It happened today - February 7, 2016
Today was the first day you could land on Boardwalk with a hotel and go bust. I think. Monopoly was evidently copyrighted by Parker Brothers on February 7 but seems first to have been sold on February 6. The details of its origin can be confusing. But one thing is not in doubt. It’s about Henry George.
Huh? You thought I was going to say “You want the Oranges.” And you do. They are apparently the most landed on properties. And since the houses are relatively cheap, they become lethal fast. But it is also true that the game was originally invented to popularize the theories of Henry George. Which are about as useful as Baltic Avenue.
It has of course evolved enormously since the original “The Landlord’s Game” was patented by Henry George follower and militant suffragette Lizzie Magie, who then lived in Maryland although her father was an abolitionist who traveled around with Lincoln while he debated Stephen Douglas. (Yes, really.) She was trying to illustrate the idea, or obsession, of George, a Progressive-era political economist and crank, that a single tax on land would be more efficient and fair than the system where we tax income, sales, property and everything else that twitches or looks as if it might.
Without holding any brief for the current tax system, I must say this idea is about as useful as the Water Works. Land isn’t the only scarce thing and taxing only land would be highly distorted and insufficient. Though ironically Monopoly, the most commercially successful board game in U.S. history, has generated huge sums in tax revenue that would not have materialized had it succeeded in its ostensible purpose. But perhaps I waste my time critiquing “Georgism” or “Single-Tax” because its followers, though vocal to this day, are also as common as people who’ve won the game by owning the purples. Which are now brown. I know not why.
The game has undergone all sorts of refinements over the years, which are described in detail in various Wikipedia entries and elsewhere. The Income Tax used to be $300 apparently and I’d swear when I was a kid Luxury Tax was $75 not $100. (I checked. It was. Also you used to get $45 for sale of stock but I guess people found making change tedious so now it’s $50. That change was brought in in 2008 although oddly in that year due to the fiscal crisis you’d have been more likely to get 50 cents for sale of stock.) There have also been all sorts of variants, from a Canadian version (in the latest edition of which the most exclusive property is Robson Street!) to a Klingon version to Bond, Smurf, Simpsons and Zombie ones. Henry George would faint, or so I hope.
Clarence Darrow apparently really did play a major role in developing the game, although he also apparently swiped the concept from friends of his wife who never spoke to him or her again afterward. But it was one Ruth Hoskins who learned the game in Indianapolis but developed a version based on Atlantic City, where she lived, naming the various properties for streets where her friends happened to reside, thus creating the illusion that there are nice places to live in Atlantic City.
I could go on and on, as the game’s partisans have, for instance telling you that the British Secret Intelligence Service devised a version for POWs held by the Nazis in which were hidden items useful for escaping, which was distributed by fake charities. It’s amazing what has come of this game. And what has not.
Like anybody remembering its connection with Henry George or believing his theories because of it. And if you do, I’ll trade you your Marvin Gardens for my St. Charles.