Alberto Mingardi

The stupidest letter a US Ambassador ever received

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The following letter (kindly translated into English by my colleague David Perazzoni) was sent to the American Ambassador in Rome by seven Italian MPs (Michele Anzaldi, Marina Berlinghieri, Matteo Biffoni, Luigi Bobba, Lorenza Bonaccorsi, Federico Gelli, Ernesto Magorno), who apparently belong to the "moderate" segment of the Italian Left. It was published yesterday by the leading Italian newspaper, Corriere della sera. The letter deals with a pressing political problem, clearly vital to the future of Italy, Europe and the world:the commercialization by Hasbro of the new Monopoly Empire. We are still waiting for the Ambassador's response.

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

In the last few weeks the sub-prime mortgages scandal--which in 2008 led the stock market to crash and started a severe economic crisis that still ails Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world--is back in the news.

The U.S. Government has condemned Bank of America and even President Obama stated that going back to a system based on bubbles fated to deflate, a system that caused the financial crisis, is inadmissible. We wish to paraphrase the President's philosophy, as stated in December 2009, just few months after the crash in Wall Street: new rules for the financial world are needed, that rein in the unbridled greed that generated this crisis--a disaster that might have been prevented, if only new rules for Wall Street and the fortitude to enforce them were available. Speculators are getting back in the stock market, the well-known fleecers, but we shall not allow it.

In the last few days, however, in blatant contrast with the ethos proclaimed by the President, Hasbro announced the launch of a new version of the long-established game "Monopoly." In this new incarnation, the traditional houses and hotels are replaced by blocks of shares of great multinational corporations. Dealing in real estate is thus replaced by speculation in the stock market and--particularly worrying--the "Jail" corner disappears.

Whereas the White House, displaying realism and wisdom, emphasizes securities fraud and the abuse of financial instruments, "Monopoly"--a game that since generations has introduced children to the mechanisms of the free market--goes to praise the "turbo-economy" that led to the 2008 financial crisis, adding to boot the noxious message that players who break the rules do no longer need to go into jail. This is, by the way, in stark contrast with reality in the United States, where financial crimes are indeed punished with jail time.

We deem the United States to be a veritable beacon for its consumer protection rules and our country has often followed its example in the social struggles for a greater protection for our citizens. For this reason we'd like to ask you whether it is the case for the relevant authorities to consider the appropriate measures, or at the very least to declare their censure of the new "Monopoly," a game distributed all over the world and, quite obviously, in Italy.


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CATEGORIES: Eurozone crisis



COMMENTS (15 to date)
NZ writes:

To be fair, artificially cheap real-estate was also part of the 2008 sub-prime scandal (right there in the name, innit?). So, buying and selling houses and hotels could also strike a nerve.

Anyway, I think it's nice that Italian politicians actually want to protect the idea of consequences for negative actions (though if I remember right, in Monopoly your going to jail is dependent upon randomly drawing a certain card, rather than committing financial misdealings). It's also nice that they want to discourage multinational brand-worship.

This particular effort might be misplaced, though...

Eric Falkenstein writes:

They should note that Candyland is much worse, in that parents are forced to cheat to avoid 1) winning and 2) the game continuing too long.

gwern writes:
This is, by the way, in stark contrast with reality in the United States, where financial crimes are indeed punished with jail time.

You're right, this is the stupidest letter I've read in quite some time.

Tim Andrews writes:

I thought that this was some sort of subtle satirical dig at Berlusconi over his legal issues?

Gamut writes:

Is it really possible that 2/3 of the above commenters consider this a legitimate topic for a diplomatic note?

Gamut writes:

Though, I must say that I can't decide whether the topic itself is more ridiculous than the claim that monopoly is an introduction to the free market.

My five year old recently expressed some consternation about deciding what price to charge for his lemonade, not knowing in advance what prospective customers would be willing to spend. Even that basic challenge is something beyond the capacity of monopoly to teach. I fail to see even a single lesson that game can deliver beyond simple arithmetic.

Mark Bahner writes:
I fail to see even a single lesson that game can deliver beyond simple arithmetic.

I probably haven't played in 40 years, but as I recall, it does involve deciding whether to spend one's cash to add more houses, or add hotels, or to keep cash for liquidity.

P.S. The letter writers obviously don't know much about Monopoly. I remember very clearly that the best place on the board to be when an opponent had lots of hotels was in jail. I remember, "Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200." --> "Woohoo!"

...and then praying not to roll a double to come out of jail.

Tom West writes:

The stupidest letter? Perhaps, although I imagine there's a lot of competition in that arena.

However, the stupidest politicians? I don't think so. I can imagine that this will play fairly well, at least with their target voters, and it's probably doubled the chance that the voters will remember their name come next election. There's a reason it ended up in the newspaper...

Tracy W writes:

It is noticeable that they consider a declaration of censure as the *least* the US government should do. Presumably their idea of appropriate measures involves something like banning the game entirely.

And I agree with other commentators that the role of jail in the original Monopoly has no moral content. You wind up in there pretty randomly.

Hazel Meade writes:

Apparently the authors of the letter are unaware that 'Monopoly' was invented by left-wing activists who were opposed to property rights and wanted to illustrate the idea that land ownership inevitably led to concentrations of wealth.
I.e. in the game, everyone else ends up bankrupt and one person ends up owning everything.

The new edition of Monopoly, with it absences of jail time, seems if anything more true to the inventors intention than the authors realize.

ThomasH writes:

Gloating over this kind of stupidity is probably not a good thing, spiritually. I know I finally had to stop myself from gloating over the President Obama as Muslim Socialist Kenyan theme as it was making me feel too self-satisfied.

Mikedc writes:

My five year old recently expressed some consternation about deciding what price to charge for his lemonade, not knowing in advance what prospective customers would be willing to spend. Even that basic challenge is something beyond the capacity of monopoly to teach. I fail to see even a single lesson that game can deliver beyond simple arithmetic.

You're not playing it right then! My wife and i started playing with my 6 and 7 year olds last year and it very quickly became a game of price negotiation and trade (I'll give you the card you need plus $500 for the better card I need!) and strategic risk tolerance.(do I build every house I can, or keep some money to make a deal, or in case I hit the other guy's houses?).

You can also learn about your kids. my younger one can calculate sums like Rain man, but he's very rigid when it comes to strategy. The older one is cant do the math as well but is a born negotiator and strategist.

Eduardo Carbonetti writes:

First of all, I don´t think the title of this article is apropriate. It reveals such lack of tolerance about other people´s opinions - when you are sure about your own ideas and intelligent enough, you don´t need agressive words to criticize...

Secondly, I think the point of the letter is what we let our kids play with - I really don´t care if the author is capitalist, communist, socialist, liberal, whatever...

Personally, I have played Monopoly as I was a kid, and I don´t remember to have gotten any valuable stuff from it... It´s just about competition.

On the other hand, if you are afraid about self confidence of your kids, or if you are transfering your kid your lack of self confidence, then go on with the training on competition for the adult´s world! Kids should live and play like kids.

JohnC writes:

Why not instead include a companion game, OWS Park Place? The goal: To investigate whether the Monopoly banker grossly overvalued Park Place, Boardwalk, and other properties based on inflated appraisals for purposes of overleveraging the property as collateral for securitized mortgage instruments. (And if you select the dirty-hippy game token, you can forfeit your turns and just occupy Boardwalk.)

Douglass Holmes writes:

Well, some members of my family learned about the free market from Monopoly. That's why they assume that, since they don't get $200 each time they go around the block, that someone must have stolen what was rightfully theirs.

Another important lesson from the game is that you go to jail simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I, however, was not smart enough to learn these lessons from the game.

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