“What many people don’t know about Monopoly is that it was actually created to teach about the dangers of cutthroat capitalism. The original version was called The Landlord’s Game, and it was used in the Great Depression as an underground game and organizing tool to teach tenants about how they were being ripped off. Its creator, Elizabeth Magie, had her vision corrupted – and now we know Monopoly as the game that’s a shining example of American capitalism.” -Brian Van Slyke
So if the game of Monopoly was created to teach about the dangers of cutthroat capitalism, what should we have learned from playing it?
1. If you are born rich you will probably stay rich. Ditto, if you are born poor. In real life Monopoly, children are born on the real life equivalents of Baltic Avenue and Park Place. Players can work just as hard, and make the same kinds of decisions, but but they will probably end up in the same economic class they were born. Look at the game. Even if your rich opponents land on Baltic Avenue, it will cost them a very small portion of what they own, but every time you land on their property you are devastated. While there is some class mobility, that mobility is becoming rarer as the middle class shrinks. To speak of political equality in the United States is nonsense so long as some are born to own and others born to serve.
2. Salary isn’t the same as holdings. Two hundred dollars seems like a lot of money at the beginning of the game, but wise players convert their salaries to holdings. Toward the end of the game the two hundred dollar salary seems almost like a nuisance. In discusions of tax equity it is often forgotten that taxing the salaries of the rich, and their holdings are two different conversations.
3. Jail means something very different to the rich and the poor.
The law tends to protect the rich from the poor, but the poor are fair game. When a rich kid is caught with drugs it usually means warnings and treatment. When a poor kid is caught with drugs, then the rich talk about getting tough on crime. Even if they have committed the same crime, the poor kid usually loses turns while the rich kid gets a “get out of jail free” card.
4. Capitalism concentrates wealth. Even Adam Smith lamented that it takes many poor people to make one millionaire. There is only so much property, after that is bought up, wealth begins to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. We can make laws and regulations against monopolies, but the system is built to produce them.
5. Capitalism turns each against the all. A system built on competition eventually changes how we look at our fellow human beings. To a dedicated capitalist we are not one human family meant to share the whole planet fairly, we are born into a rat race for survival. As Lilly Tomlin used to say, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”
This piece was inspired by reading the title of: