Monopoly and capitalism: why you’ll lose at both if you try to play nice

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Posted Dec 18 2016 by Dave Darby of

Monopoly is obviously based on capitalism, but the biggest difference between Monopoly and real-life capitalism is that Monopoly is just a game. Whatever happens in the game, it doesn’t mean that in real life, people win or lose fortunes, get thrown into jail, make millions of people work 15-hour shifts in sweatshops or cause ecological disasters.

In the real-life, capitalist world, however, it does. But there are lots of similarities between Monopoly and capitalism – Monopoly was developed to depict capitalism, after all – and in both, there are certain things that you have to do to succeed, and certain things that will guarantee failure.

Imagine the game is the global economy, and the players are governments and corporations. Now imagine if one of the players decides to play nice – to be satisfied with what they’ve got, to co-operate, and to refuse to be mean to other players. How would they do?

Well, in the absence of some sort of a pact between the players, they’d lose. As there is no such pact between countries or corporations in the real world, being nice in capitalism will also guarantee failure. Ruthlessness will serve you just as well in capitalism as it does in Monopoly.

What happens if we don’t play nice?

We’re doomed I tell you. No, we are. We’re losing ecology, and it’s not slowing down, it’s accelerating. Peer-reviewed ecologists are telling us that because species are all connected in complicated networks of symbiosis, predation, pollination, germination and decomposition, unless we turn things around, we’ll hit a cascade point, when nature will start to fall away from us irreversibly, and we’re looking at a more-or-less desert planet. Probably a radioactive desert planet too, as I can’t imagine that nuclear weapons won’t be used in a global scramble for diminishing resources on a degrading planet with an ever-growing human population.

And yes, I am fun at parties, but if we continue to ignore this problem, it really isn’t going to be much fun at all.

Growth is the engine of ecological destruction, and in capitalism we have a system that can’t stop growing. In capitalism, money is created by banks as loans, with compound interest attached. There is nowhere for that interest to come from unless the economy grows, and so for capitalism to work properly, it has to grow. This growth is facilitated by investors wanting more back than they put in, economists telling us that perpetual growth is possible, the advertising industry persuading us to consume more and governments implementing pro-growth policies.

That’s why capitalism is our Titanic and ecological destruction our iceberg.


But what happens if governments (or corporations) play nice?

They lose. If they play nice, they’ll be out-competed by corporations or governments who play nasty – who chase more and more growth and steer, full-steam ahead towards the iceberg. In politics it means losing elections and in the economy it means going out of business. Ruthlessness and acquisitiveness pay dividends in Monopoly and in real life.

First, corporations – I don’t have to tell you about sweatshops do I? They have their apologists (that’s the way countries develop – we in the West used to send children up chimneys etc. etc.), and I yearn for a magic wand to turn these people into sweatshop workers, but sadly, I don’t have one. And economies of scale allow corporations to do vile things – like the Darlington Bus War. After National Coaches were privatised, companies like Stagecoach moved in. Not content with taking over NC routes, they also tried to buy out all the small transport firms in the country. In Darlington, a local company refused to sell up, but Stagecoach ran free buses until they went out of business. There are many, many more expamples of corporations using economies of scale to bully and get their way.

This is why ‘corporate social responsibility’ is a nonsense. They’ll do it if it brings them more customers and makes them more money, but if it affects their bottom line, it’s a no-no.

Now governments. Remember how everyone you know was happy when Obama won, because he was nice, and he was going to solve all our problems, and we’d never have a nasty president again? Do you remember? I even remember when people thought Tony Blair was going to be nice.

But being nice gets you nowhere in politics. Doing the right thing will not benefit your country’s economy, and you will lose the next election. You have to play the capitalist game, or investors will remove their money from your country and capitalist institutions will come down hard on you – ask Syriza (weren’t they going to change everything; wasn’t everybody getting excited about them a while ago; where are they now?). Let’s ask Syriza supporters if they still think that elections can bring lasting change.

So voting can’t change anything in capitalism?

Exactly. Well, not completely – for example, a ‘nice’ government can slow down the sell-off of the NHS, but as they’re going to lose the next election anyway, this doesn’t really change anything in the long-run. It could even make things worse, as more extreme governments will probably be elected after a period of attempted ‘niceness’.

Trying to protect the NHS in a capitalist system is analogous to trying to do something good on the Titanic. Whatever you achieve in the short-term, as long as you’re on the Titanic / in a capitalist system, ultimately, it’s going to end badly.

Yes, of course, if we’re going to vote at all, let’s vote for the nice guys. So, leaving aside the question of which party (Greens; LibDems; Labour; independents; tiny protest parties? They all siphon votes away from each other), if you put your faith in Keynesianism – i.e. Sanders, Corbyn, or the Green Party – and if they win (and it’s a big if), think about it – how can they avoid going the way of Syriza? As long as we have a capitalist system, they cannot possibly survive. Quasi-socialist or green or non-growth or peaceful policies just don’t work in capitalism, because you will be outcompeted by parties that have no qualms about being nasty for the benefit of the economy.

So we need a different game?

Yes, and funnily enough, when it comes to Monopoly, there is a different game – and here it is.


However, apart from lack of real-world consequences (playing Monopoly isn’t going to change the climate or destroy biodiversity or get people killed – unless it gets really heated) there’s a major difference between Monopoly and capitalism. In Monopoly, the rules are the rules – no players can change them, however much of the pretend money they hoover up. But that’s not the case with capitalism. Capitalism concentrates wealth, and in capitalism, power can be (and is) bought, which allows you to change or break the rules.

And this means that the system itself has the means to stop us from playing a different game. The winners in this system have the power to ensure that this system remains, and that they continue to be the winners.

Under those circumstances, it may be better not to vote at all, because if voter turnout is high, it gives legitimacy to this system. That’s down to the consciences of individuals, but I certainly wouldn’t criticise anyone who didn’t vote because they don’t want to give legitimacy to a system that destroys ecology and democracy, and prevents real change.

OK, it’s easy to buy a new board game, but how do we get a new economic system?

By building a co-operative economy. It will have a free market, which should appease the right, but it won’t be capitalism – in that people will gain their income from the useful work that they do, rather than the amount of money they have. This is a mutualist system. We’d still need to change the decision-making process, but we can start to change the economy straight away.

For example, here’s a question. Who do you bank with? If you’re not with a building society – go here and switch your account. Everything you can do with a bank, you can do with a building society – they’re just owned by their members, not corporate shareholders. Easy. Watch this space for more soon on how we can all help build a mutualist system.

And finally, this, from the wonderful Existential Comics – completely irrelevant to the article (apart from the fact that it’s about Monopoly), but it’s funny.

Oh also, the other part of the game is when everyone forgets their differences for a bit to kill the fascists that are invading from the Risk game.