets' atmosphere, climate and evolutionary processes. An unfortunate legacy of SimEarth is the fallacy that humans really can centrally-manage our Real Earth's climate – a belief that is seen clearly in today's energy and climate change policies and the almost religious belief in climate model prognostications.
Third, under SimCity rules, politicians and bureaucrats steadily acquire, and constantly seek, more power and control over the businesses, lives and livelihoods of more people. They seem to forget that Americans are not virtual Sim-citizens, but real breathing people, with real families, businesses, needs, homes, hopes and dreams that are buffeted, punished and sometimes destroyed by excessive laws and regulations.
Worse, the ruling classes too often exempt themselves from the rules and penalties they inflict on everyone else. They want decision-making power, the right to spend billions in taxpayer money, the authority to impose regulations and penalties on companies and citizens. But they refuse to accept responsibility, conduct due diligence or be held accountable when they make monumental blunders that cost people their businesses, livelihoods, homes or lives. To them, it seems, it's only a game.
Thus, members of Congress impose Obamacare but can't be bothered to pass a budget or rein in runaway bureaucracies. Energy Department officials responsible for Solyndra and other "green" bankruptcies keep their jobs and keep pouring billions of OPM (other people's money) into new crony-corporatist schemes. An ATF official deeply involved in the "Fast and Furious" debacle that got agent Brian Terry killed goes on "extended leave" but keeps his six-figure salary, fattens his government pension and double-dips at J.P. Morgan. The modelers and scientists implicated in ClimateGate and other highly questionable activities get more billions to advance an hydrocarbon eradication agenda. And on and on it goes.
When playing SimCity, it's always tempting to seek more control – to be able to say to Sim-citizens: "You need to live next to that industrial complex" or "You have to move into that 10-story housing complex that has apartments of 800 square feet per family." It worked under communism; it should be an option in the game. For that matter, SimCity dictators should be able to raise Sim-citizen taxes and hire jack-booted thugs to rough up Sim-recalcitrants who refuse to obey. Claiming victory would be so much easier, even if the outcome was a dismal failure – just as under real world totalitarian governments.
The United States cannot and must not operate under SimCity rules. It is the people – not the government – who innovate, improve the world, care most deeply about their fellow citizens. It is the people who create businesses and jobs, provide goods and services, and allow free, responsible, hard-working fellow citizens to achieve more than they ever could on their own. As President Obama suggested, government can and should help facilitate this. But too often it throws obstacles in the way, and functions as a not-so-benevolent SimCity dictator.
What we need is a LibertyCity game. It would be like SimCity, and players would still be mayors, but citizens would enjoy and be responsible for government of, by and for the people. Make taxes oppressive, and you get replaced. Squander money by padding the pockets of your friends, and you land in jail. Invest in fly-by-night enterprises like Solyndra or Fisker Automotive, and you are out of office. Turn into a heavy-handed dictator, and you get kicked out of your own game, and the 13-year-old down the street takes over. Maybe then both you and the kid would learn how government is supposed to work.
In fact, we need LibertyCity in real life too – right here, once again, in the United States.
Maybe in 2013, we can play LibertyCity, instead of laboring four more years under arrogant SimCity centralized government control. Actually, that's what the November 6 election is really all about.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. David Legates is a professor of climatology at the University of Delaware.