My young daughter learned something interesting about capitalism playing Monopoly this past weekend for the first time. It was the first time I had played, too, in at least four decades, and I was reminded just how clear the lessons are about how the economy works. My daughter put it best, "Once you start making money, it never stops."
Well, even the game isn't quite that simple, but you can forgive her conclusion because she had beginner's luck and landed on the most expensive properties. This was one of those new Monopoly games based on the beach community we were staying in — but the newer versions retain the same rules. The winner invariably owns the most expensive properties, develops them and slowly drives the other players bankrupt. It happened to me quickly; I could have hung on by mortgaging some of my low-rent properties, but I thought it might set a bad example. (There is no government bailout available in the new version, either.)
My mother-in-law was next, but she went bankrupt in the way Fitzgerald described it — “slowly, then all of a sudden.” I think my daughter ended the game with more than $10,000 and most of the board's property. She could tell you the exact amount because she counted it several times. She was ruthless, refusing to sell any of her single or double properties, maintaining her own solid blocks while preventing anybody else from completing theirs.
She was excited, perhaps a little gleeful in greed. I knew how she felt; I yearned for those good properties and high rents, too, and felt a little thrill when I got a little cash flowing. The game wasn't rigged; we all had an equal chance to be lucky, but once luck had chosen who landed on the properties or got stuck in jail for a turn or two, the gap between the eventual winner and the losers started to kick in. In this, Monopoly differs from another favorite game from my childhood — Life. In that game, as I recall, it was impossible to win if you took a short-cut and didn't go to college. No such gating item in Monopoly.
I laid off any discussion after the game; no forced homilies about how success is really achieved though hard work, not luck. Let her enjoy fun and gloating. I almost expected her to cover herself in Monopoly money and revel in her success. It's hard to convince people who have made it that there is much responsibility beyond, well, making it.