Saturday, March 05, 2011

Economics of Monopoly

There has been a lot of complaining about the new improved, Monopoly Live. No dice, no paper money, and all-knowing infrared tower. But NPR's Planet Money recently did a story on problems with the classic version game. And who better to ruin a childhood game than an economist. Here's Russ Roberts in an earlier commentary:
But if I play Monopoly now, it's only to teach my kids how badly its lessons prepare you for the real world. In Monopoly, whoever has the most toys wins, and winning means taking everything belonging to everyone else. In Monopoly, landlords are parasites that eventually drive everyone into bankruptcy. And bankruptcy is like death, game over.

Monopoly is the ultimate zero sum game. You profit only by taking from others. The assets of its world are fixed in number. Yes, you can build houses or hotels, but somehow the greater the supply of places to live, the higher the price, an absurd contradiction to real-world economic life. In Monopoly, hotels never get a makeover and railroads, unlike Amtrak, are always profitable. In Monopoly, getting rich and succeeding in business only comes from exploiting unlucky suckers who randomly enter your life. There's no role for hard work or creativity, figuring out what customers might want to buy that isn't being offered by a competitor. There's no competition. I know, that's why it's called Monopoly, but only Marxists look at the world of capitalism the way the game of Monopoly does, as an unrelentingly gloomy system of exploitation where the rich eventually wear everyone else down.
Surprisingly enough, Russ suggests playing my favorite game, Settlers of Catan.


  1. Mr. Brookie, Isnt the merchantalism system that the British used like the economic ideas in monoply?

  2. Great question Eric. I would say they are similar in their misunderstanding of what really makes you wealthy. It's not through taking money from reluctant customers (like the game Monopoly) or through focusing on exports and storing up gold (like the system of mercantilism).

    Thanks for reading.


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