Thursday 22 December 2022

The Challenge of Monopoly

 Christmas is a time when friends and families gather together to share time and food. In addition to singing and acting out charades, a popular activity at these times is playing board games. Most of these are of the 'zero-sum' type: there is a winner, and the rest are losers. And of this type Monopoly is perhaps the most well-known.

First marketed in 1935 by Parker Bros. in the US, Monopoly has entertained, or driven to boredom, generation after generation of youngsters. At the same time, the playing of the game has promoted the philosophy of self-interest that underlies corporate capitalism. Less well known is the fact that Monopoly was pirated from a series of 'Landlord's; Games' drawn up in Quaker households across the US and elsewhere. The purpose of the original games was to discuss and explore local 'win-win' alternatives to the one-size-fits-all corporate economy. Maggie McGee is put down as the sole inventor of the original Landlord's Game. This was in no way the case. A little research will reveal many versions of the game were created in many different towns and cities over the course of the first two decades of the 20th century. Many sought to explain the economist Henry George's Single Land Tax proposals, whilst others explored the work of other economic philosophers. .

See, for example, Brer Fox 'n Brer Rabbit a version of the Landlord's Game marketed in Scotland as a children's game in 1913. See my article Towards a Threefold Commonwealth New View Issue 98 Winter 2020-21 for a link to this game.

The challenge is to focus attention on Monopoly, as it is played in these present, troubled times.. Where does the money come from? Who makes it? Who holds it during the game of Monopoly? In real life? How might every community have its own public bank?

Plenty of food for thought as the year ends and we sail into 2023.

Friday 16 December 2022

Asses in Clover


A century ago, in the immediate aftermath of World War1, the ordinary man-in-the-street and woman-in-the-household sought answers to some fundamental questions about the social order. What on earth was going on? Millions of young men set out to kill each other for no reason they could explain, save that they were paid to fight, and that seemed better than being unemployed because there was no money to employ them. At least they could (and did) send money back to their families until they were killed, at which point their pay stopped immediately.

As the war ended, most people took time to reflect. Before the war many families lived in poverty because there was nobody with any money to employ them. As soon as war broke out, there was the money to pay young men to kill each other, and to provide them with munitions, food, uniforms horses and other forms of transport to do so. All of this turned the wheels of industry and kept the money flowing. As the War ended, immediately, factory workers were laid off, farmers could not sell their grain, and there was no work for returning soldiers to do. Many of them were in a shell-shocked state, needing the lifelong care which could only be supplied by the now income-less household. Small wonder that many set about educating themselves through the adult education movement (about which far too little is presently known. See Albert Mansbridge and Sheffield Settlement).

Amongst the people seeking answers, not only about the finances of the First World War but also about the Easter Rising, was the poet, playwright, novelist and campaigner, Eimar O'Duffy. He observed the workings of the emerging corporate capitalist world order and, in 1925, published the first book of his Goshawk Trilogy, in which he conjured up King Goshawk who bought up the whole of the natural world and then, in effect, rented it out. In 1929 the second book of the trilogy was published. By this time O'Duffy had set about studying the work of Clifford Hugh Douglas and other 'New' Economists (eg Henry George), so that by the early 1930s he was amongst the most knowledgeable writers on the political economy. He produced two books, both of which demand our attention under present world circumstances. The first is Asses in Clover (1933), the third book of the dystopian trilogy, described on the cover of the 2003 Jon Carpenter reprint as "a humorous tirade at the follies of twentieth century economics and politics". The second is Life and Money: Being a Critical Examination of the Principles and Practice of Orthodox Economics with A Practical Scheme to end the muddle it has made of our Civilisation Putnam (see the second, much edited, 1935 edition).

Life and Money opens with a section on "The Dilemma of Unemployment":

"Now observe this. The unemployed man has no doubt that, if he can get a job of work and draw the pay agreed on, the food and clothing will be there for him to buy. He knows that they are lying for him in the shops at this very moment. If he cannot get the work, the bread he might buy will stale and go to waste; the shirt he might buy will remain a little longer on the shopman’s hands, thus reducing his profits, and delaying his order to the (page 20) factory for a new supply. There may be a ‘glut’ in the wheat market; the cotton growers in America may be desperately resolving to bum their ‘surplus’ crops, and the Lancashire mill-owners offering their ‘overproduction’ of shirts at fantastically reduced prices to the Chinese. Fruit may be rotting on the trees, the Press clamouring against the ‘dumping’ of fruit from abroad, and the farmers gloomily wondering how they are going to dispose of their too generous supplies of milk and vegetables. In fact, there is not shortage, but abundance of all the things our friend needs.

Nevertheless, he cannot claim any share of this abundance unless he works for it. No effort of his has been required to produce it, or will be required to produce a similar abundance to-morrow. His work, as he has been told at the gate of every factory to which he has applied, is unnecessary; but all the same, he must work or starve. To make the situation more absurd still, and as if to emphasise that he is starving in the midst of plenty, it is not required that the work he does shall be productive. It may be utterly useless, or even positively mischievous. A lady may hire him to give her lapdog (which would be better dead) an airing. At once the shops are open to him to the extent of hergenerosity. But if she presently decides to keep the beast indoors, the man must go hungry again. If now, driven by despair, he hires himself out as a vendor of harmful drugs, a pedlar of indecent postcards, a gunman to a racketeer, or a procurer to a brothel, once again his money is as good in the shops as that of your honest workman. It is true that in such cases the law may have something to say in the matter: but that is not the point. The point is that the goods are there (21) without any productive effort on the part of the purchaser; and if they are available for the pest and the parasite, they must be available for a decent man whose work does not happen to be required at the moment." Extract from Eimar O'Duffy Life and Money, 1935 edition.

Asses in Clover is an exploration of the same themes through comedy. Just waiting to be turned into a play.

COMMENT: Available on DSC website . Go to RESOURCES page, then to SOCIAT ART page and scroll down until you see the Contents and Chapters of Life and Money.

Sunday 11 December 2022

Of Partridges and Pear Trees

Advent is a time of preparation for the festivities of the Twelve Days of Christmas. For many families today that involves buying as much as possible, which means spending on the mass of goods produced for profitable sale, boosting the finances of shareholders but without making anybody truly happy.

In the days when Christmas songs and carols were composed ( see Blog 9 Dec 22) there were no chain stores, banks or credit cards, and the global corporations had yet to throw their cocoon over the world. Families prepared to spend Christmas together according to the customs and traditions of their own particular household. carols were practised, party pieces polished, including songs, poems recited, dance, story-telling and musical instruments, played by individuals or groups. Someone had to act as MC for the party to go well. This was particularly useful when singing together or playing party games. For example, The Twelve Days of Christmas was originally a forfeit song. According to the Christmas Melodies book people took it in turn to sing a verse, adding a line each time. Thus:

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
The second day of Christmas my true love sent to me

If they made a mistake, they paid a forfeit. The song probably dates back to the Middle Ages.

In households not entirely hooked up to electronic devices, many of these practices continue. Games may take the form of quizzes, devised by family members (or even taken from the Internet). Many play board games, sitting around the table as family and friends continue eating and drinking. Probably one of the the most popular board games has been, and remains, the game of Monopoly. Few will have completely avoided coming into contact with this game in somebody or others' household. Nevertheless, Monopoly was not first devised as the supreme teaching aid for the capitalist values of greed, selfishness and ruthless competition. On the contrary, it was originally devised on the kitchen tables of ordinary families across North America as an exploration of the very opposite. The original "Landlord's Games" explored the humanitarian economics of the popular nineteenth century economist, Henry George ( 1839 - 1897). Based upon the basic values of cooperation, justice, freedom, love and wisdom, George's economics gave rise to a massive movement throughout the US. UK versions also emerged, including "Brer Fox an' Brer Rabbit", the incongruently named Scottish version. (See New View article. Towards a Threefold Commonwealth New View Issue 98 Winter 2020-21 ).

Monopoly is a zero-sum game - winner takes all. During the early decades of the twentieth century a mass of individuals and groups explored alternatives to corporate capitalism. See for a variety of resources available for individual study and group discussion of the "win-win" cooperative alternatives to the zero-sum philosophy.

Friday 9 December 2022


Come, Child, into our hearts and still the storm

made by our selfish wishes wrestling there

and weave again the fabric of mankind

Out of Thy Light, Thy Life, Thy loving Fire.

So writes Adam Bittleston in his Meditative Prayers for Today. As the frenzy of spend, spend, spend catapults us towards yet another corporate capitalist, materialist Christmas, we might, perhaps, reflect on those words "weave again the fabric of mankind".

Advent is a good time to reflect on the technology of the Machine Age, with its mass production of foods, clothing, entertainment, music, art, news and artificial sparkles. It is all too easy to find oneself wondering what on earth it is all about.

A book entitled "Christmas Melodies: Carols, Hymns, Songs" (Price 3/6d) recently caught my attention. It carries a Foreword by the popular conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895 - 1967). He writes:

"IT IS ONE of the interesting and thrilling pleasures of the musician to realise that music is not only for the "professional" and for the "concert hall" but, that it has a willing duty to fulfil to the amateur and the home.

"Certain festivities demand their appropriate music and on occasion the dullest and least demonstrative of us feel an urge to burst into song.

"This is especially true at Christmas time, when Christmas Carols and Songs do more to create and maintain the spirit of Christmas than anything else."

It would seem that most of the Christmas hymns that we sing today in churches were composed in the nineteenth century with a church congregation in mind. However, most of the Christmas carols and songs are traditional, part of the folk music in general. Almost all the carols were written between 1400 and 1647, as the Middle Ages, the era of the Catholic (ie Universal) social order, was drawing towards its end, and the Protestant Revolution loomed large. In 1647 the Puritan regime banned the singing of carols.

Nevertheless, traditional carols and songs survived. According to the Christmas Melodies book, The Holly and the Ivy is described as

"a remarkable mingling of the pagan and the Christian. Holly and ivy are primitive symbols for male and female and the poem probably derives from a fertility dance. "The rising of the sun" almost certainly relates to pagan religion. The existing words date back at least to the 1300s; the carol probably comes from Gloucestershire or Somerset."

Also included in the Christmas Melodies are: Away in a Manger, Silent Night and The Coventry Carol, classed as carols (originally composed by lay people), Hark the Herald Angels, classed as a hymn, and Jingle Bells, classed as a Christmas song.

Like all traditional folk songs and nursery rhymes, Christmas songs were not sung from hymn books. The verses had to be learned by heart at mother's knee. It is in the ages old, multi-tasking household that traditional stories can be told, and notions of value, justice, right and wrong, good

and evil, can be passed on from generation to generation.

When families come together to share time during the twelve Days of Christmas, home cooked food is often the central feature of the celebrations. Carols are not as commonly sung today, perhaps because our electronic devices attract our attention, perhaps because we have never had the time, inclination or opportunity to learn the verses by heart.

In days gone by, winter was a time when the household was very much thrown back on its own resources. Long nights and low temperatures forced people to batten down the hatches and share time together musing over the meaning of life, death and the universe, of "love, peace, justice and human dignity", as in the verses of the Christmas songs and carols. Today, as the household is increasingly invaded by the nebulous network of the World Wide Web, it may be time to look again at the reasons for the various traditional Christmas festivities.

The next Blog will look at the Partridge in a Pear Tree.