Monopoly's Anti-Capitalist Origins When "Go" used to say "Labor upon Mother Earth produces wages"

Illustration by Slug Signorino

I heard the original Monopoly game, before Parker Brothers took it over, was designed to teach people how broken capitalism is. Is that true? —Matt

Yes, it’s more or less true, although you have to ask: Who needs a game to understand how screwed up capitalism is when all you have to do is read the news? Be that as it may, I convened the Straight Dope staff to play several versions of proto-Monopoly. Their review: nothing like the socialists to make the capitalists look good.

The earliest recognizable version of what we know as Monopoly was patented by Lizzie Magie in 1903. The Landlord’s Game, as she called it, featured a board with the familiar circuit of increasingly pricey neighborhoods interspersed with railroads and utilities. At three of the corners were Go to Jail, Public Park (the ancestral version of Free Parking), and the Jail itself.

The fourth corner, however, wasn’t labeled “Go” but instead bore a drawing of the globe encircled by the lofty words “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” Translation: you got a hundred bucks. Nonetheless you realize that someone here has an agenda.

The story goes that Magie intended her game to be a teaching tool about the injustices of capitalism. She was a fan of the theories of political economist Henry George, who thought landlords were parasites and advocated a “single tax” on them to replace all other taxes.

You’re thinking: What an exciting premise for a board game! Depends on how it’s handled. If the idea was that the players, beaten down by exorbitant rents, were supposed to rise up and feed their evil landlord’s intestines to him with a fork, this might indeed make for a diverting family game night.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the player who accumulated the most money won. How does this teach us about the dark side of capitalism? Search me. All we can suppose is that in 1903 Magie’s political thinking, or anyway her approach to agitprop, wasn’t fully formed. Perhaps she thought referring to money paid for food, shelter, etc., as “indirect taxation” rather than “expenses” would impart profound lessons in economics. If so, ma’am, I have to tell you that probably went over the average player’s head.

Magie eventually tumbled to the pedagogical shortcomings of her invention. Her 1924 patent for a second version of The Landlord’s Game explicitly said one objective was showing “how the single tax would discourage land speculation.” The rules now showed more attitude. For example, when throwing the Chance cube, a five meant you’d been “caught robbing a hen-roost—go to jail,” whereas a 10 meant you’d been “caught robbing the public—take $200 from the board. The players will now call you Senator.” Ha!

Two new concepts were introduced in the 1924 edition. Idle Land could be bought for $100 and sold for $200, showing the easy money in land speculation. The other novelty was Monopoly, which at this point applied only to railroads: If you owned all of them, you could charge twice as much. Magie thought this would teach the proletariat that monopolies and land speculation were wicked. However, since the goal was still to wind up with the most money, a more obvious lesson might have been that monopolies and land speculation were great.

As the capitalist frenzy of the ’20s continued unabated, Magie undoubtedly thought her plan wasn’t working, and gave it one more try. She unveiled a combo game in 1932 called The Landlord’s Game plus Prosperity. Prosperity was played on the same board but with modified rules. Taxes, jail, and monopoly pricing were now eliminated; land rent was paid to the public treasury; once enough treasury cash accumulated, private utilities were condemned and placed in public ownership. Most importantly, players could vote to switch from Landlord to Prosperity rules in midgame. Now those chafing under the capitalist yoke (i.e., losing) could wise up, go socialist, and take over.

You can guess how well that went. In our clinical trials, my assistant Fierra quickly figured out how to game the system and make money off railroad nationalization. Her fellow staffer Una discovered using the railroads to take you to real estate offices and treat them as “free parking” was a safe way to get around the board. Mainly, though, the players were frustrated and bored. After 10 minutes, Fierra exclaimed, “Dear God, this bloody game sucks!”

People evidently felt the same in 1932. Magie’s latest brainstorm went nowhere. A few years later, in the best capitalist tradition, Charles Darrow ripped off Magie’s ideas, sold Monopoly to Parker Brothers, and became a millionaire. Meanwhile, the Stalins of the earth turned out not to be playing Prosperity, as some naifs thought, but rather Totalitarian World Domination, which endured for quite a while.

—Cecil Adams

Is there something you need to get straight? Take it up with Cecil at

Our Readers Say

Might I send you to a letter to the editor in the Financial Times, and then to the article to which it was responding, about Hong Kong? See

I guess capitalism as we currently practice it is working well for you and yours, and all within your larger circle? And it is your sense that capitalism as we currently practice it is working well for our society as a whole?

Lizzie Magie's "Prosperity Rules" may not produce an exciting game night, but they do lead to widely shared prosperity and sustainability. And isn't that what we're after?
Maybe she just assumed that the game required one person to win everything, and everyone else to go bankrupt, would provide an obvious social message: monopolies are bad for society at large. Admittedly, she failed in this regard. The fact that it's a board game that could be replayed and restarted from scratch the following day, just makes one want to "get em next time," and play with ever greater vindictiveness against those who have defeated you. There is no time for social reflection at the end of the game.

It would be more accurate if whoever won the first game controlled the same amount of wealth next time you opened the box. And whoever ended broke started broke. That sure wouldn't sell well though!
Poorly written first sentence in the above comment -- I meant, "Maybe she just assumed that because the game required one person to win everything, and everyone else to go bankrupt, it would provide an obvious social message: monopolies are bad for society at large."
What a bunch of bull**** I guess the socialist have it down with their bankruptcies and the communists really have it down..oh wait...they're not around any more either.
I don't think the lesson was meant to be learned by the winner with the most money, but by the anger felt by the losers at the random chance and injustice inherent in the game.
LVTFan - Oh? How are Chile, Argentina, Poland, Greece doing as a result of implementing free-market capitalism?

A recession you say? Massive cuts to public services and disability benefits you say? No... That can't be true.
It also teaches you how, if your the banker, you most likely are going to cheat. Come on! Who here was the banker and never slipped yourself a couple 100's? Don't lie.
I agree with Sam. The obvious point of the game was not that the game encourages a 'win at all costs' mentality, but that it shows that to produce one winner, everyone else must go bankrupt.
I have two friends. Phil, who used to go to parties few times a week in college, did not worry about studying, had a cool mustang. The other one is Matt, who studied and participated in research and did his best to get a lot out of college.

After 10 years from graduation, what I heard from friends about Phil is that he goes out to the south area of the Seattle protesting for anti-capitalism, and how the system is messed up.

Matt is now a director of engineering in one of the startup company and has family paying mortgages every month without problem.
Capitalism is all about 'you get what you worked for'. Spending whole life in high school and college playing and partying and blaming the system at their 30s or 40s just seems to be very irresponsible.

All the people, doctors, accountants, engineers studied and raised their skills in schools. They studied even if they wanted to play and spend some money on goods.

You get what you worked for in capitalism.
Sounds like one heck of a plan to me man, Wow.
An Alternative to Capitalism (since we cannot legislate morality)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

John Steinsvold

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."~ Albert Einstein
<a href="">stivali ugg</a> The hourra melted in to the total and longer the shin bone. jardinage, bloque le sont fantastiques activits physiques excutant chaussures ceux demandeur.. Van Gogh Master Blend contains cold-pressed caviar oil, a key ingredient that seals the cuticle and keeps color lustrous while simultaneously strengthening the hair.
<a href="">cheap jerseys</a> M le grand Louis Vuitton sac main seau peut port dans la soir si vous avez besoin d'aller droite partir du bureau une soir de gala. Although they are very expensive, Hermes Birkin handbags are always in high demand but low supply.. To me the page ant of seasons is a thrilling and unending drama, the action of which streams through my finger tips..
<a href="">cheap nfl jerseys</a> Her name is Victoria Daineko a well-known female vocalists on the list included the late Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Pink, Mariah Carey, Adele, Christina Aguilera, Joss Stone, Victoria Daineko, Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight.. The bad thing though, is that these Hermes Bags Wikipedia Hermes Bags Wholesale are not available for all of the women who want to buy it. El disco a la fecha ha vendido ms de 25 millones de copias alrededor del globo..
<a href="">cheap nfl jerseys</a> Use dot symbol between letters or vertical display mode as you like. I am hopeful they will continue to prosper. The competition is far too less and the Indian students perform much better on international campuses making them eligible for high scholarships.
<a href="">baratas ugg</a> A photograph purse is definitely the very best present we are able to provide.. Botsvana. Between a quantity of other from time to time you could sense parts, safeguard of mind may be the reason that of utmost value in addition to any participant, in particular goalies.
<a href="">ugg baratas</a> I need mental stimulation every bit as much as you need food and drink. The Birkin bags are quite famous for his or her leading top quality workmanship and the amazing rates the rich must spend. There are not many companies which means that real high-class such as the title Hermes.
<a href="">ugg baratas</a> So, once you see the wholesale distributor who is offering good rates, you can create the purchase then and there. since the many years gone , far more and far more folks adore it . (SGVN/Staff Photo by Eric Reed).
<a href="">stivali ugg</a> Til also wear slouchy velvet pants and an oversize tee and blazer but go over the top with shoes and jewelry, says Sewell. or female. Blend the majority of compounds except for Spinach Slaw bring moistened contents towards slaw using mixture well.

<a href="">baratas ugg</a> The particular business focuses on a lot of classifications just like creator sneakers, footwear plus adventure slip on products.. Having access to higher education has never been as flexible and easier as it is today. Germany has scored its first victory in nearly three decades in the Eurovision Song Contest. <a href="">botas ugg</a> Anything defeats Vuitton regarding substantial. As a final result of that, on her manifeste appearances, she was identified to be hiding her being pregnant with her Hermes bag.. Cuba. <a href="">botas hunter</a> Eventually, she embarked on her first single-room formal office in New York's SoHo district in 1991, followed by the success of a three room mini spa named Let's Face It! in June of 1993. One should try and keep the hair very clean. The opposite end are people who are really just interested in something that works with staying warm. <a href="">ugg italia</a> But if the dollar is not the problem, had better go to a store Hermes normal. Later, a land reserve can only be easy institutions to handle land buying and storage, guiding other enterprises engaged within the improvement with the land degree. Partout o nous parlons LV milieu de marketing sur l'actrice fran Catherine Gardner, devrait vraiment l'impression veille. <a href="">ugg outlet</a> For example the Chanel Stone Completely Widespread Haul prices pretty Louis Vuitton speedy $ 261 , 000 additionally , the reduced broad variety amount ideal for Gucci Birkenstock birkenstock boston Ownership Carry can be $ 11 , 990plus . But yeah, it annoys me when people think dark is Goth. Nevertheless, the indoor portion of the jean pocket breaks with many different storage the place could quite possibly make your products. <a href="">cheap jerseys</a> Obtaining at wholesale rates is an effective strategy to save bucks. I loved the versatility of her blouses, based on the square cut of any T shirtn compacted tweed, in silk crepe, in soft leather. Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete, but he might be holding his breath.
the article states "Who needs a game to understand how screwed up capitalism is when all you have to do is read the news? "
however, this is not true.

what we have now is not true capitalism. capitalism is actually not screwed up. we have a system now with bailouts, and big government interfering with regulations into the marketplace. in real capitalism there are no bailouts, and companies fail with out government getting involved to favor some over others with taxpayer money.
Bill, you're wrong. Capitalism is an economic system that assumes we live in this fantasy world with infinite resources. In the real world, we live in a planet with finite land, finite resources, and finite capacity to process waste. All strains of capitalism imposes a system of infinite economic growth on a finite planet. It's utter lunacy!

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.