It is a rather old game that almost everyone used to play when we were young, and not so young. All players start with the same amount of “money”. They take turns to throw the dice and move their piece “forward” around a closed square circuit which is divided in small boxes called names of streets, usually from a real city. If the player is lucky and arrives at a box before any other player, he can buy the box and then make other players pay a rent every time they stop at his “property”. In fact, if you invest the money you get from rents to build “houses” on your property, you get even higher rents in the future. This makes you richer and others poorer.
But let us go back to our story and the four friends who have been playing already for a while. They were having lot of fun, as one of them was going bankrupt and was struggling to pay back his rents. After one more round, the “loser” said: “Ok, you have been lucky, I am out”. He stood up, put some music and a glass of whisky and had fun with the following loser, who just survived a couple of rounds more, before he said “I am out too! Anyway it was getting late”. Finally the third loser lost first all his money, and then he had to sell his houses and properties for cash. But he soon had to admit his defeat. The winner had now all the money and all the properties on the board and all the houses. He said cheerfully: “Next time you win guys, it is all about luck, after all.”
The problem with the Monopoly of the real world is that bankers created the crisis, at least the one related to the housing market, by convincing everybody to spend the money they were lending them on the housing babble. The trick seemed simple
They had great fun. They promised to play again the next evening. They washed their glasses and went home as it was getting really late. Two of them were going back home together, in the same car. The driver said “Monopoly! Great fun! It is like in real life! Those who are lucky get everything at the end”. The other replied thoughtfully: “Not just lucky! The winner must risk a bit at the beginning, spending all that money to build houses”. The driver insisted “OK, you have to risk, but you have to be lucky as well… And after all, to be risky is not a merit! Is it?” and the other said “It seems that in the market, to be risky is a merit … as long as you are lucky too. But we all know that Monopoly is not a skill game anyway, it is all about luck”. They arrived home. Closed their eyes and ….they dreamt.
The dream was a nightmare! (too much whisky, perhaps). The whole world was playing a Monopoly game that lasted for ever. The losers were “living” on the money they got … for nothing, but they could never pay back. The winner was becoming richer and richer. He got all their money for rent but he also got their houses and properties. He had won and the game should have finished now, but they were obliged to play on and on. Even the winner got bored. More than bored! He got desperate. All his properties and the houses really did not worth anything, because he had also all the money, which in its turn did not worth anything either, because there was nothing left to buy with them. It was not a dream. It was reality. It was the crisis!
My daughter likes this story and she often asks me what would happen if a new player came in? If the winner gave them back some houses and money to go on playing a bit more? if they got the money from another Monopoly game (as we have two at home)? etc.
Here go some thoughts for adults now. The problem with the Monopoly of the real world is that bankers created the crisis, at least the one related to the housing market, by convincing everybody to spend the money they were lending them on the housing babble. The trick seemed simple. If I can raise interest rates after you have committed for a life and you cannot pay any more, I will get your house … back and you will still have to pay the loan... It is a great example of a winner who has won … too much. Because in the real-world Monopoly there is a disturbing element which is absent from the game: There is future, while in the board-game the winner washes the whisky glasses and goes to sleep! In the real world, if the winner gets everything, he has nothing, because nobody can buy anything of what he has. And this is the reason why even the capitalist system needs to keep inequality below some critical threshold, because beyond some level of inequality, the capitalist winner becomes a loser.
Some years ago, people paying too much attention to inequality issues were just romantic and utopic. Today, after the crisis, it is crystal clear that the future of the economy (even of capitalism, if it has any future) requires that nobody should be allowed to be too clever, strong, selfish, lucky (or unlucky) for extremely unequal outcomes to emerge.
I had hoped for some time that this would become broadly accepted in Greece, Europe and the whole world. But I still see too many people around me who are talking and acting as if they were expecting someone to bring over some toy-“money” and bubble-“houses” from the “other” Monopoly game-set to start playing again “winners and losers”. Fortunately, there are also quite a few of us who will not compromise and wait for the next crisis before they do something about it.
Really, what else should happen for us all to see that we should change the game we are playing?