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Monopoly game inspiration created to tout Georgism land tax

Elizabeth Magie portrait over her Landlords Game board_Wednesdays Women

Elizabeth Magie portrait over her The Landlord’s Game board. (Photo: Wednesday’s Women)

Rent or buy? Taxes are a part of the equation when making that crucial property decision.

Taxes, or rather a specific type of tax, also was the impetus for a real-estate-based board game that morphed into (or, some would say, was appropriated by) what we now know as Monopoly.

The game of property purchases and their rental rates when placed on prime gameboard landmarks has remained popular since its launch in 1933, thanks in part to hundreds of licensed spinoffs.

And while Charles Darrow, an unemployed salesman in Philadelphia, is credited as the inventor of the Monopoly game and became a millionaire because of it, the basic idea of a game based on rent-collection came from a woman.

Lizzie Magie patented The Landlord’s Game in 1904, and it was published in 1906 through the Economic Game Company, of which she was an owner.

Magie's tax inspiration: According to Magie’s recently published obituary in The New York Times’ "Overlooked" memorial feature, her game would be familiar to anyone who has played Monopoly. People moved their tokens around the perimeter of a square board, buying real estate along the way, which they used to charge rent to other players.

But while Darrow’s subsequent version is the quintessential celebration of pure capitalism, Magie’s motive for The Landlord’s Game came from a different ideological inspiration.

She created the game as a way to teach people about the tax principles of the political economist Henry George.

Georgism land value tax: The central tenet of Georgism was that people should keep all that they earned, and government funding should come not from an income tax, but through a tax on real estate owners, since land rightly belonged to everyone.

A society funded by a single land tax, George believed, would eliminate both lower-class poverty and industrial cartels.

I’ve blogged about Georgism before, four years ago when another of its advocates, Mason Gaffney, passed away. That post, like today’s remembrance of Magie, was a Saturday Shout Out.

I’ll let you peruse the article, Overlooked No More: Lizzie Magie, the Unknown Inventor Behind Monopoly, at your leisure.

There you’ll learn about how Elizabeth Jones Magie, born on May 9, 1866, in Macomb, Illinois, also was the inventor of other games, as well as a poet, a writer of fiction, a stenographer at the Dead Letter Office, a comedic stage actress, and an engineer who invented and patented a device that improved the flow of paper in typewriters.

Magie's own farewell: I do, however, want to leave you with an excerpt, Magie’s own words after she sold the rights to The Landlord’s Game to Parker Brothers for $500, about $11,000 in today’s dollars.

She wasn’t bitter about the sale. In fact, reports the New York Times, Magie was “delighted that her Georgist ideas would reach a wider audience.” She said as much in a letter she wrote to the game’s new manufacturer, addressing The Landlord’s Game itself, as if it were a person:

“Farewell, my beloved brainchild. I regretfully part with you, but I am giving you to another who will be able to do more for you than I have done.”

Now I’m off to try to convince the hubby to play a game of Monopoly. I’m always the vintage racecar.

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