07. August 2006 · 2 comments · Categories: Politics · Tags:

I thought this analysis was so cool, that I just had to share. Sean Carroll, a physicist from the University of Chicago, writes for a blog called “Cosmic Variance.” I will just quote part of his most recent post Called “Lessons on Monopoly” (the board game).

“….But the interesting things, not having played Monopoly for years, are the moral and political implications that follow from the game. We think of Monopoly as the quintessential embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism: a competition within the unfettered free market, starting from a level playing field and allowing nature to take its course. Which is all true. But what the game really illustrates are the shortcomings of capitalism, as effectively as one could imagine; if I didn’t know better, I would think that Karl Marx himself had designed the game. Consider:

  • The game perfectly demonstrates the instability of the free market (which it should, if someone is going to “win”). That is, the rich get richer, as they can leverage their wealth to increase their earnings. Makes for a better board game than a society.
  • Talent does not win in the end. Sure, there is some judgment involved in when to make certain trades with other players, but the biggest single factor in winning or losing is a literal roll of the dice! How bleakly fatalistic can you get?
  • The playing field is initially level, but only in a completely artificial way. It’s perfectly clear that, if the game worked like the real world in which some people were born into wealth and others were not, the aforementioned benefits of being rich would absolutely dominate. Not much room for social mobility. A devastatingly effective argument for preserving the estate tax!
  • Most telling of all: your income does not come from working, it comes from collecting rents. Later in the game, when a few players have started to build houses, you quickly discover that you lose money during your own moves, and only make money during the other players’ moves.
  • It follows that, later in the game, the best square to land on is Go To Jail! From the comfort of Jail, you don’t have to worry about paying rents to anyone else, but you are free to accumulate wealth from your own properties. It’s really just a vacation resort for white-collar criminals.
  • The only mildly redistributive action that occurs in the game is the rare-but-devastating “building repairs” card that comes up occasionally in Chance and Community Chest, and which does impact the rich disproportionately. But, significantly, the money doesn’t go to other players, but to the Bank (which is the real source of evil in the whole game).
  • On the other hand, the game does make you hate the Income Tax. So there’s some mixed messages there.”

2 Comments

  1. The History channel had a “History of Monopoly” episode a few months ago that was fascinating.
    Actually, the popular version of Monopoly is based on an earlier version that was intended to teach the problems of a “rich-get-richer” economy:
    inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa121997.htm

    And then, for laughs, go read the “official” history of Monopoly from Hasbro:
    http://www.hasbro.com/monopoly/pl/page.history/dn/default.cfm

  2. Interesting….

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