Like many of you, I played Monopoly as a child. It is one of our most enduring board games, in part because it teaches us some of life’s most important lessons. One obvious lesson that it offers is to show us who among our family members and friends is the heartless cutthroat, the shameless cheater, and the sore loser. However, one lesson that is often lost is that the game is effectively over well before it actually ends, and that happens just as soon as one player begins to dominate the share of properties on the Monopoly board. Sure, you might have to keep playing for what seems like an eternity — assuming the sore loser is the one actually winning and so the board doesn’t get swept off the table — but everyone knows that the outcome is inevitable.
This is essentially the situation in which we now find ourselves, a never-ending last half hour of Monopoly. We’ve mortgaged off all our own meager properties in hopes of making it around the board one more time just so that we can receive that pittance of a payday offered by passing Go. We hope the dice won’t cause us to land on Boardwalk. And we sit across the table from someone who owns most of the properties on the board and has almost all of the money. We can pray for a miracle, but the math is against us. In the real world, that same thing is happening to many of us today.
With the sequestration in effect and talks of “austerity” and spending cuts becoming the norm, the reasons why the economy is in this sorry state are completely lost on most of our pundits and television professors. For some reason, the cognitive dissonance between the bullish stock market and the reports of doom and gloom from the Right about our country’s spending problems and poor economy doesn’t seem to affect our leaders in any way. In fact, they don’t seem to notice the problem is not America’s deficit at all, but rather our insane and irrational desire to support policies that allow wealth to trickle up into the hands of fewer and fewer people.
Which brings us around to the dreaded talk of the 1 Percent, a term that gained some traction a couple of years ago thanks to the Occupy movement. But the failure of the Occupy movement has been its inability to show just how poorly the rest of us are doing in relation to the top 1 Percent. Part of that failure lies in the 1 Percent’s unique ability to use the phrase “class warfare” to its advantage, as well as some people’s predisposition to believe that they are either a) part of the elite or b) they will be one day.
Apparently, many Americans today do not even correctly understand how badly skewed America’s wealth is toward the lucky 1 Percenters. It’s one thing to talk about the rich getting richer, but for several million Americans it has taken a six-and-a-half minute video on YouTube called “Wealth Inequality in America” for them to finally grasp the gravity of the situation. The viral video has been viewed more than 4.6 million times and is based on a 2011 Harvard Business School and Duke University study that indicates Americans have a far more egalitarian view of how wealth should be distributed than it actually is. The video not only illustrates this point, but it also offers a fascinating breakdown of wealth inequality in the United States.
According to the Harvard-Duke study, the top 1 percent of the nation’s economic scale controls 40 percent of America’s wealth. The bottom 80 percent of us — which, let’s be honest, is pretty much everyone reading this — only controls 7 percent. Add the estimated $21 trillion that exists in various offshore accounts by the world’s top earners, and you can see that our problem will not be solved by budget cuts and austerity measures.
Certainly, Monopoly is not an actual economics lesson nor is it an accurate depiction of life. The market that the game creates is based entirely upon a system of competing landlords who, for whatever odd reason, simply wander around a fictionalized Atlantic City going from one street to the next, buying up land, building hotels, and then — inexplicably — staying in the hotels of the other landlords. Most striking, though, is that the game eventually ends. The real economy, on the other hand, will keep us at the table, taking out loans we cannot hope to repay or struggling with second and third jobs.
Apologists for the current capitalist system argue that this is economic freedom. I think it’s more akin to modern slavery.