Tuesday, June 18, 2024

#170 / The Landlord's Game


I have written about the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy before. In fact, I have written about it more than once, and I think that those interested in land use policy should consider subscribing to Land Lines, its Quarterly Magazine. Land Lines is free, and you can also read the magazine online.

In the most recent issue of Land Lines, George W. McCarthy, the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Lincoln Institute, has written an informative article titled, "Revealing Who Owns America." Among other things, the article explains how "The Landlord's Game" turned into "Monopoly." 

In 1903, Elizabeth Magie, an East Coast office worker, introduced a game designed to illustrate the economic consequences of monopolizing land ownership. An avid follower of Henry George, Magie wanted more people to understand how unregulated rents enriched property owners at the expense of tenants. The Landlord’s Game was played in two rounds: the first involved buying, selling, and renting property, with the goal of making money; in the second round, players who landed on a property paid into a public treasury instead of paying the owner, showing how a land tax could undo the economic and social damage caused by unregulated land ownership. 
Magie’s game was a forerunner of contemporary teaching games designed to reveal the consequences, either intended or unintended, of complex systems. For our purposes at the Lincoln Institute, it illustrates the use of land policy as a potential remedy to social and economic challenges. But it also inspired, and was ultimately usurped by, a popular game with a very different message. 
The game of Monopoly is iconic. It is also ironic. The original Landlord’s Game was designed to offer solutions to the intrinsic unfairness of consolidated property ownership; Monopoly is a celebration of ruthlessness and greed that promotes unbridled large-scale land ownership. The popularity of Monopoly, now the world’s best-selling board game, helped normalize the idea that unregulated private property was sacrosanct. 
More than a century after the invention of The Landlord’s Game, we still struggle to navigate the space between our cultural attachment to unfettered individual dominion over private property and our need to manage land to meet collective needs (emphasis added).

If the quotation above makes you think you might like Land Lines, check out one of my previous references to the magazine. Titled, "What Seems Right May Not Always Be Right," that blog posting from 2018 cites to another article in Land Lines to demonstrate why relying on the private market to address our "affordable housing" crisis will never succeed. That "law" of "supply and demand" we keep hearing about just doesn't work!

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