Self-Control and Civilization
By Bryan Caplan
I’m tempted to jump in and head-butt the libertarian: If you were to ask a compulsive gambler if he really wanted to waste his life, he would probably say no: that the life he wound up with is not the life he really wanted…
I would certainly agree that lottery tickets are a very low-quality diversion, and that the computer game Civilization packs at least fifty times the diversion-per-buck of a scratch lottery ticket. (Indeed, I find it so powerful and diverting that I have no copies: There was a time when I had to decide whether to be a Civilization addict or an economics professor.)
I’ve played for hundreds of hours, mostly during my first year of graduate school. And yet unlike Brad, I’ve never felt like I had a self-control problem. I played a lot because it was a lot of fun, and stayed fun for a long time.
Why do so many people use the language of addiction? I guess it’s partly sincere. I realize that I’m unusually self-satisfied; always have been. But it’s also worth pointing out that there is a huge social desirability bias here. Part of the reason why people who spend a lot of time and money on socially disapproved behaviors say they “want to change” is that that’s what they’re supposed to say.
Think of it this way: A guy loses his wife and kids because he’s a drunk. Suppose he sincerely prefers alcohol to his wife and kids. He still probably won’t admit it, because people judge a sinner even more harshly if he is unrepentent. The drunk who says “I was such a fool!” gets some pity; the drunk who says “I like Jack Daniels better than my wife and kids” gets horrified looks. And either way, he can keep drinking.
P.S. If you’ve got an early version of Civilization II, I wrote some fun scenarios for it, including a version of World War II where Hitler and Stalin begin as allies, and – for readers with cast-iron stomachs – a horrifying take on World War III…