Bryan Caplan  

The Comedy of Monopoly

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I just came across a chuckle-worthy piece by Russ Roberts on Monopoly - the game, not the market structure:

Monopoly is the ultimate zero-sum game. You profit only by taking from others. The assets of its world are fixed in number. Yes, you can build houses or hotels, but somehow, the greater the supply of places to live, the HIGHER the price, an absurd contradiction to real-world economic life.

In Monopoly, hotels never get a makeover and railroads, unlike Amtrak, are always profitable.

This reminds me of a stab I took at economic comedy back in 1995, when I wrote a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan parodies for the Princeton Christmas follies. They were never used, but I consider them some of my best work. From "I Am the Very Model of a Post-Economics-General":

In fact, when I know what is meant by "find a job" and "New Orleans",
When I can tell at sight depression from prosperity,
When such affairs as interviews and job talks I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "post-graduate",
When I have learnt what progress has been made throughout the century,
When I know more of markets than a novice at Monopoly-
In short, when I've a smattering of common sense,
You'll say a better post-economics-general has never passed his tests.

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Daniel Lurker writes:

Also, the ROI increases for higher value properties (You'd be a MORON to buy Baltic or Mediteranian), implying that money can be made only be catering to the uppercrust on Boardwalk. I'm an elitist, but those facts don't fit reality. Never mind the fact that the real Boardwalk in AC is infested with plebes (I'll take Sandy Hook any day).

On the other hand, maybe RR should have left out the bit about railroads. Amtrak might not make money, but Norfolk Southern does. Network effects are real, and I don't see why if you're the only supplier of them in the game that you're returns shouldn't increase as you expand to give people more access. And including some kind of coordination game within the game might be hard to design. Sure, it would be the kind of game Bryan would play, but that pretty much implies it would kill it's mass market appeal.

Careful players will also note that the assumptions about access to credit are more realistic than the IO elements - you have to pay interest after mortgaging, and if you buy a mortgaged property you take on the debt.

And finally, the intial allocation of property rights doesn't matter. Multiplayer games get interesting because of the auction action. So, a little nod to Coase.

So, I agree with RR that the takehome IO message is bad. But he should give credit where credit is due on other elements of the game. A better enemy would be SimCity. We can all agree that teaching children to aspire to Soviet style planning is wrong!

dearieme writes:

Stick to the day job.

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