Monday, February 16, 2015

Monopoly is theft

I never enjoyed the board game Monopoly, probably because I always lost. However, this article by Mary Pilon describes how the idea for the famous game was misappropriated. The article is drawn from her new book about the history of the game and the subsequent legal struggles over ownership and recognition. Charles Darrow made millions from it, but the original idea came from a woman, Elizabeth Magie, who invented the Landlord's Game thirty years earlier, in 1903.
She created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents. Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior.
The story is well known these days, but this is a nice article giving a picture of an independent and creative woman, the sort of person that keeps cropping up when you research radical history and who, just as frequently, disappears again when you read later accounts. Just as intriguing is the way the game was developed to promote the ideas of the radical liberal, Henry George. George was hugely influential in his day and gathered a mass following in the latter part of the nineteenth century. If you look at contemporary writing across a wide spectrum of liberal and socialist ideas you keep bumping into two names who are relatively neglected these days, George and Herbert Spencer. Any intellectual history of nineteenth century radicalism should include mention of both, they often don't.

It's the symbolism that really gets me; the cooperative rules lost out (crushing an opponent is much more fun) and the millions were made by a man. It is good to see an attempt to reclaim the credit due. Shame about the millions though.

This is a nice little article about how a British version was published in Newbie, Scotland by a Liberal group who based it on Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. NB. Phillips was Magie's married name.

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