Nothing is better than a game of Monopoly among friends on a Saturday Night… if what you want is interminable dice rolling, a slowly building frustration as your properties get skipped over, and eventual rancor — after all, the object of the game is to drive your opponents bankrupt, to become the monopolist. (Heck, at my house, the rancor started with the decision about who would play the little race car, and who would be stuck with the boot.)
Still, for some reason we treat the game as a treasured part of Americana, a cherished childhood memory. Charles Darrow, the reputed inventor of the game, has entered a sort of pantheon of American innovation. However, it turns out that a form of the game predates Darrow by a considerable margin, and can be traced back to the followers of proto-progressive Single Taxer Henry George, and was intended to provide object lessons in the cruelty of the idea of private land ownership and the consequent rent-seeking monopolism. Perhaps most significantly, early versions of the game allowed players to vote in an alternate set of rules intended to redistribute wealth into mutual prosperity.
All this and more may be found in Christopher Ketcham’s fascinating article on the game’s secret history at Harper’s. You should read it, if only for the bit in which one gentleman named Mike Curtis recalls playing the redistributionist version of the game years before:
Curtis admitted that he didn’t think much of the game, pronouncing it “kind of boring after a while.”
And there is my tragic view of humanity in a nutshell.