Skip directly to content

World Futures: Monopoly – Part Two

on July 25, 2019 - 9:48am
Los Alamos World Futures Institute
Part One of this series dealt with an unrealistic example of a total drinking water monopoly.
While completely unworkable because the distribution of water in the world cannot really be controlled, it does illustrate the potential value of a true monopoly, and economic condition where a single entity controls an absolutely essential thing needed by human beings for survival and existence. It is based on money, another artificial or created concept of trading amongst members of a society. As an example, the price fixing of King Henry III in 1266 of bread and ale was cited in relation to the price of corn. Clearly, the relationship to bread is understood since we all have to eat, but control of ale prices could be questionable because drinking water could be substituted. It is a matter of one’s perception of “essential.”
The world progressed and evolved both in social organization and science/engineering knowledge, influencing the perception of essential. People or humanity moved up in the hierarchy of needs with increasing knowledge and perceptions and then the mid-1800s arrived along with a man named Henry George (1839-1897). When I was growing up, I never heard of Henry George or his concepts or ideas. Yet his 1879 book titled Progress and Poverty sold millions of copies when the world population was on the order of 1.3 billion people, there was no Internet, and transportation and distribution was slow.
George was interested in classical economics, ethics, political and economic philosophy, socialism, capitalism, and land economics. He was an American political economist and journalist who’s formal education ended at the age of 14. It was a different era and education was viewed from another perspective.
Obviously, George was very intelligent and driven by the pursuit of knowledge. He defined and put forth many policy proposals dealing with socialization and taxation of land and natural resources which were “rented” to amass the revenues for operating the government. He favored the municipalization of utilities and having free public transportation (monopolies?). He wanted intellectual property reform (monopolies?), women’s suffrage (did men have a monopoly?), and a reduced military. George lived during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Gilded Eras, and the beginning of the Progressive Era of the United States. He was concerned about monopolies and the effects advancing technologies have on political economics.
Jan. 5, 1904, U.S. Patent 746,626 was granted to Elizabeth J. Magie (Lizzie Magie) for her board game The Landlord’s Game. It was a government sanctioned monopoly. Magie was a strong supporter of Georgism or the use of property taxes to fund the government. At the time of Magie’s patent, there was no income tax, the 1861 revenue act having been rescinded in 1872 and the 16th Amendment to the Constitution yet to be passed. Magie’s game was intended to demonstrate the danger of land monopolism and that the property taxes under Georgism were a solution. Interestingly Magie’s The Landlord’s Game came with two sets of rules: pro-monopoly and anti-monopoly.
Feb. 6, 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression Era, Parker Brothers began selling Monopoly in the United States. They had acquired the patent rights from Lizzie Magie and Charles Darrow. In 1936, Parker Brothers began licensing Monopoly outside of the United States. In the early 1950’s, I remember the objective for winning the game was to create a monopoly and force all the other players into bankruptcy. Being a ten-year-old and reasonably competent at math, I understood the purpose of the game but did not see or appreciate the implications for the losers. After all, it was only a game.
Moving forward to the 1990’s, Sunrise Kiwanis (now merged with Kiwanis in Los Alamos) developed and distributed a game called “Los Alamos Atomicopoly.” Sunrise Kiwanis produced and sold the game in collaboration with Pride Distributors of West Bloomfield, MI. Per the rules of the game, the objective was “to be the only player not to become bankrupt.” The game board was very similar to the Monopoly board, with 40 spaces around the perimeter labelled with the names of businesses or other possibilities of chance occurrence. Of the 40 spaces, 32 represented local businesses, with 19 of those businesses now gone from the local façade.
Atomicopoly was born about 28 or 29 years ago and one can observe the effect of time and the evolution of the community. For the most part we did not even notice the change. But during this period something else happened that was similar in pace to the evolution (revolution?) of technology in the late 1800’s. The digital cell phone became available, the Internet appeared, and the smart phone evolved. The communication of information in both speed and amount became part of the human environment.
In the early 1900’s the Progressive Era challenged the agreed rules of society and demanded an examination of monopoly. This was driven by the fast acceleration of technology in the late 1800’s and the beginning of the 20th century.
Approximately 100 years later we are in the midst of a communication and information revolution that challenges concepts of civility. Has the interpretation of monopoly changed? Have we entered into a new progressive era?
Til next time…
The Los Alamos World Futures Institute website is
Feedback, volunteers, and donations (501.c.3) are welcome. Email or
Previously published columns can be found at or