Monday, April 24, 2017

Burning the Bridge

Bored by her job as a typist, Washington, DC, resident Lizzie Magie liked to indulge her creative side.

Whenever she got the chance, she'd stump on behalf of progressive political causes or moonlight as a freelance writer, comedic actor, and game designer.

She was particularly passionate about
income inequality, and in 1905 published a board game she described as "a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing."

The Landlord's Game became an immediate hit on college campuses, and among leftist groups nationwide. Some Quakers in Atlantic City were so taken with it, they published a bootleg edition, renaming the landing spaces after the local streets.

Thirty years later, at the height of the Great Depression, Magie sold the rights to her invention for $500 to a Boston-based game publisher, Parker Brothers. The company repackaged the Quakers' version and renamed the game Monopoly.

One hundred and twelve years have passed since Magie released her "practical demonstration" and the subject of income inequality again tops progressives' agenda.

MIT economist Peter Temin, author of the new book The Vanishing Middle Class, says it has fractured American society.

We now live under a "two-track economy," Temin says, in which Wall Street and Silicon Valley workers enjoy steady gains while the rest—"subsistence workers"—suffer regular setbacks.

We arrived here after four decades, during which technology, globalization, the decline of unions, the treatment of minorities, and public policy all worked in tandem to disconnect wages from productivity.

Public education, he says, is the only bridge workers can take to cross from the subsistence to the growth economy.

But the bridge is being burned by the current party in power, whose officials openly detest educators and prize the uneducated—provided they keep to their side of the tracks. Which they will.

Sadly, few people outside academia will likely read Temin's 250-page book. Too bad he didn't create a video game, instead.

Lizzie Magie, where are you when we need you?
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