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A Monopoly for our times

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 1 October 2010

Even tragedies like the Great Depression have their positive side effects. One of them is Monopoly, the board game. If a certain Charles Darrow had not lost his job at a sales company, he would have never had the time to develop the famous game, which Parker Brothers started selling in 1935.

Without the great stock market crash, who knows how else we would have spent all those Sunday afternoons building property empires over the kitchen table?

Today, 75 years and a few economic crises after its original publication, it is time to update Monopoly to the new realities. Darrow’s idea may have been brilliant, but the changed economic circumstances need new rules.

Players would not just be allowed to start buying streets and houses. They would first have to obtain a real estate licence. It goes without saying that this would require intensive training.

Unfortunately, the fees spent on licences do not leave much money for property speculation. Besides, travelling around the board is not free any more. Toll collection points are installed in each corner. And don’t forget to register your token with the RTA.

In the original Monopoly, building houses and hotels was child’s play. Not anymore: Development applications, land-use plans, and health and safety regulations ensure that before you can add a single house to the board, you will have to wait a few rounds.

Some obvious changes are required for utilities. The electricity company and the water works are no longer available for purchase – at least not in the NSW version of the game, which is to be marketed as The State Monopoly edition. However, utility charges will go up with every round played.

The biggest drawback of Monopoly had always been its unrealistic approach to taxation. The two spaces for income tax and luxury tax were far too unreliable as a source of government revenue. Besides, as flat taxes they never took into consideration the financial circumstances of the players.

This antiquated tax system will be replaced by a progressive income tax to be collected in increments after every rolling of the dice. At the end of each round, players will also be compelled to file a tax return. Deductions are available for expenses related to licensing, legal costs, and work-related travel, except to jail. Negative gearing on mortgaged properties, something passionate players had long asked for, will be possible at last.

Ah, and one final change: The player wins who manages to be put in charge of the state-owned bank.

The updated Monopoly promises to be great fun for all the family – once they have worked through the thousands of pages of game instructions.

Happy 75th birthday, Monopoly!

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