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Monopoly's Forgotten Socialist Beginnings: Private Property as "Erroneous and Destructive Principle”

by Abby Zimet

This week Nigeria became the first African country to launch its own version of Monopoly, which officials hope will teach "financial literacy." Irony alert: Long ago, in another galaxy, the world's best-selling, capitalism-loving board game began life as a way to teach the radical philosophy of Henry George, a 19th-century writer and activist who argued that "private property is robbery" and who hoped to “open the way to a realization of the noble dreams of socialism” with his book, Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth—The Remedy." As the United Labor's candidate for mayor of New York, George offered a radical vision - government-run social services, public-owned utilities, free transportation - supported by a big-tent coalition with slogans like "Honest Labor Against Thieving Landlords" and "Hi! Ho! The leeches must go!" He lost. But from that vision came what was originally called The Landlord's Game, with cards that said not "Go!" but “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages” alongside quotes from Thomas Jefferson and John Ruskin: “It begins to be asked on many sides how the possessors of the land became possessed of it.” Etc. Much more, great stuff. Except now we just have Boardwalk. Zinn's People's History, lost again.

 “So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes...progress is not real and cannot be permanent.” - Henry George.