Two Types of Monopoly

Yesterday, while George Osborne was demonstrating how to play real-life ‘Monopoly’ by taking on the editorship of the London Evening Standard in addition to five other jobs (including being M.P. for Tatton and a highly-lucrative advisory post at BlackRock Investment Institute) a quiet revolution was taking place in the board-game of the same name. The boot, thimble and wheelbarrow tokens were dropped, to be replaced by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a penguin and a ‘rubber ducky’.

Time was when work was serious and board-games reflected that. When ‘Monopoly’ was launched in the 1930s, boots, thimbles and wheelbarrows were familiar items, eloquent of hard labour, thrift and a more rural way of life than is now general. The underlying principle on which the game was based, financial and property deals caried out with imitation money, reflected very accurately some of the preoccupations of the time, following the Depression and all the ills that flowed from it. The new tokens speak more of fantasy and fun, just as Mr Osborne’s plethora of jobs suggests, to me at least, more greed than graft (most people would find doing any one of them properly quite enough). Is there a lesson here, beyond the obvious nostalgic lament for a lost world? I like to think so.

St Benedict saw a direct link between work and prayer. Work is good for us, but it must be honest work, carried out in an honest way. There is no room for greed or trickery, because the person we are when we work is also the same person we are when we go to prayer. His chapters on Daily Manual Labour (RB 48) or the Artisans of the Monastery (RB 57) are full of wise spiritual reflection on the value of what we do. However, he never makes the mistake of equating work with prayer in the simplistic way that many try to do. Prayer is work, yes; but not all work is prayer, nor can we substitute work for prayer. Above all, I think we can safely say that Benedict saw work as a common enterprise in which all engaged and from which all benefited. His care for the weak, for the less able, made him sensitive to the way in which the strong can use their strength to claim a position not available to the less fortunate. I’m not sure he would have liked ‘Monopoly’ as a game; and I am pretty certain he would have taken a dim view of amassing more jobs than one has time for, no matter how good or useful one might think them. Prudence, as he said, is the mother of all virtues, and taking on too much is as silly as refusing to take on anything at all.


9 thoughts on “Two Types of Monopoly”

  1. When I retired I took on a number of voluntary roles but was careful not to ‘over do it’. It strikes me that George Osborne is trying to do too much which will mean overload, and certainly will not be doing justice to his main job whether it is as editor of the London Evening Standard or as MP for Tatton. Most would regard just one of these two jobs as challenging especially when Parliament is sitting. However my main concern is one of his pay which seems to be so much more than most people could hope to earn in a lifetime thus putting him out of touch with the way most people live. St Benedict urged people to look after the tools of the the monastery, and to care for others. It is easier to relate to others if one doesn’t have too much oneself. The poor often need several jobs to survive, George Osborne’s seems like greed or a wish for power if not both.

  2. From Quaker Faith & Practice: 20.56

    “Honesty and integrity: Sources and use of income

    The guiding principle which Friends should keep in mind in making an income, whether by work or by investment, should be the good of others and of the community at large, and not simply of themselves or their own family. Friends should, even at the risk of loss, strive to be strictly honest and truthful in their dealings; should refuse to manufacture or deal in commodities that are hurtful, and should be vigilant against obtaining an undue profit at the cost of the community. If Friends are investing, thought should be given, not only to security and the rate of interest, but to the conditions under which the income is produced and the effect which the investment may have on the welfare of all, through social or environmental impact, at home or elsewhere. In spending income, Friends should consider how their actions affect society and whether such expenditure upon themselves and their family is to the advantage of the community as a whole. Friends should also consider whether there is a reasonable relation between the labour expended on producing the things they buy and the real satisfaction yielded by their use.”

    Am I right in imagining that St Benedict would not have dissented? (Except he probably didn’t have much enthusiasm for people just buying stuff – satisfactory or otherwise.)

    • Thank you. That is an eloquent reminder of values we share. I think not only would St Benedict have approved, so would most Western Christians up to about the thirteenth century, when lending at interest began to be acceptable; and the whole thrust of Catholic Social Teaching (though more often honoured in the breach than the observance, it often seems) is towards the common good, non-exploitation of others, etc.

  3. I suspect that by the time I retired I was actually doing three different jobs. Cuts in manpower (or women power) had hit hard and budgets would not allow them to be replaced (at least while I was there).

    The lost of a single post in a busy work environment can be difficult, but by reallocation of tasks and responsibilities, the work can get done, albeit, not as well when someone did it full time. When a second job goes, that complicates matters.

    Both were of Officer status, therefore it needed someone with appropriate seniority and experience to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of the two missing jobs. And unfortunately, I was the once who had that role. I was stretched thoroughly and couldn’t cope.

    I refused to do some of the work by giving roles priorities which led to issues with my Boss. Despite my pointing out that 3 into one doesn’t go – he told me that I was being obstructive. This was depressing. He was a single role holder, and was unwilling to take on any extra work and had not idea of the technicalities and complexity and time needed to do all of the work involved. This issue was never resolved before I retired, so we parted on poor terms personally – but I could not with integrity do everything needed, without my becoming so worn down that I would break down totally.

    Stubbornness perhaps, but in some ways a winning stubbornness – because my successor was blessed (after a couple of months) with two new comers, employed to do the work that I wouldn’t do, and because she was female, was somehow able to persuade the system that the situation was not sustainable. I admired her powers of persuasion, but felt that I had been the victim of circumstances and a personality conflict, not resolvable because of entrenched views on both sides.

    I was ready for and needed to retire. St Benedict would have a solution to this I am sure, mine was to leave (it was time anyway) sure that I was right to make a stand, One that I am sure benefited those who came after.

  4. The game of Monopoly was actually originally intended to show that land ownership and monopolistic practices were BAD things, and led to massive inequality.

    It was invented by Lizzie Magie, a Henry Georgist (they would probably call it “socialism” today), and was intended as an anti-capitalist message.

    The first Episcopal monastery in the United States – Holy Cross in West Park, NY – was also founded by a Georgist, a priest named James Otis Sargent Huntington, and was intended to mirror the Georgist values of sharing the land.

    • Thank you. I knew ‘Monopoly’ was invented by an American in 1935, but I didn’t know its whole history. Odd to make a game of something of which one disapproves! I’m still doubtful whether St Benedict would have approved of it as he was quite strict about our use of time and was well aware how easy it is to waste it on inanities.

      • Surely it works, because Monopoly is such an awful board game. You know quite early on who will inevitably win, as no skill or luck can offset the fundamental probabilities built in, once the first few rounds have gone by, and most of the board is bought up. Then it’s just a case of sitting there, slowly loosing money (and the game). Once bankrupt, it’s even more dull!

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