One of these days you are going to come to Ashridge and I am going to teach you economics by making you play Monopoly. My family once told me that, apart from the salary increase, they could tell I’d done an MBA because I suddenly started winning at Monopoly. But did you ever really stop to think about what sort of economics it is teaching you?
Don’t be fooled by the name. Fixed prices, rents and mortgage interest rates, flat taxes, capped development, random building repairs, a jail sentence for getting lucky with doubles, and automatic handouts just for passing Go. While Monopoly was famously banned in some socialist economies, this sounds much more like a strange sort of command economy than a free market. And the rules state that the bank is never allowed to run out of money. Indeed, at the University of Pittsburgh in 1961, during a 161-hour marathon game of Monopoly when the bank did run out of money. Parker Brothers responded by sending extra game money on a plane which was delivered to campus by armoured car. Quantitative easing, anyone?
In fact, the genesis of Monopoly was The Landlord’s Game, patented in 1904 by the American Quaker Elizabeth Magie. Her invention was designed to show the downsides of capitalism and to promote the idea of a flat land tax. Professor Ralph Anspach, the man who has been trying to make this point through his parallel game Anti-Monopoly, spent many years locked in a bitter legal dispute over copyright before he was allowed to sell it under licence from Hasbro, who of course have a monopoly on Monopoly. You couldn’t make it up, really.
There’s good history of the game here.