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Monopoly was designed to teach the dangers of rampant capitalism

It's all fun and games... right?

If there is one game that can cause rifts in families, and make even the most devoted of siblings tempted to commit fratricide, or the most loving of parents disown their children and elope to Barbados, it would probably be a toss up between Diplomacy and Monopoly. Monopoly, though, probably wins this family-breaking competition by a hair’s breadth: there is, after all, nothing more cutthroat than preventing family and friends from buying land, and then charging them to stand on it if they’re unlucky enough to pass through the vicinity. Even Donald Trump would (probably) hesitate before stooping so low. At least Diplomacy has objectives beyond mindless money-making.

What is Georgism?

Yet perhaps the most striking thing about the game we love to hate is that Monopoly was originally meant to serve as a warning against the evils of relentless capitalism – as well as the dangers of a single entity dominating a market. The game’s designer, Elizabeth Magie, was inspired by the economic beliefs of Henry George, who was a strong proponent of the single tax theory, an economic system now referred to as Georgism. George’s economic method centered on the idea that although people should own the value they produce themselves, economic value coming from land (which included natural resources) should belong equally to all members of a community. 

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Although Georgists shared the concerns of socialists, their remedies to the same problems were different. For example, Georgism makes a distinction between land and capital, which socialism does not; instead, under socialist theory, everything is centered on ‘the means of production’. However, Georgism – which dates from the mid-nineteenth century – is an early economic model for economic social justice and equality.

Basic Economics

Magie designed her game (originally called ‘The Landlord’s Game’) with two sets of rules, one of which established the objective of creating monopolies and crushing other players – the first incarnation of the game rules still used today. The other (now forgotten) set of rules instead rewarded cooperative play, and rewarded all of the players when wealth was created. The reason Magie chose to launch her game with two sets of rules was to teach players that different approaches to property and land ownership could lead to drastically different results – some of which were unjust or cruel. 

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