Want to Teach Children Free Market Economics? Play Monopoly!

Monopolies are anathema to any conservative. However, in the spirit of fun and games it is essential to allow oneself opportunity to engage in the practice for the sake of showing others that one can become Jeff Bezos.

Sarcasm aside, the title above is inspired by the latest goings on in our household. We’ve been playing board games a lot as a family and Monopoly has been used on our kitchen table for most of those sessions. As our children count their cash, buy properties, pay taxes and charge rent, my wife and I use the occasions to teach them about saving and buying, making wise investments, basic mathematical principles, engaging in prudent business transactions and the like.

Now, the aforementioned lessons inherent to the game may be questioned by some, due to the fact that the game’s title alludes to the purpose of the game – total control of the market in order to crush competitors out of the marketplace. Yet, I’ll argue that one needs to examine the particulars of Monopoly in order to understand the important instruction it can bestow upon its participants.

1. It teaches children to do math on the fly, asses financial risk and be economically responsible

Many individuals have permitted themselves to become intellectually lazy due to the conveniences conferred by the Digital Age. Why become proficient at adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing when a smartphone calculator or computerized register does all of the work? This is one of the detracting factors of debit and credit cards and of payment applications like ApplePay.

In the olden days, people had to be alert financially, otherwise, a crafty or mindless cashier or banker could cheat one out of one’s earnings and change. Hence, it was important to keep track of the amount and denominations of bills in one’s wallet and bank account, the change one was owed when a purchase was made, etc. These are mind-stimulating, responsibility-inducing actions that we’ve abandoned due to the increasing ubiquity of transactions made with the rectangular plastic.

Monopoly promotes the benefits of keeping and transacting in cash alive and well and teaches its participants to do math on the fly, assess risks and and feel the pain of making irresponsible financial decisions. One can also use the occasion to teach children that if they value their privacy, cash is king.

2. It teaches children to become fiscal conservatives

Every time a favorite game token (mine is the top hat) lands on the Luxury Tax or Income Tax space or one pulls out a Community Chest or Chance card from the pile and is forced to pay some sort of tax, it is a reminder that Uncle Sam is the spawn of Satan for taking one’s hard earned capital. Need I say more?

3. It teaches children negotiation techniques

Couldn’t buy the high-yield properties Boardwalk and Park Place because your tokens didn’t land there? Does someone else own them? Negotiation is key. Will you risk giving a large amount of your saved cash in order to buy those properties in the hopes that they will yield more in “rent” or can you obtain those properties at a substantial savings? Is it more economically feasible and advisable to own more of the less expensive properties than to concentrate all of one’s wealth on more expensive places? Teaching children to consider these questions during the game will give them a sense of how to talk terms and make decisions that place them at an economic advantage in real life.

4. It teaches children to avoid debt at all costs

It’s a stinging sensation to have to mortgage property when one’s token lands on an opponent’s property which sports a hotel. This teaches a valuable lesson: the borrower is slave to the lender. Enough said, again!

5. It teaches children to hate socialism and the monopolies it creates

No one wants to lose at Monopoly. Hence, the frenetic run to obtain properties and money. It’s this constant tension that makes Monopoly a time-consuming game. However, as long as no one individual owns the majority of properties, the game goes on and everyone continues to engage in the market. It’s a reflection of the free market. When a player loses, it’s a propitious time to explain how this simulates the real life consequences of socialism, especially when governments and special interests interfere with and pervert the free market. Choices and opportunities are diminished and those that pay higher prices because of this, both figuratively and literally, are the customers.

Come to think of it, considering that most Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, are deeply in debt and almost 45% of Millennials favor socialism and communism to the free market, children shouldn’t be the only ones learning lessons from Monopoly.

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