Is Capitalism An Evil System? On The Origins of the Monopoly Game

November 8th 2021

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The Monopoly Game: How an Innocent Game Can Be a Political Statement About Capitalism

In recent weeks, the Korean TV Series “The Squid Game,” made headlines worldwide as a slick way of telling a story that is, in fact, the critics of today’s aggressive capitalism. In the series, 456 men and women haunted by debts compete in a deadly game, in which they can win a lavish cash prize – or, more likely, lose their beautiful life. Of course, this is only one of many examples of political commentaries on capitalism in pop culture. Other notable examples coming from Hollywood are the movies such as: “In Time,” “Parasite,” “Roma,” and “Us.”

However, not many people know that one of the most popular board games of all time, “The Monopoly,” was also created as a critic of capitalism. The concept of the Monopoly game was created in 1903 by Elisabeth J. Phillips. She designed and patented “The Landlord’s Game” with the sole intention to demonstrate how rental benefits property owners and impoverishes tenants. She also hoped that children playing the game would gain some sense of unfairness and that they might hold this awareness later on in their big beautiful life.

Once her patent expired, the game was copied and sold in multiple versions and under multiple names, including “Monopoly,” “Finance,” and “Auction.”

So, How Does The Game of Monopoly Work?

The rules of the game are highly capitalistic and ruthless indeed. The game is competitive, in a sense that only one player can win – and the rest slowly slide into bankruptcy. In the game, players roll two dice to move around a square board. Rolling doubles means an extra move. They can build and trade plots, and build houses and hotels on their plots. There is also a bank in the game. The rule is: the bank can never run out of money – if there are no more paper bills, the bank can still borrow money from you on paper. How familiar does that sound?

If you step on a free plot, you can buy it. If it is your plot, you can build on it, or just chill. However, once you step onto another player’s plot, you need to pay the rent, dependent on the type of building on the plot (house vs hotel) and the quarter of the city (yes, there are some prestigious and expensive quarters on the board!). If you run out of money, you can trade some of your properties with other players (but you can only retrieve half of the price you paid on the property), or remortgage your property with the bank. Of course, if you run out of both money and properties, you are out of the game.

You can also land in prison in the game – in more than just one way: if your dice roll causes you to land in jail if you draw the “Go Directly to Jail” card from the “Chance” card deck, or roll doubles three times in a row. You can learn more about the detailed rules of the “Monopoly” game in this video

How “Monopoly” Showcases Capitalism

One cannot deny that many of the core diseases of capitalism are faithfully captured in the game. For instance, the bank in the game can never get bankrupt and can make extra paper money whenever necessary. It feels incredible that this visionary game was designed before the FED officially unpegged the American dollar from the gold reserve in 1913! Or, if you have too much luck (namely, if you roll doubles three times in a row), you can draw the attention of authorities and land in jail.

Moreover, similarly to “The Squid Game,” the “Monopoly” game only seems fair at the first glance. All players start with an empty portfolio of properties and with the same amount of cash in their hands. However, the game is stochastic. If you play according to the rules then to a large extent, whether or not you will eventually win, depends on sheer luck. The strategy obviously helps. But eventually, if due to misfortune, you cannot land any new plots for several rounds of the game, or if you land in prison a few times, it will soon become impossible to outrace the other players and win.

Furthermore, just as in real life, some badass hacks in the game can allow you to win without breaking the rules. For instance, you can easily monetize on the fact that there are only 32 pieces representing houses available in the game. If you then focus on buying out this supply instead of buying plots and building on your plots as intended, it makes you the house monopolist. Since other players cannot build on their properties, they will need to trade houses with you on the free market, and pay the price that you dictate.

What Can You Get Out of the Monopoly Game As a Professional?

In general, the goals of the author of the concept, Elisabeth Phillips, were not met. After all, many board games are extremely competitive elimination games and “Monopoly” is not an exception here. Do you ever deliberate our sociopolitical system while playing “Monopoly”? Most players don’t. And, the experience of playing the game doesn’t make them turn around from capitalism. 

However, once learning about the story behind “Monopoly,” it becomes an interesting exercise to play the game once again, and look deeper into its rules this time. How does it make you feel about capitalism as a system? How do you feel about pulling other players towards bankruptcy? Can you come up with any new hacks for how to win the game regardless of luck? How do you feel about capitalism right now? Is it a system for the lucky? Or perhaps, it is a system for the clever? 

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, November, 8th). Is Capitalism An Evil System? On The Origins of the Monopoly Game. Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/is-capitalism-an-evil-system-on-the-origins-of-the-monopoly-game/

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