The Landlord’s Game
Most people have heard of the board game Monopoly, a game which like Marmite, children soon learn to love or hate. The playing pieces are a feature of the game, an iron or an old boot are echoes of the poor (the losers?), the top hat representing the wealthy, with wheelbarrows and sport cars to carry home the cash. Perhaps it is significant that pieces representing the poorest are now being phased out, the iron to be replaced by a cat.
Today’s game, of wheeling and dealing, auctions and interest rates, is reminiscent of the cuthroat competition of stock markets, and banking fuelled by greed and ruthlessness. And like those, the game continues until all but one is eliminated, everyone else’s funds exhausted – and if mirrored in the real world, destitute, bankrupt, and left without the means to survive. The winner meanwhile has amassed a massive wealth of cash and real estate. What a dreadful lesson to give to our children!
But this was not the original intent of the game, inspired by Elizabeth Magie in the late 1800s and known as “the Landlord’s Game”. In stark contrast to the modern game, this was designed as an example to teach others about social and economic justice. She had studied the writings of Henry George and eventually became one of many people who took on the task of trying to teach others what she had learned from studying Progress and Poverty and George’s other works.
Collaborating with friends in her Brentwood, Maryland community, Elizabeth Magie created The Landlord’s Game. She applied for a patent, which was granted on January 5th, 1904 (No. 748,626).
She explained that the game was to be a “practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.” While still a young, single woman, Elizabeth — or “Lizzie” as she came to be called — became a regular visitor to the Single Tax enclave of Arden, Delaware. This was around 1903. Whether on her own or in conjunction with other Single Taxers in Arden, Lizzie continued to work on the design of The Landlord’s Game as a way to explain how Henry George’s system of political economy would work in real life.
Many of Henry George’s observations ring true today. Poverty is rising in the UK, homelessness is soaring.
Now Britain is suffering a massive housing crisis. There simply aren’t enough decent, affordable homes ( Shelter) More than two million people find their rent or mortgage a constant struggle or are falling behind with payments. The UK is now more polarised by housing wealth than at any time since the Victorian era.
Osborne’s policy is to create a mini boom in house prices, attempting to appeal to voters, who feel a windfall coming their way – the modern day monopoly player believing there is a recovery in the economy. But, just like in the game, all that can be achieved is disaster for many. Dominic Lawson (Independent) describes the policy as a dangerous political placebo, and Steve Keen labels it as a Ponzi scheme, and suggests it should be renamed “Help to Sell”. Today’s Housing Crisis has its roots in Margaret Thatcher’s Right-to-Buy Council House Scheme, offering tenants the chance to own their own homes, but not allowing councils to rebuild the stock. The Great Housing and Welfare Swindle is discussed at length here Parts 1 ( and 2). House prices have risen again recently, giving an illusion of wealth to some, but an unrealistic dream for young people. One third of the council houses originally sold to tenants are now owned by rich landlords. Now hard working people are finding their pay is not enough to pay a rent or a mortgage, and it is predominantly working people who need Housing Benefit to get by – and that Benefit is going straight into the landlords’ pockets. This is a madness, why are wages inadequate for paying for a home? In order to access rented accommodation, massive deposits first have to be secured, plunging tenants into debt before they have even moved in. The Labour Party has pledged to tackle the unregulated agents and criticised the lack of transparency. There is certainly a need to make this a key issue in forthcoming elections. More hype about house-price rises is not going to solve this problem – as homelessness is soaring. And then, let us not forget the hated Bedroom Tax, that unkindest cut of all.
SOME KEY FACTS OF UK HOUSING (see Guardian)
26.4m: The number of households in the UK in 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics. Following the 2011 census, the government predicted that the number of households would rise to 28m by 2016.
2005: The peak year for home ownership. In 2005-06 home ownership peaked at 71% of dwellings (figures for England only). It declined to 65% in 2011-2012 and is expected to fall further.
58%: The increase in the number of privately rented homes between 2005-06 and 2011-12, which went up from 2.4m to 3.8m (source: DCLG English Household Survey, 2011-12).
449,000: The number of households with six or more occupants. The most common household in England – 7.9m properties – is two people living in a home.
£4.2tn: The net value of British household dwellings, after mortgages are deducted, according to Office for National Statistics figures this week. The total value has now surpassed the 2007 pre-financial crisis peak, when it stood at £4.1tn. British houses are now worth 55% more than they were in 2003, said the ONS, and make up 60% of the total net worth of the country.
£169,624 Average House price The “seasonally adjusted” average price of a home in the UK, according to the Halifax house price index for July 2013, up 4.6% on the year before. The non-seasonally adjusted figure is £172,015. This is still 14.5% below the all-time peak of £201,081 recorded in August 2007. Average house prices fell by 22% from August 2007 to March 2009.
£318,214: The average price of a property in London, according to the Nationwide house price index. That’s 2.75 times than the average for the North (£115,763), and almost three times higher than the UK’s cheapest region, Northern Ireland, where prices average £108,116. (Source: Q2 2013 Nationwide regional index).
£1,118: The average monthly rent in London in July 2013, up 5.7% from a year earlier, according to the LSL Buy to Let index. The average rent across the UK in July 2013 was £738 a month, up 11% from £663 in April 2010, the month before the coalition government came to power. Earnings have increased by around 1% over the same period.
106,820: The number of houses built in the UK in the year to June 2013, down 9% on the year earlier. In 1970, total house building in the UK was 378,230 units. Council house building has collapsed from 185,000 units then to less than 1,000 a year across most of the last decade
Extracts from Progress and Poverty make interesting reading today:-
- Wages are not drawn from capital. On the contrary, wages are drawn from the product of the labor for which they are paid
- Rent, in short, is the price of monopoly. It arises from individual ownership of the natural elements — which human exertion can neither produce nor increase.
- If any class gets less, it is for one reason only — because the distribution of wealth has become more unequal.
- We must make land common property.
Lizzie made very little money from her innovative idea; meanwhile the big corporations cashed in. Her teachings were censored, and as today, only the views of the rich and powerful were heard. Undoubtedly, she held firm to her convictions, and showed integrity which many of our modern politicians it seems lack. There is wisdom in Lizzie’s words from which we can all learn. An essay written by Elizabeth appeared in the September-October 1940 issue of Land and Freedom, under the title “A Word to the Wise.” Even in her declining years, she was urging surviving Single Taxers to action:
What is the value of our philosophy if we do not do our utmost to apply it? To simply know a thing is not enough. To merely speak or write of it occasionally among ourselves is not enough. We must do something about it on a large scale if we are to make headway. These are critical times, and drastic action is needed. To make any worthwhile impression on the multitude, we must go in droves into the sacred precincts of the men we are after. We must not only tell them, but show them just how and why and where our claims can be proven in some actual situation….
References and Further Reading
- ConDemed: The Great Housing and Welfare Swindle Part 1
- ConDemed The Great Housing and Welfare Swindle Part 2
- Henry George, Progress and Poverty
- Urging Georgists to Action: Elizabeth Magie Phillips
- Why Monopoly pieces are what they are
- Shelter: Housing Crisis – why we campaign
- UK Housing Market: the Key Statistics
- Inside Housing: The Majority of new housing benefit claimants are in work
- The Bedroom Tax, the Unkindest Cut of All
- Osborne’s Help to Buy – A dangerous political placebo (Independent)
- Osborne’s Housing Ponzi Scheme
- Daily Mirror: Tory Shame: One third of council houses now owned by rich landlords.
- How Henry George’s principles were corrupted into a game called Monopoly
- The Case for Socialism, Think Left
- Air privatisation? – An idea from 100 years ago, Think Left.
- Big Finance and the great sell off of ‘our’ natural assets, Think Left
- Anti Bedroom Tax – Mass Sleep-Out Campaign