Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.
Posted by PintofStout on September 26, 2006
The classic game Monopoly divides the game board into properties that are all private with the noted exception of the Chance, Community Chest, Free Parking, Jail, and Tax spaces. For a simple board game, this doesn’t do a bad job of approximating our national economic system.
The noted exceptions to the private properties belong either to the government (which we will call the Game here) or are in the Commons (the Go square doesn’t really fit any of these, unless you consider it the Social Security or Welfare Office (where did that money come from anyway?)). You’ll notice that these squares don’t produce any income unless you’re the bank, which can be synonymous with the Game (the game gets it right on that account). In fact, the Game squares (Taxes and Jail) only take money from players, while the Common squares have winners and losers (yet another redistribution scheme). To be more realistic, the railroads, utilities, and slum-like dark purple properties would also belong to the Game.
The game starts with the bank having a Game-enforced monopoly on all properties. If a property is to be bought, it must be purchased from the bank, who makes 100% profit due to its lack of investment. One notable difference between game and reality lies in the form of title which is purchased. In reality, the purchase is made but the State still holds a claim to the land for which it makes rules and charges rent (zoning and building codes and property taxes). I guess that was just too ridiculous a concept for the Parker Brothers! In the game, once the property is purchased it is the possession and control of the owner to do what he/she wishes. Every now and then there is a tax from the Commons on structures placed on monopolized properties, but since it wasn’t written in stone I didn’t count that.
Some other differences between the game and reality, good and bad, include the private roads of the game (paying rent while staying in front of the property) and the forced movement of the players through the game board and perilously across others’ property. Granted, without the latter point it would hardly be a game. Perhaps we can just call that commerce and the division of labor, since it would be nearly impossible to survive by just staying on your property.
The biggest difference, though, between the game and reality can be found in the nature of monopolies. The Game does nothing to encourage monopolies by one player while discouraging monopolies by another. Properties are willingly and voluntarily bought or traded on the market in order to achieve monopoly. If the game were made today, the Game would take properties from one player (at only the reduced mortgage value – if you’re lucky!) and give them to another player, who is probably the player acting as banker (you know, the guy who keeps slipping himself $500 dollar bills every other time around).
So while Monopoly does rather well (for a simple game) at modeling the economy in America, there are some aspects that resemble free market policies that may never come to be as long as there is a government. I actually set out to write about something different and got side-tracked by my introduction into expanding on the metaphor of the game and reality. I’ll post the original thought if I can remember what it actually is.