On The Money;
Economics for the 99%
A New Game Piece in Monopoly
I heard recently that Milton-Bradley Corporation, makers of the ubiquitous board game Monopoly, has retired the iron. If you haven’t played Monopoly for a while, I’ll remind you that to start the game, each player chooses, from among a handful of miniature metal objects, one of them to represent them on the game-board.
The iron, never popular as a game piece, has finally retired. My mother retired her iron in the ’70s. I’ve certainly never owned one, and I’d have no idea how to use it if I did.. I’ll bet a lot of young people today wouldn’t even recognize an iron, or have any idea what it was used for.
In its place, M-B has introduced a new game piece, the cat, a brilliant move if you ask me. I love cats. I would much rather be a cat, than an iron, any day of the week. The cat might get chased around a bit by the Scotty dog, or get run over by the race car, but I think the cat will do well in the game of Monopoly, maybe a little too well.
The cat just might undermine the the entire premise of the game of Monopoly, and none too soon, frankly. Think about it. Can you imagine a cat ever paying rent? I can’t. If you’ve ever been to the real Atlantic City, you can’t help but notice that the closer you get to the Boardwalk, the more cats you see. I’ll bet not one of them pays rent.
Even though you’ll find hotels galore on the real Boardwalk, you’ll also notice dozens of cats, strutting up and down and under the Boardwalk, like they own the place, without a care in the world. I think they have the right attitude, and as newcomers to the game of Monopoly, that attitude just might save the cat, and us.
The game of Monopoly is an exercise in what economists call, “rent-seeking behavior”. In the game, you “buy” a “property”, say “Baltic Ave.” for instance. Then, when other players land on a “property” you “own”, they pay you “rent”. When you “own” all of the “properties” in a particular area, you can charge the unfortunate players that land there, higher “rent”. If you spend some more money on those “properties”, buying “houses” and “hotels” you raise the “rent” still further. You win the game, when other players no longer have enough “money” to pay the “rent” they owe.
In real life, rent-seeking behavior has become epidemic, and it represents a major shift in our economy. You can expect to see more rent-seeking-behavior as the economy shifts away from manufacturing and resource extraction, towards this more coercive and direct form of blood-sucking.
For generations in the past, capitalism must have seemed rather magical. Markets brimmed with consumer goods that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Fish from distant ocean fisheries, cheap redwood patio furniture, harvested from remote forest habitat, radios, toys, clothes and other products manufactured in distant lands, from materials mined in far-flung corners of the Earth, surely amazed the American consumer, eager to have them all. Most consumers didn’t see the devastation that capitalism left in it’s wake. They just saw a seemingly endless supply of shiny new things to buy.
In the future, our economy will look very different. Instead of a magical place where shiny new things appear out of nowhere, the economy will look like your landlord, and the sheriff’s deputy who comes to evict you. The economy will be breathing down your neck constantly, not letting you get too comfortable anywhere. Instead of extracting resources from distant lands, the economy will extract them from you. Even now, the economy looks, and feels more like the game of Monopoly, than it did to your parents generation, but the Baby Boomers really enjoy playing Monopoly, especially since they got a head start.
Because of their large numbers, the Baby Boomers already occupy a large portion of the available housing. Because they grew up at the very pinnacle of American consumerism, they have wildly unrealistic expectations for their lifestyle, and because they got into the housing market well before the housing bubble, they were well positioned to acquire “investment properties”, and hold on to them even as younger families lost their overpriced homes in the foreclosure crisis.
Since the Federal Government taxes the money they make from renting those investment properties, at the low “capital gains” rate, rather than as “earned income”, tax policy strongly encourages this kind of “rent-seeking behavior”. Think about this when you hear politicians talk about the “capital gains tax”. They’ll say that keeping the “capital gains tax” low, creates jobs. In reality, the low capital gains tax rate screws young working people out of their chance to own a home and drives rent prices up.
Isn’t it ironic that the Baby Boomers, who introduced terms like “crash-pad”, “hippie commune”, and “intentional community” into the general lexicon, have turned into some of the greediest landlords in the history of humanity. The Boomers like playing “Monopoly” with these “investment properties”, and they’ve read dozens of books about how to “win” at it. Even as wages stagnated through most of their working careers, many of them have done quite well for themselves by engaging in this kind of “rent seeking behavior”.
While they never stop congratulating themselves for the Civil-Rights Movement, the Boomers now harbor as much prejudice and hostility, based on income, as their bigoted, racist parents did, based on skin color. The Boomers especially despise the homeless, who conspicuously avoid paying rent. I’ve heard the same kind of derogatory slurs, and vile comments hurled at the poor and homeless from former hippies, as I heard from the bigoted, racist drunks my Grandparents hung with, about Blacks and Hispanics, 40 years ago.
Today’s large poor and homeless population remind them of just how badly they’ve failed as a generation, something they remain in deep denial about. They don’t want to face the fact that the problems in our society run far deeper than the superficial changes they’ve made to the status quo, and that many of those changes only exacerbated the real problems we face as a culture.
The Boomers also expect to finish their lives, enjoying the same kind of excessive consumption that characterized their youth and middle age, but having lived at the very pinnacle of American consumerism, they long ago outstripped the carrying capacity of the planet, and have been consuming your future ever since.
They really don’t want to face this fact. They can’t face this fact, and they can’t face life without their lattes, luxury cars and lots and lots of things to buy. So, they blame the poor and the young, victimizing them with their hostility, defensiveness and denial, as well as their excess.
The Boomers don’t understand, or care, why you don’t have the money, or why you don’t want to pay it to them. They know that the law, and market forces are on their side, and they intend to press their advantage. They won’t face the reality of their unsustainable lifestyle, so long as they can extract more from you. They intend to win this game of Monopoly, and they don’t care what’s left for you when they’re done.
In the future, rental properties will fall increasingly into the hands of the 1%, who will form large faceless property management companies to run them. They will hire thugs and creeps to manage these properties who will bully tenants, steal their belongings and skimp on needed repairs even more than the Boomers who own them now.
While the constitution guarantees privacy rights to home owners, tenants increasingly sign these rights away when they sign a rental agreement. As home ownership becomes less affordable, the terms of rental agreements will favor landlords even more. Rentals will become less secure, less private, and more expensive, as the 1% uses them to squeeze even more blood out of their tenants.
Enter, the cat. Cats play by their own rules. Cats hunt ferociously. Cats scavenge effectively. Cats beg endearingly. Cats hide invisibly and cats howl incessantly. Cats are inscrutable. Cats are unpredictable, and cats are the most effective killing machines nature ever unleashed on planet Earth.
Cats know how to get their way, but cats never pay rent. As a newcomer to this game, you don’t stand a chance if you play by their rules, but as a cat, you can strut up and down boardwalk like you own the place without a care in the world. Take what you need and stay out from under foot. There’s some Monopoly advice that’s On the Money.