History of Monopoly

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

The early history of the board game Monopoly is far more interesting — and ideological — than I realized.

The game that went on to become Monopoly started out as The Landlord’s Game. The designer, Elizabeth Magie, patented the game board design in 1904, patented a revised edition in 1924, and sold the rights to Parker Brothers in 1935 for $500. This is after Parker Brothers started distributing Charles Darrow’s Monopoly.

But what inspired Magie to create The Landlord’s Game in the first place? Well, it turns out that Magie was a Georgist, and she created the game to demonstrate Henry George‘s left-libertarian belief that, while we each own what we create, everything found in nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all humanity.

(Let’s ignore the Malthusian consequences of that for the moment.)

This belief, by the way, led Henry George to recommend a single tax on unimproved land value — a tax that makes sense for not-at-all-socialist reasons. The supply of land, after all, is extremely inelastic — they’re not making any more of it — so taxing it won’t reduce the quantity supplied; it’ll just reduce the “unearned income” or “rents” going to the property owner.

Indeed, a land value tax — which, unlike an ordinary property tax, ignores building and improvements — has been more or less implemented in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Oddly, such a direct tax is considered unconstitutional in the United Staes.

At any rate, I don’t think I learned the lesson Magie wanted me to learn from her game — until now.

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