You don’t need to reside in Australia for many years before adopting the firm belief that the economy is choreographed around the property market.
It’s touted in the media as the key to the great Australian dream — the apparent right of every citizen to own their own home.
Turn on talk radio, and you’ll likely hear much wailing from land-owning baby boomers who fear that their children will never be able to get a foothold onto the mythological property ladder.
Except that’s not the great Australian dream at all.
Having worked in the property market in Australia since arriving from the UK – more years ago than I like to remember — I can confirm that the great Australian dream is to own an investment property or two and get wealthy from the so-called capital gains.
The focus is not on buying a home. But buying in a location rich in government-funded amenities that ensures the price rockets up, not backwards, or sideways!
Land price inflation is nature’s free lunch.
Nothing has changed since the classical economist John Stuart Mill quipped:
‘Landlord’s grow rich in their sleep, without working or economising.
‘The ordinary progress of a society, which increases in wealth, is at all times tending to augment the incomes of landlords; to give them both a greater amount and a greater proportion of the wealth of the community, independently of any trouble or outlay incurred by themselves.’
Historically, Australia has experienced significant periods of land price inflation with substantial increases in property values over time, with major cities like Sydney and Melbourne collecting the lion’s share of the gains.
Indeed, over the last three 18-year cycles, it’s not been uncommon to observe double-digit percentage increases in land prices over relatively short periods (3–5 years).
Buoyed on by favourable tax policies that encourage speculation in real estate, the land market in this country plays like a Monopoly board enriching the land-owning rentiers while impoverishing the landless tenants.
It’s unsurprising, therefore, that Melbourne was picked to play host to a $20 million, 1,650-square-metre Monopoly-themed indoor park — due to open in Melbourne Central in September of this year.
The upcoming attraction is only the second of its kind worldwide, surpassing the size of the original venue that debuted in Hong Kong back in 2019.
The game will consist of two distinct areas: Monopoly City and Monopoly Mansion — home to Mr Monopoly.
I might take a visit and check it out!
Monopoly has long been a game that brings families together, providing a healthy dose of friendly rivalry.
Kids learn early on that if you want to be as rich as Mr Monopoly, owning real estate in the path of progress and jacking up the rent as much as possible is the way to do it…
Still, this wasn’t how it started.
Too few are aware of Monopoly’s origins.
The true story was covered up for years, and the Parker Brothers fought many expensive lawsuits to keep it that way.
In fact, Hasbro, who purchased Parker Brothers in 1991, still spruik the myth.
According to Hasbro, it was created by Charles Darrow during the Great Depression to remind people of better times.
The truth is Monopoly was originally called The Landlord’s Game.
It was invented and patented in 1904 by feminist and social reformer Elizabeth (Lizzie) Magie (1866–1948).
Lizzie’s father was an anti-monopolist!
An influential figure in his own right, he gave her a copy of Henry George’s 1879 bestseller, Progress and Poverty.
In it, George demonstrates how poverty and unemployment could be minimised by the removal of all current taxation and replaced with a ‘single tax’ on monopoly rent (i.e., land).
He reasoned, why would we tax productivity, labour, and consumption when there’s a large dollop of unearned income pooling in the pockets of owners of land and other natural monopolies?
This led to a worldwide Georgist movement.
It was the beginning of the progressive era.
Land and wealth were concentrated in the hands of a few.
The economy was recovering from the depths of the 1890s depression — and George’s message was mesmerising to Lizzie and her friends who wanted reform.
The Landlord’s Game contained two sets of rules:
- One was anti-monopolist, where all were rewarded when unearned wealth was created.
Think of it like a basic income. Money is collected and circulated from taxes on increasing land values.
Everyone gets a bit of the gain — society flourishes.
- The other version ruthlessly pits players against each other by driving opponents into bankruptcy, jacking up rents, and leaving competitors in tears.
This is the one we have now.
Lizzie’s fantasy was to prove that the first set of rules was morally superior:
‘Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied.’
The Single Tax Review,
The game immediately went viral.
It became a family favourite across the US.
It’s not clear if Lizzie realised how enthusiastically it had been embraced. Editions were localised from the onset.
Rules adapted to fit in with players’ preferences.
However, the fact that the anti-monopolist set of rules quickly became obsolete is a lesson in itself.
It illustrates much about politics and the economy today.
Monopoly was (and still is) used as a game to teach young minds how to get onto the mythological housing ladder.
It mirrors both society and the economy.
Ultimately, the largest landowner — the bank — always wins!
And unlike in the late 1800s, a large proportion of the population today gets to enjoy a small slice of the monopoly pie with an investment property or two.
This behaviour alone ensures the cycle will continue.
There are only two sides to choose from — be a rentier or a renter…
Editor, Land Cycle Investor