Local View: Power monopolized is no game
Our common sense and our grasp of the obvious facts of human suffering and of the obvious demands of human nature can act on the world like a bath of moral cleansing — like the spring blossoming of beautiful flowers.
Anyone who has played the board game "Monopoly" is familiar with the dynamics of success to the successful. Players who are lucky enough to land on expensive properties early in the game can buy them up, build hotels, and reap vast rents from their fellow players, thus accumulating a winning fortune as they bankrupt the rest. Fascinating.
However, the game originally was called "The Landlord's Game" and was designed to reveal the injustice of concentrated property ownership — not celebrate it. The game's inventor, Elizabeth Magie, was an outspoken supporter of economist Henry George's ideas, and when she first created the game in 1903, she gave it two very different sets of rules to be played in turn.
Under the prosperity set of rules, every player gained each time someone acquired a new property. This echoed George's call for a land-value tax. The game was won by all when the player who started out with the least money doubled it.
Under the second monopolist set of rules, players gained by charging rents to those who were unfortunate enough to land on their properties, and whoever managed to bankrupt the rest was the sole winner.
The purpose of the dual set of rules, Magie said, was for players to experience a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing, with all its usual outcomes and consequences, and so to understand how different approaches to property ownership can lead to vastly different social outcomes.
But when the game's manufacturer, Parker Brothers, bought the patent for "The Landlord's Game" from Magie in the 1930s, the company relaunched it simply as "Monopoly" and provided the eager, Depression-ridden public with just one set of rules — rules that celebrate the triumph of one over all.
The discipline of economics tends to attract self-interested people. It has been established that after taking courses in economic game theory, students begin to behave much more selfishly. Over the course of centuries to the present day, man's depiction has morphed from a nuanced picture to a crude cartoon. What began as a model of moral man has turned into a model for man. It is a clear caution to all students of economics.
Rational economic man's influence on our behavior goes far beyond the classroom. A striking example was the Chicago Board Options Exchange, which opened in 1973 and became one of the most important financial derivatives exchanges in the world.
In the same year the exchange opened for trading, two influential economists, Fischer Black and Myron Scholes, published what became known as the Back Scholes Model, which used publicly available market data to calculate the expected price of options traded in the market. At first the formula's predictions deviated widely from 30 percent to 40 percent of actual prices at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. But within a few years and with no alterations to the model, its predicted prices differed by only 2 percent on average from the actual market prices. The Black Scholes Model was soon heralded as the most successful theory, not only in finance but in all economics; its creators were awarded Nobel Memorial Prizes. Traders began to behave as if the theory was true and used the models predicted as benchmarks for their own bids.
Today, nearly 40 years of the false economics of supply-side neoliberalism has led us to where we are today. In our own towns and all around the world, we see human suffering at the hands of unchecked monopoly power, arrogance, indifference, and white supremacy.
Let our collective consciousness blossom along with the spring fragrance and simple goodness of our flowers — and take back our monopoly of love and fairness.
Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza said that those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind. .
Tim Duff is a writer who lives in Ely and Tonka Bay, Minn. His debut novel, "The Find," is a family saga set on the Iron Range.