Wednesday 23 February 2011

Econ Geek Envy

My grad school roommate was a few years ahead of me in the programme at George Mason. He went part time to work on the Hill shortly before I arrived there; the opportunity costs of finishing his PhD quickly became too high. He loved to tell the story of how David Friedman showed up for a barbeque at his house once after giving a seminar at George Mason. I always envied him that party.

In the New York Times via BK Drinkwater's shared items feed, Milton Friedman and Monopoly:
Monopoly was taken seriously in Shorey House at the University of Chicago in the late 1970s. A room was set aside as “The Monopoly Room.” But in that post-Vietnam, pre-Reagan era, all assumptions were questioned and a game our parents played was no exception. Rules were meant to be altered. The house even convened a “constitution convention” to change the official rules of the game to allow a person to build a hotel on a property without first having to own four houses. Mr. Zelenty, now a corporate lawyer in his native New Jersey, remembers holding a sign that said, “New Jersey Espouses / Hotels Without Houses.”

The other thing taken as seriously in that dorm was free-market economics or, more precisely, Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economics professor. This was a house that frequently invited Professor Friedman and his wife, Rose, to sherry hours. House members ran a snack bar in the basement of the dormitory called Tanstafl, an abbreviation of a saying favored by Mr. Friedman, that “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Mr. Zelenty owned the greatest of treasures any of us could imagine because it combined those two passions. He had asked Mr. Friedman to sign his Monopoly board at one of those sherry hours. The Nobel laureate did so, writing, “Down with” above the game’s name. We didn’t play on that board. No one ever played on that board. (Mr. Zelenty said he still has it and wants to donate the relic to the university one day. “It’s in a place of safety more than a place of honor,” he said.)

The precise details of our classic game are blurred by the alcohol consumed that night and the years that have passed since then, but this much is recalled. We decided that Monopoly was hostile to a free market because it restricted the number of houses or hotels one could buy. We voted that a player could buy as many hotels as a property could physically bear and rents would be raised proportionally.
Read the whole article to work through the effects on gameplay.

Zelenty got to drink sherry with Milton Friedman. And he has a signed Monopoly board memento. Econ geek envy.

But I got to play Dungeons and Dragons in an all economist D&D group where Bryan Caplan was Dungeon Master and William Dickens was a half-ogre named Grissumpf. David Mitchell was a gully dwarf. And Scott Beaulier was some kind of fighter. My Sage/Assassin, Dougal, had a charisma of 3 - I flipped the points over to other characteristics after a bad roll but really enjoyed role playing the lowest possible charisma. You might think it wasn't much of a stretch. You might be right. It was awesome.

If you ever get invited to Capla-Con, go. I can vouch for the "Punctuated Equilibrium" scenario; I generated the Dentist character in its inaugural playing.


  1. So you survived the earthquake?

  2. Hey Eric,

    You've been offline on this website for a couple of days. I hope all is good down there?


  3. Eric has been tweeting. He's all good but without power.

  4. This post was on the autoqueue. We are fine. Post to come.