Game on in the states of Monopoly

Published in The Australian Financial Review (Sydney), 11 October 2010

A slightly modified version of this text was also broadcast on ABC Radio National ‘Counterpoint’:

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

Today, 75 years and a few economic crises after its original launch, it is time to update Monopoly to the new realities.

For a start, players should not just be allowed to start buying streets and houses, they first have to obtain a real estate licence. It goes without saying that this will require intensive training.

Unfortunately, the fees spent on licences do not leave much money for property speculation. Besides, travel around the board is not free any more. Toll collection points are installed at each comer. And don’t forget to register your token with the relevant state transit authority.

In the old Monopoly, building houses and hotels was child’s play. Not any more: development applications, land-use plans and health and safety regulations ensure that you will have to wait a few rounds before you can add a single house to your property.

Utilities require some obvious changes. The electricity company and the water works are no Longer for sale — at least not in the NSW version, which will have to be marketed as the State Monopoly edition. And utility charges will go up with every round played.

The four railway stations now also provide a more realistic city rail experience: a player landing on them will be stuck there until he rolls doubles twice in a row.

The ‘second prize in a beauty Contest’ card in the community chest will have to be omitted since it discriminates against ugly people.

The biggest drawback of Monopoly always was its unrealistic approach. to taxation. The income tax and luxury tax spaces 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 system will be replaced by a progressive income tax to be collected in increments after every roll of the dice. And at the end of each round, players will have to file a tax return.

Deductions are available for expenses related to licensing, legal costs and work-related travel, except when in jail. Negative gearing on mortgaged properties, something passionate players had long asked for, will at last be possible.

One final change: the winner will be the player who gets the gig of managing the state-owned bank.

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

Happy 75th birthday, Monopoly!

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