Monopoly May Have Been Invented as Paean to Socialism (Harper’s)

The Atlantic City properties made famous by Monopoly and their current prices in an infographic compiled by Movoto Real Estate.Although Hasbro’s official history of Monopoly has it that the board game was invented by an unemployed steam-radiator repairman and part-time dog walker in Philadelphia named Charles Darrow, the real history is quite different.

Three decades before Darrow’s patent, an actress in Maryland named Lizzie Magie create a “proto-Monopoly” game as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a 19th-century writer who argues in his book, Progress and Poverty (1879), that no single person could “own” land.

“[Magie's game's] chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property’s title holder but into a common pot—the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, ‘Prosperity is achieved,’” according to Harper’s.

 

1 comment to Monopoly May Have Been Invented as Paean to Socialism (Harper’s)

  • “A paean to socialism?” Hardly!

    Henry George was an extreme capitalist, but he saw that land monopoly capitalism, which permitted a relative few landholders to collect awesomely high rents for land made valuable not by their own activity, but by their communities, was not a level playing field.

    He didn’t want to take away land from those who were putting it to good — something approaching its highest and best — use. Rather, he wanted to “socialize” the rental value of that land, that is, use it as the source of natural public revenue, instead of taxing imports, or buildings, or personal goods, or wages, or other kinds of income that came from human effort. So George would privatize those things, but socialize land rent. (Many people — including George Bernard Shaw — inspired by his thoughts became enamored of capital-S Socialism, which socialized things George asserted were rightly private. George had no use for socialism as we use the term.)

    Radically just. I encourage you to read “Progress and Poverty” and his later book of essays entitled “Social Problems,” both of which are online, or at schalkenbach.org or amazon, and often on ebay. You might check out wealthandwant.com, whose URL comes from the subtitle to P&P.

    You might appreciate Magie’s early description of The Landlord’s Game, at http://lvtfan.typepad.com/lvtfans_blog/2011/01/lizzie-magie-1902-commentary-the-landlords-game.html.

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