Monopoly: The Metaphor

Are you looking for a metaphor of the modern American economy? You might wish to glance in the direction of Monopoly.

No, I’m not referring to any of the real-world industries that are dominated by monopolistic organizations, although numerous examples abound of sectors in which one or two mammoth companies have bought out most of their competitors. I’m referring to Monopoly, Hasbro’s board game.

Last month, based on the results of an online social media competition, Hasbro retired the game’s Thimble, Work Boot, and Wheelbarrow tokens. The firm then announced the addition of Dinosaur, Rubber Duck, and Penguin tokens.

So why is this a metaphor for our contemporary economy? When the three retired tokens were first introduced decades ago, they illustrated common tools of manufacturing activities in America’s then-dominant industrial sector. Indeed, the icons represented the capabilities of the United States to generate its own wealth, a theme that reflected the goal of the Monopoly game.

But now these tokens have been replaced by an extinct beast, a toy creature, and an animal that is imported into American zoos from foreign lands. In other words, the original “plain but meaningful” icons of productivity have been replaced by a new set of “cute but irrelevant” icons of mass entertainment.

If Hasbro had wished to modernize its assortment of tokens, it might have chosen to adopt representations of mobile communication devices, surgical lasers, and sleek aircraft. But instead, it opted for a motley menagerie.

It’s an apt metaphor for the contemporary economy of the United States, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the American business tools of thimbles, work boots, and wheelbarrows are now as obsolete as the Monopoly tokens that recently portrayed them.