How fair is the game of Monopoly?

Mon, 16 Dec 2013

There have been a few weeks delay in writing a blog post - not because I've been ignoring it, but because I've got something to write that I feel strongly in support of (guaranteed basic income), and and I've been struggling to work out how to write it.

You'll have to be patient, as I still haven't worked out how to write that - but instead I wanted to write a short post about a perspective on fairness that I hadn't considered before.

Most people have played the game of Monopoly.  It is a game of luck, and skill, but it is hard to argue that it is inherently unfair.  At the start of the game, anyone could win, and the fact that someone is winning doesn't imply that they've cheated or played unfairly, or are a bad person.

But once you're past the first couple of laps of the board, Monopoly feels a lot less fair, particularly for those who find most of the properties in the hands of someone else.  Even with the income you get from passing go, the game rapidly becomes a struggle, an inevitable (and not so fun) path to bankruptcy.

The first thing I take from this is that fairness is a somewhat messy concept.  A situation doesn't have to be inherently unfair in order to lead to an unfair experience for many participants.

Secondly, the example of Monopoly makes me realise that unfairness, or an undesirable situation, isn't always the fault of the players, but may follow inevitably from the rules.  If we want to keep the game worth playing, we need to stop blaming our opponents, and instead work together to change the game and its rules.

It would be a bit unfair for me to not credit the source of this idea - a podcast I listened to which included an excerpt from the David Pakman Show: Is the American Dream a Reality?