Land Value Taxation will solve many of the 21st century's most serious social, economic and environmental problems, and promote justice, fairness and sustainability. We CAN have a world in which all can prosper.
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George Here are links to online editions of George's landmark book, Progress & Poverty, including audio and a number of abridgments -- the shortest is 30 words! I commend this book to your attention, if you are concerned about economic justice, poverty, sprawl, energy use, pollution, wages, housing affordability. Its observations will change how you approach all these problems. A mind-opening experience!
Henry George: Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy This is perhaps the most important book ever written on the subjects of poverty, political economy, how we might live together in a society dedicated to the ideals Americans claim to believe are self-evident. It will provide you new lenses through which to view many of our most serious problems and how we might go about solving them: poverty, sprawl, long commutes, despoilation of the environment, housing affordability, wealth concentration, income concentration, concentration of power, low wages, etc. Read it online, or in hardcopy.
Bob Drake's abridgement of Henry George's original: Progress and Poverty: Why There Are Recessions and Poverty Amid Plenty -- And What To Do About It! This is a very readable thought-by-thought updating of Henry George's longer book, written in the language of a newsweekly. A fine way to get to know Henry George's ideas. Available online at progressandpoverty.org and http://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
Where Else Might You Look?
Wealth and Want The URL comes from the subtitle to Progress & Poverty -- and the goal is widely shared prosperity in the 21st century. How do we get there from here? A roadmap and a reference source.
Reforming the Property Tax for the Common Good I'm a tax reform activist who seeks to promote fairness and reduce poverty. Let's start with the enabling legislation and state requirements for the property tax. There are opportunities for great good!
I posted this comment elsewhere, and thought it worth sharing here:
I've not read far into the book yet -- and it is available online as a PDF file -- but by the time I was into the first chapter, it was clear that Dr. Piketty's economic education, extensive as it might be, entirely omitted the ideas of the classical economists who described a 3-factor economy: land, labor and capital. Piketty, like nearly everyone educated in economics in the past 40 to 80 years, writes as if there were only two factors -- labor and capital -- treating land as if it were a mere subset of capital, with no reason to recognize it as differentiated.
Land -- not only urban sites, but also the other things the classical economists would recognize as Land, such as water rights, oil, electromagnetic spectrum (our airwaves which we all say belong to the American people, but which are in reality owned by corporations), landing rights at busy landlocked airports, geosynchronous orbits, urban street parking, the value of dozens of other non-renewable natural resources -- is completely different in character from that which is created by labor. To fail to recognize that difference lies at the bottom of our inequality problem.
That which individuals and corporations produce is rightly individual property. That which the community and nature produce is rightly common property, belonging to all of us. Conflating Capital and Land leads us to permit the privatization of that which is rightly our common treasure.
You might be interested to know that the Landlord Game, invented by 1902, was intended to teach this concept. You have probably played Monopoly, which was based on this game, played with very different rules.
Explore the ideas of Henry George. Between 1885 and 1900 or so, everyone knew the name and many well understood his ideas. You might start with "Social Problems" or the more analytical "Progress and Poverty," or his speeches, "The Crime of Poverty," "Thou Shalt Not Steal," among others, online at http://www.wealthandwant.com. See also http://lvtfan.typepad.com.
Dr. Piketty and others whose education in economics has omitted George's ideas should not be treated as experts; they've mixed apples and oranges and not noticed that what they've created impoverishes the vast majority of us -- and enriches a few. (Parenthetically, consider who donates heavily to our universities.)
Paying taxes is rarely pleasant, but as April 15 approaches it’s worth remembering that our tax system is a progressive one and serves a little-noticed but crucial purpose: It mitigates some of the worst consequences of income inequality.
If any of us, as individuals, are unfortunate enough to have income drop significantly, the tax on that income will plummet as well — and a direct payment, or negative tax, might even be received from the government, thanks to the earned-income tax credit. In this way, the tax system can be viewed as a colossal insurance system, guarding against extreme income inequality. There are similar provisions in other countries.
But it’s also clear that while income inequality would be much worse without our current tax system, what we have isn’t nearly enough. It’s time — past time, actually — to tweak the system so that it can respond effectively if income inequality becomes more extreme.
"Respond effectively if"???
How about policies that would prevent a large portion of our currentincome inequality by either pre-collecting, for public purposes, the economic rent which rent-seekers love to capture as long as we let it hang out there, or putting a market price on privileges of various kinds -- the right to collect tolls, the right to use the airwaves, the right to string wires of various kinds along public rights-of-way, to occupy other parts of the commons and charge others to use what one puts on it. One could call it "natural public revenue."
Bob Schiller knows some of the ways people grow wealthy in their sleep, without lifting a finger. He knows about boom-bust cycles, and the economic agony they cause to ordinary human beings in our society. He chronicles, he measures, he profits from the selling of those measurements.
Probably once or twice it has passed through his mind that by some simple alterations to public policy, we could make our economy more stable, our society more just.
Perhaps he has played the game Monopoly, and maybe he knows that it was not created in the 1930s, but has its roots in The Landlord's Game, created by late 1902, to teach the ideas of Henry George, who, it is likely, was at least mentioned in his Eco 101 textbooks, though perhaps glossed over by a busy and unaware instructor.
Does he seek to reduce the income inequality by preventing it, or only collecting some piece of the privilege-payments after the fact without tweaking the system that permits them even a tiny bit?
Milton Friedman, another economic eminence, maintained that land value tax was the "least bad" tax, but never lifted his voice to promote it further than that acknowledgment (in 1968 and 2006 and perhaps in between). He likely had other kinds of interests top of mind.
Let's not just "mitigate the worst effects." Let's acquaint ourselves with the structures that create those worst effects, and destroy them! Go to the root! Be radical! Eradicate those structures!
It was Henry David Thoreau who said,
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
Dare Professor Schiller strike at the root? Dare he point to the root? Has he sought the root? Or is he content with hacking -- nibbling -- at branches, which doesn't help the victims a tenth as much as striking at the root?
Ironically, Professor Schiller is the "Sterling Professor of Economics" at Yale. That seat was endowed by Jack Sterling (1844-1915), co-founder of the law firm Shearman & Sterling with Thomas G. Shearman (1834-1900)*, upon his death in 1918. Shearman knew where the root was, and devoted himself to seeking its eradication. (Explore the NYT archives for references.) It is ironic that nearly 100 years later, the occupant of that seat (and many other things at Yale) is content with nibbling. But maybe it isn't surprising. Lots of alumni would not be happy to have those roots identified, and even a tenured professor could be uncomfortable being the one to call attention. They might be the ones who endow the next set of professorships, from the gains they've made based on the unjust and unwise structures their respected -- and aspiring -- professors have failed to publicly question.
Let's not "insure against inequality." (Who gets to collect that insurance, and how does it compare to theirlosses?) Let's find ways to create a level playing field on which all can prosper. Sustainable and just to all.
And let's see about making it okay for tenured professors to share those ideas with their readers and students. And more profitable than promoting structures that need to be "insured against."
We worked through spring and winter,
through summer and through fall.
But the mortgage worked the hardest
and steadiest of them all;
It worked on nights and Sundays, it
worked each holiday;
It settled down among us and it never
Whatever we kept from it seemed almost as bad as theft;
It watched us every minute and it
ruled us right and left.
The rust and blight were with us
sometimes, and sometimes not;
scowling mortgage was forever on the spot.
The weevil and the cutworm they went
as well as came;
The mortgage stayed forever, eating
heartily all the same.
It nailed up every window, stood
guard at every door,
And happiness and sunshine, made
their home with us no more;
Till with falling crops and sickness
we got stalled upon the grade.
And there came a dark
day on us when the interest wasn't paid.
And there came a sharp foreclosure,
and I kind o' lost my hold.
And grew weary and discouraged and
the farm was cheaply sold.
The children left and scattered, when
they hardly yet were grown;
My wife she pined and perished, and I found myself alone.
What she died of was a mystery, and
the doctors never knew;
But I knew she died of mortgage — Just
as well as I wanted to.
If to trace a hidden sorrow were
within the doctors art.
They'd ha' found a mortgage lying on
that woman's broken heart.
Worm or beetle, drought
or tempest, on a farmer's land may fall.
But for a first-class
ruination, trust a mortgage 'gainst them all.
How much of a farmer's mortgage is for the value of the land itself, and how much for the present value of the improvements which previous owners have made, such as clearing, draining, fencing, irrigating, building structures, plus, perhaps, equipment purchased with the land and buildings?
For that matter, how much of a homeowner's mortgage is for the value of the land itself --including its access to community-provided services such as city water and sewer, fire hydrants, and the like -- and how much for the purchase price of the landscaping and structures on the property, built by any of the previous owners?
To what degree is the modern buyer including in his formal calculations or his underlying assumptions the notion that the land will increase in value during his tenure? (See Case & Schiller, 2003.)
The game’s true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”
Magie called her invention The Landlord’s Game, and when it was released in 1906 it looked remarkably similar to what we know today as Monopoly. It featured a continuous track along each side of a square board; the track was divided into blocks, each marked with the name of a property, its purchase price, and its rental value. The game was played with dice and scrip cash, and players moved pawns around the track. It had railroads and public utilities — the Soakum Lighting System, the Slambang Trolley — and a “luxury tax” of $75. It also had Chance cards with quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson (“The earth belongs in usufruct to the living”), John Ruskin (“It begins to be asked on many sides how the possessors of the land became possessed of it”), and Andrew Carnegie (“The greatest astonishment of my life was the discovery that the man who does the work is not the man who gets rich”). The game’s most expensive properties to buy, and those most remunerative to own, were New York City’s Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. In place of Monopoly’s “Go!” was a box marked “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” The Landlord Game’s chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property’s title holder but into a common pot—the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, “Prosperity is achieved.”
Readers of this blog know that Lizzie Magie had created her game and started to promote it by the Fall of 1902.
“Monopoly players around the kitchen table”—which is to say, most people—“think the game is all about accumulation,” he said. “You know, making a lot of money. But the real object is to bankrupt your opponents as quickly as possible. To have just enough so that everybody else has nothing.” In this view, Monopoly is not about unleashing creativity and innovation among many competing parties, nor is it about opening markets and expanding trade or creating wealth through hard work and enlightened self-interest, the virtues Adam Smith thought of as the invisible hands that would produce a dynamic and prosperous society. It’s about shutting down the marketplace. All the players have to do is sit on their land and wait for the suckers to roll the dice.
Smith described such monopolist rent-seekers, who in his day were typified by the landed gentry of England, as the great parasites in the capitalist order. They avoided productive labor, innovated nothing, created nothing—the land was already there—and made a great deal of money while bleeding those who had to pay rent. The initial phase of competition in Monopoly, the free-trade phase that happens to be the most exciting part of the game to watch, is really about ending free trade and nixing competition in order to replace it with rent-seeking.
This is a good article, and I commend it in its entirety to your attention. It also provides links to Tom Forsythe's new site, http://landlordsgame.info/, whose graphics show many early versions of the Landlord's Game, which I look forward to exploring. I learned for the first time that the game layout that I had thought was an early one, with a lake in the center, was actually a 1939 version, based on Lizzie Magie's design but published by Parker Brothers. (I ought to have figured that out sooner, since the board includes her married name!)
It is interesting that one of the earlier versions -- 1909 -- was based on Altoona's streets. In the past year, Altoona has shifted to taxing land and not taxing buildings to fund its municipal spending. (This was a gradual shift, accomplished over a number of years; they must have liked the effect!)
I came across this rather good letter to the editor, from 1938. (Trinity Church Corporation, a major landlord in downtown Manhattan, was the subject of a NYT article this past week, as well as the subject of a major series in the NYT in December, 1894):
1938-09-03 Letters to The Times
Collecting Ground Rent Single-Tax System Regarded as No Detriment to Building
TO THE EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Fabian Franklin, in his letter to THE TIMES discussing the demolition of John D. Rockefeller's Harlem tenements in order to save taxes, writes:
"That objection is simply that virtual abolition of land ownership, which the single-tax plan is designed to effect, would make the building of houses in a city an extra-hazardous business, because, under the single-tax regime, in the great majority of cases the investment would result in a disastrous loss to the owner of the building. I was neither blaming nor praising Mr. Rockefeller for the demolition of Harlem tenements."
What is the so-called single-tax system? It is the collection by the government, through the taxing officials, of the entire economic or ground rent of land and the repeal of all taxes on buildings and other products of labor and capital. That ground rent is estimated to be 9% of the capital value of the land. New York City is now collecting one-third of this ground rent. The market value of the lots is the remaining two-thirds, capitalized. Dr. Franklin's thesis is that if the entire ground rent is collected no one would erect buildings, because "in the great majority of cases the investment would result in a disastrous loss to the owner of the building."
Some of the finest buildings in New York City are erected on leased land and the lessee pays the ground rent 100% besides a tax on the building. There are hundreds of buildings erected by lessees of lots owned by Trinity Church, Astor estate, Rhinelander estate, Sailors Snug Harbor and others. The lessees must pay all the taxes, both on land and building, amounting to 3% of the assessed value of both, and to the landlord 6% of the market value of the land.
Thus the entire ground rent is paid by the lessee, but only one-third to the government representing the people who made that value by their presence and activities, the remaining two-thirds to the landlord. Notwithstanding that they are thus obliged to pay 100% of the economic rent, bankers and business men erect buildings costing millions. Under the Henry George plan they would have to pay less, for the taxes on these costly structures will have been repealed.
Perhaps if Mr. Rockefeller had not been obliged to pay taxes on the buildings he might not have pulled them down; or, if he had, would have erected better buildings in their place in order to get a return on his investment in buildings. The ones who will benefit most from the adoption of the Georgian philosophy are the owners of humble homes. The average small homeowner's house is assessed for at least twice the assessed value of the lot. If the house is relieved from taxation and the lot taxed the entire ground rent, his tax will be less than it is now. The difference will be made up from vacant lots and lots that are worth more than the improvements.
After all, the building of houses is like any other business. The builder takes the risk of lessened demand because of changes in fashion, obsolescence, competition. It is estimated that 95% of new businesses ultimately fail. With the adoption, however, of the philosophy of Henry George, commonly called the single tax, failures in the housing and other businesses will be much fewer. This is because neither houses nor goods nor anything else will be taxed. The collection of the entire ground rent will not lessen the area of the surface of the earth one inch. On the contrary, it will open to occupation and use land that is now held for speculation purposes.
The taxation of any product of labor and capital will add the amount of the tax to the price, lessen demand and thus curtail production. The result is unemployment and misery.
Frederic Cyrus Leubuscher Essex Fells, N. J., Aug. 31, 1938
One of my standing google alerts took me to an editorial in a northern California newspaper endorsing the call for a 1/8 cent sales tax on all goods sold within the county to support the town's library, which, because of Proposition 13, receives no funding from the county. They have exhausted their ability to do fundraisers, have no acquisition budget, and if the library goes from its current 3 or 4 days a week to none, the existing collection will be divided up and people will have to drive to one of the other 2 libraries in the county.
I tried to post a comment, but they seem only to accept comments through Facebook, and I'm not a FB subscriber. So I'll share my comment here:
Amenities like libraries and good schools and well-maintained streets, among many others, are what make a community a good place to live. They support and increase land values; they don't change the value of the structures that sit on that land.
The sensible way to finance them is through taxes proportionate to land value. Those who own a large, well-located lot pay the most; those who own a small share of a large, well-located lot pay their share of that lot's value; those who own a small, well-located lot, close to the amenities people find desirable, pay in proportion to the value of their location, not to what they paid for their property, be it last year, 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. Those who own an off-on-the-edge postage stamp pay little or nothing (whether they've put a cottage or castle on that little lot.).
I understand that you're trying to solve a local problem, but the underlying mess created by Prop 13 needs to be corrected.
Taxing sales drives sales out of town. That burdens hardworking people who own and work in the shops that sell taxed goods in your community. (It probably won't hurt the landlords much.) Wage taxes are no better. Building taxes ditto. We shouldn't use them!
In the 1870s, a Tennessee businessman wrote to his governor,
Never tax anything That would be of value to your State, That could and would run away, or That could and would come to you.
Your town needs to make it clear to your state that Proposition 13 forces you to do stupid things. Jon Coupal and his fellow Prop 13 supporters are not working to make California better for ordinary people. They have something else in mind.
There are a thousand hacking at the leaves. Go to the root of the problem and eradicate it. Prop 13 is the root of this one (and many others). It has forced California's towns into dishonest assessments and put a low cap on what is arguably the wisest, most just tax ever proposed (land value taxation).
It was a California newspaperman, Henry George, who saw most clearly and wrote most eloquently on this topic. Look for his 1879 book, "Progress and Poverty," written in San Francisco. You can find a modern abridgment online at http://www.progressandpoverty.org/ and more about him and his ideas at http://henrygeorge.org/ or the URL's below. (For example, the board game Monopoly is based on The Landlord's Game, which someone developed circa 1902 to teach the wisdom of George's ideas. It came with 2 sets of rules, one similar to the game we play today, and another called the "prosperity rules." Dull game, but sustainable society!) Prop 13 is the antithesis of what George's analysis showed was the way to a good life for ordinary people.
invented by Miss Lizzie Magie of Washington, D. C, will be manufactured and ready for the market about June 1st.
The Landlord's Game is played on a board about 18 inches square, divided into 46 spaces representing all the various institutions of modern commercial life. The names of some of these spaces are "Soakum Lighting System," "Slambang Trolley," "Gee Whiz Railroad," "Lord Blueblood's Estate," "Wayback," "Boomtown." "Easy Street." "Broadway," "Timberlands.'' "Oil Fields," "Jail," "Poor House," etc.
The play on the board is started by the throw of dice which indicates the moves of the players and from that time on the transactions between individuals, corporations and the government are entered into with vim and interest. At the start the players are equally equipped but as the moves continue the majority of the players are apt to be forced into poverty, some even arriving at the Poor House, while one player generally becomes the millionaire.
THE SINGLE TAX
This condition prevails until the adoption of the single tax on land values, when the land rents, instead of being appropriated by individual players, are turned into the public treasury and used for public improvements. The game as then continued equalizes opportunities and raises wages, while it is impossible for one player to get any great advantage over the others.
The game brings out with great clearness the exact position in the commercial world of money, transportation and land monopoly. Unlike most games that have sought to teach a problem, this game preserves all the principal features of the popular chance and skill games, at the same time demonstrating the problem with clearness and simplicity. It is easily learned and is played with great enthusiasm by children as well as adults.
Mr. John Z. White says:
The Landlord's Game Is something with which all single taxers should be familiar, as It will not only afford them much amusement, but will enable them to make practical illustrations of disputed points. It gives opportunity in this direction that can be secured in no other way. The "cat" is so clearly revealed that even he who runs may perceive.
Mr. Henry George. Jr., says:
The Landlord's Game illustrates the salient points of the single tax philosophy and is also interesting as a game.
Mrs. Jennie L, Munroe. Vice-Pres. of the National Woman's Single Tax League, says:
A thorough understanding of the principles of the Landlord's Game is equal to a whole course in political economy.
Rev. Alex. Kent, Pastor People's Church, Washington. D. C, says:
The game is instructive and at the same time absorbingly interesting.
The game will be furnished in a neat box with lithographed board in colors, will include a pack of cards representing title deeds, railroad charters, etc., besides checkers, dice, money and all other implements necessary to the playing of the game, and will be sent to any address in the United States on receipt of one dollar. Postage 20 cents extra.
Address MISS LIZZIE J. MAGIE, Secretary, ECONOMIC GAME COMPANY. 58 WEST 68th ST., NEW YORK, N. Y.
LVTfan here: the ad has no graphics. But this game is the inspiration for the board game we know as Monopoly.
Pursuing some leads on Lizzie Magie (see the related posts, below this one, and in the Landlords Game links at left), I came across a December, 2010, paper by Frances Hutchinson, about the British version of the Landlords Game, called Brer Fox an' Brer Rabbit. She makes some very interesting points, and I learned some things about the games. I commend the entire paper to your attention, and am taking the liberty of posting the last third here:
Brer Fox an’ Brer Rabbit
Georgists argued that a system of land taxation could be introduced gradually, following informed public debate on the issues involved. To that end, during the early decades of the twentieth century they devised a series of hand-made games designed to portray the evils of the selfish system of monopoly land holding, with a view to introducing socially responsible reforms of land holding based upon the Georgist Single Land Tax proposals. The games, which circulated throughout the USA and UK, often under the title The Landlord’s Game, were played in three phases. Phase 1, based upon the existing laws of land ownership, finance and taxation, demonstrates the effects of unchecked greed and self-interest in patterns of monopoly capitalism. In Phases 2 and 3 the rules are altered to eliminate the ability of powerful players to benefit from their greed.
The creators of the game held a profound faith in the human capacity for action based upon reasoned argument. The games were designed to be played co-operatively, providing a focus for discussion which took place at each of the three phases of the game. Monopoly was later developed from Phase 1, where powerful, self-interested individuals reign supreme. The later two phases, which each form games in themselves, demonstrate the potential for communities to regain ecologically and socially viable forms of access to land.
Brer Fox an’ Brer Rabbit is an early version of The Landlord’s Game which circulated in the UK. After some years of research we managed to bring together a copy of the original board with a matching set of rules. Despite the title, this is not a children’s game. However, we have found that a major obstacle to the successful use of this original version of the game as a teaching aid, is the almost universal pernicious influence of the selfish, zero-sum game of Monopoly. Phase 1 does not run as smoothly as the polished version of the commercial version, and it can be difficult to shift to the different mindset envisaged in Phases 2 and 3.
The thoughtful playing of Phases 2 and 3 of the Landlord’s Game raises some veryinteresting questions, such as the relationship between the ‘real’ and the ‘financial’ values of land, traditional patterns of common management of land, and the whole question of landless waged-labour. What emerges most forcefully, however, is the role of the Banker, the mysterious figure whose presence is not explained in the Georgist literature, but who is able to pay out ‘wages’ to the players to enable them to continue to participate in the game. This brings into focus the whole question of the wage/salary-slavery system that is corporate capitalism in the world economy of the twenty-first century.
Playing the Game
Monopoly was developed from Phase 1 of The Landlord’s Game, which demonstrates the effects of a greedy selfish pattern of monopoly land-holding. The object of Monopoly is to buy, rent and sell property with sufficiently focused and ruthless skill to bankrupt the other players and thereby force them out of the game. In real life, the Robber Barons of the American Golden Age dominated steel, oil and other essential resources not by creating wealth, but by dominating the field. Mirroring assumptions of economic orthodoxy, the number of houses and hotels in Monopoly are deliberately kept scarce. The game is so designed that all cannot improve their properties equally, and collaboration is prohibited. “Monopoly models the foundation assumption of economics: the principle of scarcity. Every opportunity you act on is thereby denied to another player.”11
To play a version of The Landlord’s Game it is necessary to step back in time, to forget the rush, bustle and constant worry of the twenty-first century and take time to imagine one is alive in the idyllic years before the First World War. Although the commercially designed Monopoly can be played out in a single playing session, several leisurely sessions need to be set aside for playing The Landlord’s Game. The specific uses of the sites laid out on the board would have been familiar to the players, and would have given rise to discussion of local examples. Thus the game offers a refreshing opportunity to reflect on the purposes of the various ‘money making’ institutions on the board, including the actual money-maker, the bank itself.
Devised over a hundred years ago as a DIY exercise, boards, cards and playing pieces were normally assembled from household materials. Playing tokens were buttons, badges, charms, or anything to hand. Brer Fox an’ Brer Rabbit, produced and patented by the Newbie Games Company of Dumfries, Scotland, in 1913, has been reproduced in the attached format* so that all three phases of the game can be played. The family resemblance to Monopoly is immediately obvious. Bearing in mind the history of Monopoly just described, the leisurely playing of all three phases is an excellent consciousness-raising exercise. The later two phases, which form games in themselves, demonstrate the potential for communities to regain access to land by regaining control over all forms of economic activity, including banking. Personally, I tend to agree with Karl Marx, that “in point of theory, the man [Henry George] is a back number”. The notion that an individual should have the right to buy a piece of land simply by right of landing on it when it is free, is original to the game. Equally, the Georgist game does not raise the question of money creation, the role of finance and banking in the economy or the whole question of wage-slavery upon which the edifice of global corporate capitalism rests. But that does not prevent twenty-first century players from using the sites and situations of Brer Fox an’ Brer Rabbit to review accepted assumptions about the institutions of society which govern access to wealth, property, income and power. The game offers at least as much of interest to present-day campaigners for peace, social justice, monetary reform and political sanity as it did a century ago. We look forward to opening a dialogue with groups who have played the games successfully.
Digging through primary sources can provide some great thrills. I stumbled onto this article about The Landlords' Game in the Autumn, 1902, number of The Single Tax Review (then a 64-page quarterly, later more frequent) . It was the Landlord's' Game which was later revised to create the board game Monopoly. As I've written earlier here, the Landlords' Game (probably in later editions than what is referred to here) came with 2 sets of rules, one which would create widespread prosperity, and the other which would create a winner-take-all situation.
Magie's comments are quite relevant to understanding the game of Monopoly, too:
from The Single Tax Review, Autumn, 1902
THE LANDLORDS' GAME.
AN INTERESTING INVENTION OF A YOUNG LADY IN WASHINGTON BY WHICH CHILDREN AT THEIR PLAY MAY BE TAUGHT THE TRUE LAWS OF ECONOMICS. Miss Lizzie J. Magie, a single taxer of Washington, D. C has invented an ingenious game, played with checkers and dice as is parcheesi, and thus describes it for the Review:
"It is a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences," says Miss Magie. " It might well have been called the 'Game of Life,' as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem to have, i. e., the accumulation of wealth. Representative money, deeds, mortgages, notes and charters are used in the game; lots are bought and sold; rents are collected; money is borrowed (either from the bank or from individuals), and interest and taxes are paid. The railroad is also represented, and those who make use of it are obliged to pay their fare, unless they are fortunate enough to possess a pass, which, in the game, means throwing a double. There are two franchises: the water and the lighting; and the first player whose throw brings him upon one of these receives a charter giving him the privilege of taxing all others who must use his light and water.
"There are two tracts of land on the board that are held out of use—are neither for rent nor for sale—and on each of these appear the forbidding sign: 'No Trespassing. Go to Jail.' One of these tracts of land (the largest on the board) is owned by Lord Blueblood, of London, England, and represents foreign ownership of American soil. A jail is provided for any one who trespasses upon this land, and there the unfortunate individual must linger until he serves out his time or pays the required fine. 'Serving out his time' means waiting until he throws a double.
"Before the game begins, each player is provided with a certain amount of cash, sufficient to pay all necessary expenses until he is well enough along in life to earn his living. Should any one be so unlucky, or so reckless and extravagant, as to become 'broke,' there is a nice little poor house off in one corner where he may tarry until he makes a lucky throw or until some friend takes pity on him and lends him enough to set him on his feet again. And here is where he generally gets 'soaked,' for the other players, taking advantage of the unfortunate one's necessities, demand an enormous rate of interest which the impecunious individual must pay before he can complete his round and get his wages.
"The rallying and chaffing of the others when one player finds himself an inmate of the jail, and the expressions of mock sympathy and condolence when one is obliged to betake himself to the poor house, make a large part of the fun and merriment of the game.
"Each time around the board represents so much labor performed, for which so much wages are paid. When a player has been the rounds ten times he retires from his labors, although he still remains in the game, which is not finished until the last player has made his tenth round. It takes forty moves to make a round and there is in each round one little black-bordered spot marked 'Legacy,' and whenever a player stops on this he receives a cash legacy. In each round there are three spots marked 'Luxury,' and these the player may indulge in or not, according to his inclinations or finances, but each luxury purchased counts the player so much more at the end of the game.
"General directions for playing the game accompany this description, but it is difficult to make a set of rules that will cover all contingencies since no two games are alike. The combination of circumstances are so many that almost every time the game is played new situations are brought out. Thus it is a game that is always interesting—never monotonous. It was the original intention of the author simply to work out a demonstration of how the landlord gets his money and keeps it, but while doing this there gradually developed a game which has proven one of amusement as well as of instruction and one which has attractions for both old and young.
"Children of nine or ten years and who possess average intelligence can easily understand the game and they get a good deal of hearty enjoyment out of it. They like to handle the make-believe money, deeds, etc., and the little landlords take a general delight in demanding the payment of their rent. They learn that the quickest way to accumulate wealth and gain power is to get all the land they can in the best localities and hold on to it. There are those who argue that it may be a dangerous thing to teach children how they may thus get the advantage of their fellows, but let me tell you there are no fairer-minded beings in the world than our own little American children. Watch them in their play and see how quick they are, should any one of their number attempt to cheat or take undue advantage of another, to cry, 'No fair!' And who has not heard almost every little girl say, 'I won't play if you don't play fair.' Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied."
To read more about The Landlord's Game, explore the two "Monopoly and the Landlord's Game" tags in the cloud (I can't seem to meld them into a single one!) It is quite an interesting story.
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 best-seller, 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" theory — 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 the evils of the current economic system — how landlords could become wealthy by buying a piece of land and then charging rent. The board looked very similar to the modern Monopoly board, with railroads in the corners, properties along the sides, some stops to pay property tax or improvement taxes, public utilities, and a jail square. She explained that the point of The Landlord's Game was "not only to afford amusement to the players, but to illustrate to them how under the present or 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. Many of them, in turn, took it to their own classrooms, redrawing the boards from memory.
And so the game continued to spread, with rules and boards changing as people re-drew it, often modeled after the town of wherever it was being played. 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 and was picked up by an out-of-work electrician named Charles Darrow. Darrow was one of many people who tried to publish their own version of the game, but it was his that Parker Brothers chose in 1935, when they realized that the game was so popular anyway, they might as well be making money on it. By this time, it had lost almost all of its original social message. Charles 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.
The only problem for Parker Brothers was that Lizzie Magie, now Lizzie Magie Phillips, still owned the patent to The Landlord's Game,which was so similar to the version they bought from Charles Darrow that they needed to buy up her patent as well. She refused to let them make changes to her original game, because she didn't want Henry George's ideas to disappear. But she didn't think to demand that they wouldn't publish the new version of Monopoly they had purchased from Charles Darrow. So they told her that they would keep publishing a version of her game and bought her out for $500 on this day in 1935. 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.
SEVENTY-FIVE years ago today, an American woman called Lizzie Magie sold the rights of a board-game she had invented to Parker Brothers, the then dominant players in the market.
Her game was, in effect, Monopoly, as which Parker had already bought it from Charles Darrow, an electrician who lost his job in the Crash of 1929. Darrow’s version was a big seller. But the company knew it was merely a variation on Magie’s original. Ownership of the latter was therefore vital to their hopes of a patent.
A potential obstacle, however, was that Magie was not motivated by mere money. Then aged 70 and described in one US account as “a little old gray-haired Quaker woman”, she was more interested in the educational properties of her creation, which she had designed more than 30 years earlier to propagate the theories of a political economist named Henry George.
George’s big idea was the injustice of private land ownership, which he believed impoverished the many while enriching the few. He wanted all land nationalised and then redistributed in equal parts, with a single tax on all occupiers.
It had been in support of this, and to demonstrate the evils of private monopolies, that Magie created the “Landlord’s Game”, as she called it. Which, as Parker Brothers knew, had been played widely – especially in Quaker circles – for three decades before Darrow’s version appeared.
In a legal deposition many years later, the president of Parker recalled his impressions of Magie as “a rabid Henry George single tax advocate, a real evangelist; and these people never change”. So having made his cynical diagnosis, he gave her what she wanted: $500, with no royalties, and a promise that her game would be promoted in its original form, spreading George’s gospel, alongside the Monopoly version.
Well, the writer doesn't quite have all his facts right -- Henry George did not seek to nationalize land or redistribute it in equal parts, just to collect the lion's share of the rental value of the land and use it for public purposes. And I've heard it said that though the game was widely played in Quaker circles, Lizzie Magie was not herself a Quaker.
Frank McNally might also have chosen to mention that another of Henry George's books, originally titled "The Irish Land Question," was later republished as simply "The Land Question" because what was seen in Ireland was actually occurring nearly everywhere, but was more visible in Ireland. The book remains in print today, including a new edition available from schalkenbach.org and Amazon.
I heard something this morning on the radio which tickled my funny bone, and then got me thinking. The program was "Wait, Wait -- Don't Tell Me" and they were spinning yarns for a contestant to pick out the real one from the two made-up news stories. The theme was about how the wealthy are different, and there was a tale of rich people, perhaps in some form of noblesse oblige, choosing to play the board games Life and Monopoly with $1,000 less in starting money than the rules call for.
Well, my imagination was off and running. (I was stuck in traffic.)
Look at what happens in the board game Monopoly. Everyone starts with the same amount of money, and each one earns the same salary ($200 for each pass around the board). And yet some become wealthy and most end up penniless. The rules and structures are designed to create that situation. Some of it is random, or at least appears to be: what happens to you depends in part on a throw of the dice. Assuming all the players are using the same dice, one assumes that much is due to "chance." There is even a deck of cards by that name, each of which produces a different turn outcome.
Imagine Monopoly if the rules were a little different: that some started the game with a bit more money, or an undeveloped property they already owned, or a block or neighborhood with single family houses on them. After all, we weren't all born the same year.
Or imagine that instead of all players receiving $200 each "year," some of us received $400 or $600, and others received only $80 or $150.
Or combine those two assumptions.
Or imagine that the amount each player receives begins at $80, and for some rises and for others does not.
Or assume that some of us receive nothing, since there is a finite amount of money in the game, and if the powerful players have it all tucked under their side of the board, it simply isn't available when you pass "GO."
Or assume that when you do go to buy a house, having assembled your 2- or 3-lot neighborhood, there aren't any available: the supply is fixed, and the existing players have bought them all up. You'll have to wait, and keep paying rent until they replace them with hotels. (Sounds like California under Prop 13, doesn't it? One of the lowest homeownership rates in the US, except among seniors, whose homeownership rate exceeds that of their counterparts in the rest of the country!)
Those who have explored this blog may know that the board game Monopoly was not created during the 1930s depression, but is a direct descendant of a turn-of-the-century board game called The Landlord's Game, which was created to teach the ideas of Henry George. Elizabeth Magie (later Phillips) patented it in 1904, and later versions in the 1920s. (See a modern rendering here.) I've also seen pictures of another board for the Landlord's Game, showing a community surrounding a lake; one advances around the board.
The game came with two sets of rules, one called the Landlord Rules, rather similar to the game we know today. The other set was called the Prosperity Rules. You might enjoy the recent article in Land & Liberty (pages 14 & 15). Don't miss the last couple of paragraphs.
This is one of a number of sites which describes the history of the board game Monopoly. It doesn't get it quite right, but is directionally correct. I'll share my corrections here:
"Goal" is actually "Gaol" -- what we know as Jail.
The "Prosperity" rules were not similar to the rules of the Monopoly game as we know it. Rather, they were similar to the original rules, which produced a VERY dull game. No big winners, no losers. Just a sustainable situation in which all could prosper. Not much fun on a Sunday afternoon, but a good model for real life. The OTHER rules are similar to the Monopoly game we know today.
The point of "The Landlord's Game" -- Lizzie Magie's original 1903 game -- was to teach the ideas of Henry George (1839-1897), and show by a simulation why they produced a just, logical, sustainable economy and community, in which all could live as equals. George saw that the economic rent -- the annual rental value of the land within a community's borders -- ought to be collected by the community and used to fund goods and services which would benefit the community, while that which individuals and corporations create should be the private property of those individuals and corporations. The game demonstrated how things would work under this scenario. (Think about SimCity as a teaching tool.)
This website is missing the richest part of the story!