Between Baghdad and Cyberia

Expanded from the 11-28-2004 Daily Sparks Tribune
12-3-2004 Comstock Chronicle

Dubya's neo-con men licked their collective chickenhawk chops over Iraq. They would turn it into the world's first laboratory of unfettered, deregulated, pure capitalism. No EPA, no courts, no lawyers, no pesky congress. They even left one Saddam Hussein law in effect: a ban on unions, which are bad for totalitarian rule.

According to their econotheology, Iraq today should be a veritable paradise. It didn't work out that way.

Any ideology has a hard time down on the street. Churches and governments both depend on the same assumption: that enough followers of the code of conduct can be found to make the enterprise profitable. Schools work much the same way: Everyone is a round peg for which the system offers only round holes. Square pegs are sanded, machined, shaved and polished until they, too, become well-rounded groupthinkers. Or go to jail.

The real world is much more complicated, so we continually search for a new messiah to show the true path.

I nominate Edward Castronova. He's not a holy man, but a practitioner of the dismal science of economics. Three years ago, Castronova paid ten bucks a month to enter into a virtual world called EverQuest. The economist soon noted that the game had its own economy. He found that although each player started with nothing and most remained fairly poor, some were able to become quite rich.

That wealth spilled over into reality. Castronova discovered that some people were making serious money brokering and selling items they had won in the game.

"Even more remarkable, the gross national product of EverQuest, measured by how much wealth all the players together created in a single year inside the game, was $2,266 U.S. per capita. By World Bank rankings, that made EverQuest richer than India, Bulgaria, or China, and nearly as wealthy as Russia. It was the seventy-seventh richest country in the world. And it didn't even exist," according to writer Clive Thompson. (From the June, 2004, edition of Walrus Magazine, edited and slightly condensed in the Nov.-Dec. 2004 Utne Reader magazine; full text linked to the web edition of this column at

Castronova conducted an online survey and published his research on the web. It spread like wildfire and helped get him a tenured professorship – in telecommunications — at Indiana University.

It turned out that EverQuest was the perfect economic model which the neocons had hoped Iraq would become. Everybody starts out on a level playing field and is rewarded according to ability. One of Everquest's best players is a homeless woman in British Columbia who hung onto her last possession – a laptop computer. She kicks ass and makes a few bucks.

"Penniless in the real world, she belonged to a social elite in the fake one," Thompson notes.

"Not all social inequities are absent…Castronova discovered that women in the game are worth less than men…EverQuest supports Adam Smith's point that people prefer a free market…'They've tried to make games where you can't amass more property than someone else,' says Castronova, 'but everybody hated it. It seems that we definitely do not want everybody to have the same stuff all the time; people find it boring.' It is a result that would warm the heart of a conservative.

"Yet progressives, too, have been drawn to Castronova's research. Robert Shapiro, formerly undersecretary of commerce for Bill Clinton, views the economist's findings as nothing less than a liberal call-to-arms. EverQuest players tolerate the massive split between the virtual rich and the poor, Shapiro says, only because they know that this is a level playing field. If you work hard enough, you'll eventually grow wealthy. In Shapiro's view, Castronova's research proves that the only way to create a truly free market is to support programs that give everyone a fair chance at success, such as good education and health care.

"'This may provide the most important lesson of all from the EverQuest experiment,' he wrote in an essay. 'Real equality can obviate much of a democratic government's intervention in a modern economy...If EverQuest is any guide, the liberal dream of genuine equality would usher in the conservative vision of truly limited government.' In other words, maybe the best way to save the real world is to make it more like EverQuest," Thompson concludes.

For me, this story provides the only real ray of hope breaking through the dark miasma of animosity and fear created by this year's political, culture and live-ammo wars.

It illuminates common ground for real progress if industrious people of good will and clear thinking will simply access the unlimited capacity of the personal computers between their ears.


Carson City will appeal cable company's request

   CHARTER EXEC: Company seeks fair playing field, not hike in cable bills

   The above presents Charter in full corporate defensive mode, almost a point-by-point rebuttal of the 11-21 Barbwire. For instance, this is the first time Charter has mentioned "skinny basic" in almost two years. The coverage by Appeal reporters Robyn Moormeister and Becky Bosshart is exemplary journalism.

   Update 11-30-2004: Download the opposition brief.
(Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader which you may obtain free at

   Update 12-1: Governments file objections

   Update 12-5: Objections may be deficient

UPDATES: Thanks in part to some prodding by readers of this column, the governments of Reno, Sparks, Washoe County and Carson City have decided to jointly challenge Charter Communications' application with the FCC for total deregulation. Much more online…On Monday, Nov. 29, at 10:00 a.m., Judge Peter Breen will conduct an evidentiary hearing on Minden businessman Rick Davis' legal action to re-open the polls to allow all disenfranchised Nevada voters to cast a ballot. Some local activists are pushing for a full Nevada recount given the ongoing activity by minor parties for recounts in Ohio and New Hampshire. Watch BallotBoxing.US.

Also linked online, you will find a Guardian of London story about U.S. government attempts to fix national elections worldwide. The riots in Ukraine are only the latest example.

AIR WAR ALERT. Gov. Dudley Do-Right will take some tough questions from Sam Shad on Nevada Newsmakers this Tuesday. I'll pontificate from Mr. Shad's pundit gallery this Thursday, Dec. 2, at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV TV-4. The show reruns at 9:28 p.m. on low-priced, consumer friendly Charter cable channel 12 in Washoe-Carson-Douglas. Audio will re-air Sunday, Nov. 28, beginning at 9:00 a.m. on KKKOH-780am. Complete statewide schedule online.

SPEAKING OF YAHOO RADIO — I understand that I was roundly trashed in LushRamboLand last week during Mr. Slanders' Neighborhood on the northern Nevada hate radio station. Fine by me. Like an old politician once said, call me a son of a bitch, just spell my name right

Be well. Raise hell.


Nevada GOP pressed to suppress voting till the polls closed

Reforms demanded

Judge's Ruling May Cause A Law Suit
By James Steiner
KOLO TV-8, 11-7-2004
"Both the Washoe County district attorney's office and the Secretary of State could join a lawsuit on Monday, November 8, against a judge, who allowed people to vote on election day by just bringing in their voter registration receipts..."
(No longer online. Typical TV — nothing lasts more than a week.)
For ongoing coverage, go to BallotBoxing.US

Washoe judge says citizens may vote with registration receipt, even if name is not on voting rolls

Democratic couple allowed to vote

State Supreme Court declines to get involved

Related article: If all votes were counted, Kerry won
by investigative reporter Greg Palast

NEWELECTION UPDATES @ BallotBoxing.US | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors
| BallotBoxing.US
Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive


Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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