Old-fashioned monopoly pieces. Picture: AFP/MLADEN ANTONOV
Old-fashioned monopoly pieces. Picture: AFP/MLADEN ANTONOV

Monopoly had its origin in the early 20th century and was originally called The Landlords Game. It was intended to illustrate the economic consequences of Ricardo’s law of economic rent, and the concept of economic privilege. In other words, wealth can be accumulated by the control of the best resources (land).

Monopoly has also been used for other purposes, for example, a Cape Town teacher used it to show her pupils the devastating effect of the Group Areas Act. The rules were changed so that only blue-eyed learners were allowed to buy the best properties. The result, of course, was the blue-eyed learners accumulated all the wealth while the rest found it was better to go to jail and not move around the board.

The game can also be used to illustrate modern monetary theory. The game ends when the economy of the board stagnates and all the wealth accumulates to the player with the best properties. A few rule changes could alter the result of that artificial economy.

  1. The introduction of a basic income grant. Every time a poorer player passed “Go” they would receive extra money to keep them alive.

  2. The introduction of infrastructure cards. These would pay out an increase in property values from the bank due to improvements in their area.

  3. The introduction of a new tax card. This would be a land value tax, not a tax on the improvements to the property. Ricardo’s economic privilege would be taxed and the playing field leveled.

The result will be an unbearably long game, but in the real economy that is what is required. It is important to realise that the banker does not borrow any money, he just issues it. It’s worth reminding ourselves what John Kenneth Galbraith said: “The process by which money is created is so simple that the mind is repelled.”

Winston Travis
Via e-mail

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