monopoly henry george board game landlord

Financial Times and Op-Ed News shed light
nearing housing benefits land value tax

On NPR, Lizzie and the Landlord's Game

Yesterday we cited the Cato Institute quoting the clear-thinking economic reformer Henry George. Today we cite three more references to his tax reform. We trim, blend, and append three 2010 articles from: (1) NPR’s The Writer's Almanac, Nov 6, on MONOPOLY by Garrison Keiller (via reader Wyn Achenbaum); (2) Financial Times, Nov 8, on property benefit by John Read (via reader Carol Wilcox); and (3) OpEdNews, Nov 4, on rescuing the US economy by Scott Baker.

by Garrison Kieler, by John Read, and by Scott Baker

It was on this day in 1935 that a woman named Elizabeth "Lizzie" Magie Phillips agreed to sell Parker Brothers the patent for her version of the board game MONOPOLY.

Lizzie Magie had invented the game back in 1903, although she called it The Landlord's Game, and in 1904 she was issued a patent. It was a game intended to teach a strong moral lesson. Magie was a young Quaker woman and a follower of Henry George, a political economist. George was the author of Progress and Poverty (1879), which was a huge bestseller, selling more than 3 million copies, a big number for its day. He argued that poverty was a direct result of monopolies placed on land and resources, and that it was immoral for a few people to own natural resources -- especially land -- and then rent them out. Not only was it unethical, he said, but it also would hurt the American economy. His solution was called the "single tax" -- he thought that everyone should have an equal share in the land where they lived or worked, and pay a single, equal tax on it.

So Lizzie Magie invented a board game that showed how landlords could become wealthy by buying a piece of land and then charging rent. She explained that the point of The Landlord's Game was "not only to afford amusement but to illustrate how under the prevailing system of land tenure, the landlord has an advantage over other enterprises and how the single tax would discourage land speculation."

The Landlord's Game became extremely popular in the homes of Quakers and other similar-minded people, and it was promoted by a professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania named Scott Nearing -- he was eventually fired for his radical politics and became an icon of the back-to-the-land movement as the co-author, with his wife, Helen, of Living the Good Life (1954). But for years he used The Landlord's Game to teach students about the inequality of capitalism, and it was that group of students that nicknamed the game MONOPOLY.

A woman named Ruth Hoskins took it to Atlantic City to use in the Quaker Friends School there, and it took on Atlantic City names. It was picked up by Charles Darrow, one of many people who tried to publish their own version of the game. It was his that Parker Brothers chose in 1935, when they realized that the game was so popular. Darrow claimed he had made the game up out of his head, inspired by a book he had read about a school where they taught business with fake money.

Lizzie Magie, now Lizzie Magie Phillips, still owned the patent to The Landlord's Game, which was similar to the version Parker Brothers bought from Charles Darrow, so they needed to buy up her patent as well. They told her that they would keep publishing a version of her game and bought her out for $500. From then on, they promoted the Atlantic City version of MONOPOLY and published the story of a brilliant unemployed electrician who came up with the idea out of the blue. It wasn't until the 1980s, during a court case about a board game called Anti-MONOPOLY, designed by a college professor, that the true history of MONOPOLY's origins came out.

In 1936 alone, the year after Parker Brothers secured the patent, 1,810,000 copies of MONOPOLY were sold. Today it is the most-played commercial board game in the world.

JJS: And the landlord’s game is still played in reality.

November 1 you state that the existing housing benefit system is “indefensible” and “should be changed on moral as well as economic grounds”. What about the other property benefit system? Most of us give our labor, or risk our capital, and thereby create, sustain, and increase the wealth of those of us who own land.

The land element of private property increases over the years at a substantially greater rate than wages or prices. Thus many of us pay even higher rent to the landlords plus pay tax on our efforts. Is this not forcing the landless to pay twice for a value they have created?

Then taxes are increased even further, on labor and risk capital of course, to pay cash in the form of benefits to try to ameliorate the worst effects of this injustice.

JJS: And George’s moral call is still echoed today.

Replace income, sales, and corporate taxes with Resource and Land Value Taxes; there're trillions in natural resources that line private pockets, even though natural resources were created by nature, not Man, and rightfully, belong to all of us. Only production should be 100% rewarded to the labor that created it, not the fruits of the Earth or locational values in dense urban areas.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Malawi villagers move for new school, gift from pop star

Mainstream Media Promote Real Land Rights

New-home sales drop to record low in January

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