Acton Institute Powerblog

This board game reveals the horrible truth about socialism

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

John Elliott and his friends at Diogenes Games created Socialism: The Game as a free-market lampoon of the board game Monopoly. The rules of the interminable Parker Brothers/Hasbro favorite teach children a distorted version of the free market (and its length gives adults a foretaste of Purgatory).

Diogenes’ “unofficial expansion set” turns the game on its head: its object is for all players to attain equal poverty.

In this thoughtful reimagining, the banker is replaced by the Federal Directorate of Redistributive Services (FDR), which takes half of every player’s paycheck upon passing “Go” and doles out $100 subsidies to players who can’t pay the fines that accrue with increasing regularity. FDR uses eminent domain to nationalize players’ private property, railroads, and utilities. Meanwhile, “Communist Chest” and “Fat Chance” cards present scenarios such as a $15 minimum wage forcing all players to cough up more money for each hotel. The game cannot end until every player has less than $300 left.

Elliott’s son, described as “a very aggressive” player, said the game taught him not to invest in anything, because “I’m going to lose my property, and I’m going to have pay more taxes.” That means he responded to economic incentives and learned the game’s lesson. “Socialism kills the entrepreneurial spirit, and maybe the human spirit, too,” a company representative said in an interview. (One may add 100 million human bodies to the mix, as well.)

But what if the players were more resistant? A writer at Vice decided to test the anti-socialist game’s efficacy by playing it with four members of the Democratic Socialists of America. (I thought they might be Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, Jan Schakowsky, and David Bonior but alas, they were more obscure leftists.)

The results confirmed every free-market caricature of socialism. Even simulated socialism encouraged bribery, despair, Schadenfreude, and rejoicing when others are sent to re-education camps:

[T]he socialists appeared to be having a good time, even cheering at my habit of unlucky dice rolls sending me to frequent rehabilitation center visits. “We’re punishing your corruption and keeping you honest,” said Rachel.” (Emphasis added.) …

[A]nother novel twist from Socialism’s rulebook emerged in the form of the People’s Action Committee on Commerce and Equity (PEACCE), the governing body that oversaw all permit requests, purchases, and sales of property. As unanimous consent was required for the approval of any transaction, holdouts and bribes soon became commonplace.

The game’s results mirrored reality. As Sovietologist Ilya Zemtsov noted, “Without bribery, the socialist economy could not function.”

Vice wrote that government handouts had an anesthetizing effect, making “these moments of voting sabotage seemed more like friends messing with each other for the sheer fun of it.”

That illustrates the limits of the game.

In actual socialism, the proletariat enjoyed empty grocery stores while the Politburo frolicked in numerous summer homes, known as dachas. “Dachas are allocated according to rank,” wrote Zemtsov. “It would, for example, be unthinkable for a Politburo member to own the same type of dacha as a Politburo candidate.”

The game does not reproduce such stark political favoritism. Nor does it answer another question: What happens after the game, when the productive segment of the economy has been destroyed, its accumulated capital depleted, and the handouts end? Economic implosion sends ripples through society more malignant than the DSA members’ laughter.

“Nature,” wrote Desiderius Erasmus in his In Praise of Folly, “has sown a seed of evil in the hearts of mortals, especially in the more thoughtful men, which makes them dissatisfied with their own lot and envious of another’s.”

Western Christian principles consider envy a weed to be uprooted from the soul. Socialism sees envy as a kernel to be watered, succored, and (undeniably) fertilized until it bears its bitter fruit.

Thus, as government fines and fees put one player after another in the poor house (and out of the game), the DSA members said, “I really like some of these rules,” and “I’d actually want to see this happen in the real world.”

Behind the idealistic façade of creating an earthly utopia of equality lies the envious desire to ground other people down, to punish them for rising to the full height of their abilities.

Margaret Thatcher once said that socialists “would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich.”

Modern-day socialists cannot deny her analysis. They have confirmed it between chuckles and rolls of the dice.

(Photo credit: William Warby. CC BY 2.0.)

Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

Comments