The origins of Monopoly

The board game that is, not the economic phenomenon. It appears to have sprung from the Henry George movement. George, of course, was obsessed with land monopoly and its unproductive rents. It is no accident that the board game assigns such extortionary power to landholders:

On January 5, 1904, Lizzie J. Magie, a Quaker woman from Virginia, received a patent (view patent) for a board game. Lizzie Magie belonged to a tax movement led by Philadelphia-born Henry George; the movement supported the theory that the renting of land and real estate produced an unearned increase in land values that profited a few individuals (landlords) rather than the majority of the people (tenants). Henry George proposed a single federal tax based on land ownership believing a single tax would discourage speculation and encourage equal opportunity.

Lizzie Magie wanted to use her game, which she called “The Landlord’s Game” as a teaching device for George’s ideas. The Landlord’s Game and Monopoly are very similar, except all the properties in Magie’s game are rented not acquired as in Monopoly and instead of names like “Park Place” and “Marvin Gardens” one finds “Poverty Place”, “Easy Street” and “Lord Blueblood’s Estate”. The objectives of each game are also very different. In Monopoly the idea of the game is to buy and rent or sell property so profitably that one becomes the wealthiest player and eventually monopolist. In The Landlord’s Game, the object was to illustrate how (under the system of land tenure) the landlord had an advantage over other enterprisers and to show how the single tax could discourage speculation.

When I was young I had a counterproductive obsession with owning the yellow properties.

Here is the full story. Here is an NPR account of the origins of monopoly. I am indebted to an email from Lauren Landsburg and Russ Roberts for the initial historical reference.


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