Monday, June 17, 2019

The Feminifesto Seminar Club: Session 8




By Vaishnavi Pallapothu

On the sweltering afternoon of June 16, the ladies of the Feminifesto Seminar Club gathered to play Monopoly, albeit with a twist. I was inspired to take up this activity after numerous debates and readings about the polemic debate between a capitalist economy and a socialist one.  While I am convinced that capitalism, in its current form, is no longer sustainable and will almost certainly doom us all, I have remained skeptical about socialist systems as well due to their poor success rates. After stumbling across a brilliant cartoon in The Nib (https://thenib.com/brief-history-of-monopoly), about Elizabeth Magie, the creator of Monopoly, I was surprised to learn that it was a game intended to educate the masses of the evils of capitalism.  After reading more, I decided to try out an experiment to see which system leaves people more well-off in the long-run.

Elizabeth Magie was a woman ahead of her time. For her, the problems of the new century (the 1900s) were so vast, the income inequalities so massive and monopolists so powerful that it seemed impossible that a stenographer like herself could ease society’s ills with a board game. Not to forget, she was a woman trying to step through the door in a room filled with men. She eventually designed and invented a board game to reflect her progressive political values, known as the Landlord’s Game.
Magie long concluded that the economic objective of the human race was to accumulate wealth. Thus, she created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set where all players were rewarded when wealth is created and a monopolist set designed to pit players against each other in a race to the top. However, as we know it today, the monopolist set of rules captured the public’s attention and have endured for decades.

The anti-monopolist set of rules was inspired by economist Henry George’s idea of placing the highest burden of taxation on wealthy landowners. This version not only seized the natural instinct to compete but also practically demonstrated the usual outcomes and consequences of land grabbing. It also illustrates the unfairness of receiving rent based on lucky ownership of advantageous plots as rents end up enriching property owners and impoverishing tenants.

We played the first game of Monopoly following the widely recognized and normal rules, with each player attempting to maximize their wealth and climb to the top, even if it meant bankrupting the others. I particularly encouraged everyone to buy and build apartments and the rules were tweaked such that apartments could be bought immediately after purchasing land, in order to facilitate the same. 14 rounds were played in total and I recorded each player’s balance of money after the second round and the final round. After two complete rounds of play, everyone had more or less the same amount of money left, give or take a couple of million pounds. Yashasvini had the least amount at 9.4M and Kirthi had the highest amount 12.8M. After the last round, everyone had completely different totals and staggering inequalities came into display. It was interesting to note that Yashasvini remained with the lowest total at 2.75M, perhaps demonstrating how the capitalist economy can plunder the less wealthy. This was extremely visible in contrast to Raakhee, who had the highest total, at 11.3M, who reaped the benefits of making calculative decisions and investments.

After the first game, we read an article (http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170728-monopoly-was-invented-to-demonstrate-the-evils-of-capitalism) which further explained the origins of Monopoly as we know it today. The second game was tweaked to suit a more socialist setting, also known as the Prosperity version. The aim of this round was to see if people were generally better off at the end, in terms of final money balance, in comparison with the Monopoly version of the game. This conclusion was to be made bearing in mind non-controlled factors, such as luck, Chance and Community Chest actions and different strategies of decisions.

The rules for Prosperity are as follows:
i) Land portions of rents are payed to the government (banker) and kept in a pile at the center of the board
ii) Improvements (houses, hotels) portion of the rent is payed to the respective owners/players
iii) The government owns all the airports and utilities
iv) The rent for these state services remains constant, but is payed to the government as usage fee, to be kept at the center of the pile
v) The continued accumulation of land rent results in increasing salary for players, each time GO is passed

At the end of the second round, every player had similar totals of money left. I observed that everyone was more eager to buy land plots and more so, build apartments, compared to the first game. This is self-explanatory as charging rent for apartments is the only way to make money in this version of the game. Once enough money was accumulated at the center, income increased by 1 million each time and each player received 3 million and then 4 million, once they passed GO and completed a turn around the board. Malavika, our resident behavioral economics expert, suggested that we redistribute income to match the player with the highest total, at the end of Round 10, in order to reflect the Scandinavian economic model. Thus, at the end of round 10, each player had 9.9M in order to match Kirthi, who had the highest amount. Finally, at the end of 14 rounds, vast inequalities were not to be seen and final totals remained within a range of 11M to 14M.

Drawing a conclusion from this experiment would be a vast oversimplification of real life models of socialist and capitalist economies. However, it is evident that the Prosperity set of rules helped every player end up in a much better off position, relative to the Monopoly set of rules. In the second game, the idea of an income redistribution also came up after concerns about going bankrupt were expressed  as the game progressed because everyone felt as though they were losing more money than gaining due to rents being much higher. It would have been useful to compare the figures after round 10 in both versions, but since these totals weren’t noted in the first game, it is difficult to say whether everyone was fearful of going bankrupt sooner.