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The Landlord's Game

The strange (and strangely topical) history surrounding a game we all know and love.

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(Flickr/Dave Rutt)

George Parker might have called this game “a real downer,” but as actor and writer Dan Granata explained at a special All-American edition of The Paper Machete, this American classic that you probably fought with your grandmother over (perhaps a little too violently) has an interesting past. Read an excerpt below or listen above:

The United States is mired in a recession. Decades of explosive growth have created unheard of wealth - and massive income inequality, exacerbated by a sudden collapse of the financial system. Tension between the haves and have-nots is nearly at a breaking point - people are taking to the streets to demand change.

This is America at the dawn of the 20th Century. The excesses of the Gilded Age, powered by the Second Industrial Revolution, had given rise to unimaginably vast personal fortunes in the hands of men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan. While a laissez-faire government generally tolerated the price-fixing, child-labor-exploiting, strike-breaking antics of the robber barons, there was a growing clamor among political and economic activists for more regulation and a society that wasn’t controlled exclusively by top-hatted, be-monocled dicks.

During this period, a remarkable instructional tool - what one historian calls “likely the most intricate simulation...of its day” started circulating among the progressively-minded. Designed by acolytes of the political economist Henry George, for more than two decades it was propagated by leftist business school professors and committed Socialists as an exhibition of the dangers of unchecked capitalism, and a door-opener for George’s prescription for comprehensive tax reform. Originally called The Landlord’s Game, this radical propaganda piece survives to this day - in fact, if you’re like me, it’s probably ruined more than one family holiday gathering under it’s new name: Monopoly.

The Paper Machete is a weekly live magazine at the Horseshoe in North Center. It’s always at 3 p.m., it’s always on Saturday, and it’s always free. Get all your The Paper Machete Radio Magazine needs filled here, or download the podcast from iTunes here.

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