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23 February 2017
Morning Sedition

Mermaid Parade
King George’s Booty

Many of the costumes had political themes, such as Enron or how King George Bush II was corrupt. (When it comes to booty, I much prefer the mermaid variety.)

King George's Booty

King George's Booty - Closeup Left

King George's Booty - Closeup Center

King George's Booty - Closeup Right

Leather Lanyard or Marble Madness?

Cover of Boondoggle Book

If we can "boondoggle" ourselves out of this depression, that word is going to be enshrined in the hearts of the American people for years to come.

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Speech, 18 January 1936, to the New Jersey State Emergency Council

The word "boondoggle" refers to any fraudulent or dishonest undertaking, usually associated with wasting huge amounts of money on an enterprise of dubious value, typically as a result of political patronage. (This is the third political term we've dissected, the first being filibuster and the second red tape.) But where did it come from? It turns out the etymology of boondoggle is still unknown, it apparantly having become common circa 1935 to describe the money spent by Roosevelt's New Deal alphabet programs (CCC, FDIC, FERA, NRA, SEC, TVA, WPA, etc.) The quote above is Roosevelt's response to his critics. But first, a short skip to the origins.

The term "boondoggle" existed with the boyscouts long before it was used to describe Roosevelt's programs, supposedly being coined in 1927 by Robert H. Link, a scoutmaster, to describe the braided leather lanyards made by boyscouts to fritter away time at the campfire, and then worn as decoration. Link died in 1957, so nobody can ask him where he picked up the term. (Neither can anyone ask him if he used those amazingly strong braided cords for nefarious purposes.) Evidence, however, suggests the term may have been in use before Link; so much for "Scout's Honor." (Then again, how much "scouts honor" is there in persecuting gays, lesbians, and atheists or in raping young scouts? I mean, this is about the same amount of honor as one would find in the Roman Catholic Church...)

Now, the word came to prominence on 4 April 1935 when The New York Times ran a story about how jobless workers were being paid by the government to make lanyards from leather, rope, and canvas:

Boondoggle burst into the world with something of a bang, becoming an attack term immediately after its first recorded appearance in print. This occurred on April 4, 1935, in an account in The New York Times of an investigation into public-relief expenditures. Testifying the previous day before a committee of the Board of Aldermen (predecessors of today’s gender-neutral City Council), a Robert Marshall of Brooklyn said that he had been paid to teach “boon doggles.” Asked what he meant by this, he explained that “boon doggles is simply a term applied back in pioneer days to what we call gadgets today… . They may be making belts in leather, or maybe belts by weaving ropes, or it might be belts by working with canvas, maybe a tent or a sleeping bag.”

Mr. Marshall’s testimony, together with that of other witnesses who told of teaching tap dancing, manipulating shadow puppets, and building “A Temple of Time” (a watch and clock collection) for New York University, inspired the story’s headline, which began: $3,187,000 RELIEF IS SPENT TO TEACH JOBLESS TO PLAY, with the subhead, “BOON DOGGLES” made.

The word was off and running. In the next presidential election, in 1936, boondoggle was employed widely as both a noun and a verb by Republican critics of New Deal relief agencies. Boondoggling became a general term for what the GOP perceived as governmental wastefulness, and the responsible administrators were boondogglers. Nor could President Roosevelt pass this one up. He turned the word back upon the Republicans, describing international loans made under the GOP as foreign boondoggling.

"Why Do We Say That? 'Boondoggle'" Hugh Rawson, American Heritage

The big question, however, is where Link got the word or the idea for it. Another potential etymology is from Scottish, where boondoggle refers to winning a marble without any effort or receiving it as an outright gift. This has some plausibility, since "doggle" or "dogle" is the slang term for a marble, and it could easily have been combined with "boon" meaning gift or favor. The only problem is that the OED doesn't have any evidence the word was compounded in this fashion.

Some claim the word is drived to the Tagalog (Phillipine) word "bundok" for mountain, which was picked up by US soldiers during World War II and morphed into "boondocks" meaning any remote or wild area isolated from civilization. (Like, say, New Jersey.) The sense is allegedly that money was spent in remote areas according to the whims of the Roosevelt administration. The problem is that boondocks didn't show up in common parlance until about eight years after boondoggle. So this etymology shouldn't be given any credence.

The ultimate answer is that nobody really knows where the word originated. The only way Congress would fund a study of this boondoggle is if a congresscritter had an institute for etymology in his district. And, given the boondoggles Congress has funded, this one isn't so farfetched.

Happy Tax Freedom Day!

Chart Showing Tax Freedom Day by Calendar Year

Chart of Tax Freedom Day Dates by Year, "Tax Freedom Day to Arrive April 17 in 2005", National Tax Foundation

At the beginning of the 20th century, taxes accounted for 5.9 percent of income, and the nation celebrated Tax Freedom Day on January 22.

"America Celebrates Tax Freedom Day", National Tax Foundation Special Report, No. 134, April 2005

Today is Tax Freedom Day; that is, today is the day that marks the demarcation of the period worked to pay for federal, state, and local taxes and that where Americans work for themselves. (Yay!)

The report compares the number of days Americans work to pay taxes to the number of days they work to support themselves.

“Despite all the tax cuts that the federal government has passed recently, Americans will still spend more on taxes than they spend on food, clothing and medical care combined,” said Hodge.

In 2005, Americans will work 70 days to afford their federal taxes and 37 more days to afford state and local taxes. Other categories of spending measured in the report include housing and household operation (65 days), health and medical care (52 days), food (31 days), transportation (31 days), recreation (22 days), clothing and accessories (13 days), saving (2 days) and all other (42 days).

"Tax Freedom Day to Arrive April 17 in 2005", National Tax Foundation

Chart Showing Tax Freedom Day by Calendar Year

Chart of Taxes vs. Expenses, "Tax Freedom Day to Arrive April 17 in 2005", National Tax Foundation

The full, and quite detailed, report is interesting, but mostly disturbing. Once again, the red staters are like lampreys that have opened up a vein into us blue staters. Sigh.

Overall, the largest importers [of federal tax dollars] are Florida (+$1,478.5 million), Washington (+$1,275.2 million), Virginia (+$1175.8 million) and Georgia (+$999.7 million); and the largest exporters [of federal tax dollars] are California (-$2,686.31.3 million), New York (-$2,076.3 million) and New Jersey (-$1,885.0 million). The District of Columbia is a net tax exporter with -$125.3 million.

"America Celebrates Tax Freedom Day", National Tax Foundation Special Report, No. 134, April 2005

So, celebrate the fact that you're working for yourself today. And remember the secrets of success: Be your own boss, run a cash business, and don't extend credit.

The Annual Mugging of Americans

IRS Form 8302: Electronic Deposit of Tax Refund of $1 Million or More

IRS Form 8302: "Electronic Deposit of Tax Refund of $1 Million or More"

We don't pay taxes. Only little people pay taxes.

— Leona Helmsley

When I were a lad — and we walked uphill to school both ways, in the snow, while dragging hundred pound cinderblocks and fending off ravenous sabre-tooth tigers and rabid voles — there were virtually no enterprising capitalists extorting money, I mean, soliciting donations from their fellow students using the threat of dire consequences if a suitable contribution was not made. Most, instead, went after the less-risky, an immensely profitable, upscale market by providing substances that were, shall we say, unavailable at Deliah's Liquors. (Deliah's was the place in town to buy if you were, ahem, underaged. I'm revealing no secrets here as they sold the business many years ago and the statute of limitations has long since run out.) But back to extortion.

Not that I'm complaining about the lack of regular muggings, of course, but the funny thing is that if more outright coercive theft had been committed in school it would have better prepared us for the joys of dealing with the IRS. For what is the IRS but a big bully that siezes our assets and puts us in jail if we don't cough up our lunch money? (Oh, wait. The breakfast, lunch, and dinner money. These days the average American works for the IRS until April 17th.)

The form above — "Electronic Deposit of Tax Refund of $1 Million or More" — is absolutely, 100% genuine, by the way. You can see it at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8302.pdf if you don't believe me. I'm uncertain which disturbs me more; that the Bush tax cuts have returned such vast sums or that so many are receiving them that a special form exists to receive the largess as quickly as possible.

Oh, sure, taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Except, as we know, rich people don't pay taxes. And neither do the red states; they get back vastly more than they send to Washington. The report from the National Tax Foundation has all the gory details. It seems, in short, that we in the blue states subsidize the bad behavior and fiscal irresponsibility of the red states. But isn't that what compassionate conservatism is all about?

Federally Favored States

“During fiscal 2003, taxpayers in New Mexico benefited the most from the give-and-take with Uncle Sam,” said Sagoo. New Mexico received $1.99 in federal outlays for every $1.00 the state’s taxpayers sent to Uncle Sam. Other big winners were Alaska ($1.89), Mississippi ($1.83), and West Virginia ($1.82). (See tables below).

The District of Columbia’s Special Status

Though not comparable as a state, the District of Columbia is by far the biggest beneficiary of federal spending: In 2003 it received $6.59 in federal outlays for every dollar its taxpayers sent to the U.S. Treasury.

“The District’s share of federal largesse amounted to $60,109 for every man, woman and child,” said Sagoo. “That’s more than ten times the national average.”

States That Help Others

If some states are beneficiaries, then naturally some must be benefactors—those states where so much is collected in federal taxes that any federal spending they receive is overwhelmed.

New York has often been the biggest payer in the Tax Foundation’s annual comparison of taxes to spending, which inspired Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the Kennedy School of Government to launch their annual reference book comparing state taxes with spending (www.ksg.harvard.edu/fisc99) more than 25 years ago. In recent years, however, other states have eclipsed New York for the “blessing” of being the state that gives far more than it receives.

Combining the third highest tax burden per capita with the ninth lowest federal spending, New Jersey had the lowest federal spending-to-tax ratio (57¢). Other states that had low federal spending-to-tax ratios in FY 2003 are New Hampshire (64¢), Connecticut (65¢), Minnesota (70¢), Nevada (70¢), and Illinois (73¢).

"Federal Tax Burdens and Expenditures by State", National Tax Foundation, Report No. 132, December 2004

Hard to believe it was forty years ago that the Beatles complained about the 95% marginal rate — no kidding! — that forced many successful people into tax exile. That's the meaning of the line "There's one for you, nineteen for me." in Taxman — the Beatles were able to keep only five percent (one part in twenty) of their income above a certain level. Revolver was the Beatles' seventh album, so they were, by this point, rolling in filthy lucre. The "Mr. Wilson" and "Mr. Heath" in the song refer to Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister (Labour Party) and the opposition leader Edward Heath (Conservative). The Labour Party had just won the 1966 election; the mess they made of the country would later lead to Margaret Thatcher's election.

Taxman

One, two, three, four...
Hrmm!
One, two, (one, two, three, four!)

Let me tell you how it will be;
There's one for you, nineteen for me.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Should five per cent appear too small,
Be thankful I don't take it all.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

if you drive a car, car;
I’ll tax the street;
if you try to sit, sit;
I’ll tax your seat;
if you get too cold, cold;
I’ll tax the heat;
if you take a walk, walk;
I'll tax your feet.

Taxman!

'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Don't ask me what I want it for,
(ah-ah, Mister Wilson)
If you don't want to pay some more.
(ah-ah, Mister Heath)
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Now my advice for those who die,
(taxman)
Declare the pennies on your eyes.
(taxman)
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

And you're working for no one but me.

Taxman!

"Taxman" by George Harrison, Revolver, The Beatles, 1966

Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle

Pepsi-Cola sign saying "Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle"

Trying to wrap one's head around the buying power of a dollar in different time periods is never easy:

Determining the relative value of an amount of money in one year compared to another is more complicated than it seems at first. There is no single "correct" measure, and economic historians use one or more different series depending on the context of the question.

Most indices are measured as the price of a "bundle" of goods and services that a representative group buys or earns. Over time the bundle changes; for example, carriages are replaced with automobiles, and new goods and services are created such as cellular phones and heart transplants.

These considerations do not stop the fascination with these comparisons or even the necessity for them. For example, such comparisons may be critical to determine appropriate levels of compensation in a legal case that has been deferred. The context of the question, however, may lead to a preferable measure and that measure may not be the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used far too often without thought to its consequences.

The example below of what Babe Ruth's salary was "worth" can demonstrate this point. His earnings had a "purchasing power" in today's price of a million dollars, but he could not purchase any effective cure for cancer. However, if the question was how to compare his salary with that of a current super star such as Tiger Woods or Barry Bonds, using Ruth's wage compared to an unskilled worker, the average income or the percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) he earned gives comparable numbers.

"What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services

So let's put it in context by considering one of the most famous ad jingles (listen) of all time. That would be the 1939 ad from Pepsi-Cola touting the benefits of their "superior" formulation of sugar water:

At about the same time Pepsi-Cola launched what was to become one of the most famous jingles ever written. "Nickle, Nickle" (later known as "Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot") was written by Alan Bradley Kent and Austen Herbert Croom-Johnson.

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot
Twelve full ounces, that's a lot
Twice as much for a nickle, too
Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.

This little jingle would go on to be recorded in 55 different languages, over 1 million records containing this jingle were produced, and it was the first jingle ever played from coast to coast on network radio. It is hard to convey just how big this jingle was, but it was very popular for nearly a decade and was even described as "immortal." How many people decided to give Pepsi a try because of this jingle can not be over estimated. The jingle was first written as a standard commercial with the jingle at the end but Mack insisted that only the jingle be aired. It was played so often that 50 years later there are still people who remember the words.

The History of Pepsi-Cola, Soda Museum

Now, let's consider what the "Twice as much for a nickle, too" means in today's dollars: (BTW: the "twice as much" referred to Pepsi-Cola's twelve ounces versus Coca Cola's six.)

In 2003, $0.05 from 1940 is worth:

$0.65 using the Consumer Price Index
$0.54 using the GDP deflator
$1.39 using the unskilled wage
$2.46 using the GDP per capita
$5.42 using the relative share of GDP

5 cents scaled from 1940 dollars to 2003 dollars

And $0.65 is just about what it would cost you to buy a soda today at a supermarket. (Not quantity one in a bodega, of course.) Notice how the CPI is spot on. Yet not everthing scales so nicely. Consider today's value for a home purchased for $50,000 in 1970:

In 2003, $50,000.00 from 1970 is worth:

$237,137.93 using the Consumer Price Index
$191,863.42 using the GDP deflator
$248,964.68 using the unskilled wage
$373,282.77 using the GDP per capita
$528,834.86 using the relative share of GDP

$50,000 scaled from 1970 dollars to 2003 dollars

Inflation in real estate better tracks the change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita than it does changes in the CPI or wages. That's why a home that was affordable in 1970 requires three salaries to pay for in 2005. That's likely because commodities benefit from improvements in supply and manufacturing not to forget competition, which keep the price down. Real commodities, however, tend to be priced according to the owner's share in the American Dream, aka GDP. What? Your share of GDP hasn't kept pace? Well, that's all the fault of the tax-and-spend Democrats; all the "fiscally-conservative" Republicans got their share of GDP, now didn't they.

Buy land, 'cause they ain't makin' it no more.

— Will Rogers

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services
  2. "How Much is That" from the Economic History Services

Buy Land, ‘Cause They Ain’t Making it No More

Monopoly evokes a unique emotion, the surge of thrill you get when you know you've wiped out a friend.

— Shelly Berman

Early Parker Brother's Monopoly board

Early Parker Brother's Monopoly Board

The board game Monopoly is an institution. It is available in in many variants (link, link link, and link) and even some parodies (Ghettopoly and Anti-monopoly). Versions exist for most major cities, and even for such specialized areas as football, the military, and the space program. Even the Franklin Mint has a version. (You know something has hit the bigtime when the Franklin Mint has an edition.) All teach the joys of unfettered capitalism and world domination, not to mention a little math, too. (I can picture how none of the other children wanted to play monopoly with a young Bill Gates.)

T-Shirt with parod of Monopoly showing Microsoft

Microsoft Monopoly Parody

The "official" origins of Monopoly are on the Hasbro Website, but these are, to be blunt, absolute lies. And therein lies a tale. First, consider the official, and fraudulent, version of the origins:

Today, it's the best-selling board game in the world, sold in 80 countries and produced in 26 languages including Croatian. But where did the game come from? How did this phenomenal pastime get its start? tells the legend best.

It was 1934, the height of the Depression, when Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, showed what he called the MONOPOLY game to the executives at Parker Brothers. Can you believe it, they rejected the game due to "52 design errors"! But Mr. Darrow wasn't daunted. Like many other Americans, he was unemployed at the time, and the game's exciting promise of fame and fortune inspired him to produce it on his own.

With help from a friend who was a printer, Mr. Darrow sold 5,000 handmade sets of the game to a Philadelphia department store. People loved it! But as demand grew, he couldn't keep up with all the orders and came back to talk to

History of Monopoly, Hasbro

New York version of Monopoly

New York Version

Parker Brother has always asserted that the inventor of Monopoloy was Charles Darrow. He does, in fact, hold United States Patent number 2,026,082 for it, and the rights to the patent were sold to Parker Brothers. The fact is that Parker Brothers invented a nostalgic history to cover up a fraud. First, the history:

His is a nice little story, with an appropriately capitalist theme. An unemployed Depression-era radiator repairman invents a game in which down-on-their-luck Americans trade pricey properties and connive their way to fantastic riches. The game catches on with a cash-starved public looking for cheap entertainment. The unemployed repairman fills his pockets with wads of real money.

National Public Radio report on Monopoly

The fact is that Darrow had nothing to do with Monopoly, as it is based on an earlier game called the "Landlord's Game" by a Quaker named Elizabeth Magie; she even holds the 1904 United States Patent on the game. (How could Darrow invent a game that had been patented 31 years earlier?) Magie's goal was not entertainment; it was education:

It was from Ralph Anspach, the inventor of Anti-Monopoly, that I learned that Monopoly itself had begun as a critique of the very system it has done so much to promote. The official history of Monopoly, recorded in endless Reader's Digest-like articles, holds that Charles Darrow, an unemployed Philadelphia worker, invented the game in 1933, and sold it to Parker Brothers, who in turn have sold Darrow's pro-business inspiration to the world. Anspach's research shows that the real inventor of Monopoly was Elizabeth Magie, a Quaker follower of the Single Tax economist Henry George. She invented the game in 1903 and called it the Landlord Game; Its squares carried such inspired names as "Lord Blueblood's Estate" and "The Soakum Lighting Co."

A 1925 version of her game, by now called Monopoly, which was made by Louis Thun, states in its Introduction, "Monopoly is designed to show the evil resulting from the institution of private property. At the start of the game, every player is provided with the same chance of success as every other player. The game ends with one person in possession of all the money. What accounts for the failure of the rest, and what one factor can be singled out to explain the obviously ill-adjusted distribution of the community's wealth, which this situation represents? Those who win will answer 'skill'. Those who lose will answer 'luck'. But maybe there will be some, and these, while admitting the element of skill and luck, will answer with Scott Nearing [a socialist writer of the time] 'private property.'"

BALLBUSTER? True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman by Bertell Ollman

New York version of Monopoly

Original "Get Out of Jail Free" Card

Magie's version is surprisingly similar to the game we know today:

The board for Lizzie Magie's game bears a striking resemblance to the one now labeled "Monopoly", except that names, drawings, colors and the like are different. It is painted with blocks for rental properties such as "Poverty Place" (land rent $50), "Easy Street" (land rent $100) and "Lord Blueblood's Estate " ("no trespassing - go to jail"). There are banks, a poorhouse, and railroads and utilities such as the "Soakum Lighting System" ($50 for landing on that) and the "PDQ Railroad" ("fare $100"). And of course there is the well known "Jail" block.

The properties on Lizzie Magie's board were for rent only, not acquisition. Otherwise, the game was played much like the Monopoly of today.

Adena's History of Monopoly

When a Quaker from Indianapolis moved to Atlantic City in New Jersey, she customized Magie's version for her new surroundings. Players typically manufactured their own boards, pieces, and cards, so customizing was only a minor step beyond copying. It makes sense that when he went to Parker Brothers he would claim that the Atlantic City variant — the only one he'd seen — was his creation.

Since the game was being played in Atlantic City, it no longer made any sense to have properties named after places in Indianapolis or parts of Pennsylvania.

The discussion came up that the names were for the most part unknown to us ... Why not use Atlantic City names? ... We named them out in honor of people who belonged to our group. For instance, well, Boardwalk was first. Everybody knows that, Boardwalk. But the Joneses were living on Park Place and the Claridge was being built across the street and the Marlborough Blenheim was right there. That was obviously a very expensive part of the town and one that we wanted to honor.

"We were living on Pennsylvania Avenue ... The Copes lived on Virginia Avenue at the Morton Hotel ... So it developed gradually.

"... I know that there were the utilities and I know that the four railroads were there ... We had 'Free Parking' and we had 'Go to Jail' and we had tickets to get out of jail and you got $200 as you passed 'Go'."

Adena's History of Monopoly

What's interesting about Monopoly is how it was a boon for both Darrow's and Parker Brothers' fortunes. Darrow ended up a millionaire and Parker Brothers continues to reap huge rewards, even though their patent and copyrights have long expired. All from a game they didn't invent. But much of the success is due to George Parker's considerable business acumen:

In accordance with his ninth principle—bet heavily when the odds are long in your favor—George Parker urged [Parker Brothers President Robert] Barton to put all the company's resources behind the Monopoly game and forget making other games. It was better to apply everything Parker Brothers owned to maximize Monopoly shipments given the marketplace's insatiable appetite for the game. He was convinced that every dollar wagered would return a windfall. Unlike his vacillation with Mah-Jongg, this time he would not hesitate and give his opponents a chance to compete. He would redeem himself.

The "flood" began after New Year's Day. The post-Christmas trickle of orders for the Monopoly game turned into a torrent. It seemed that every Monopoly game purchased for Christmas had been played by many people—all of whom wanted their own copy, no matter what their financial plight. So many orders for the Monopoly game arrived in the mail and by telegraph that the firm had to store them in wicker laundry baskets in the hallways. All the workers sent home in December were quickly rehired.

How Parker Bros. Created Monopoly Mania, by Philip Orbanes

New York version of Monopoly

Redesign of Monopoly money ala US Currency to prevent counterfeiting

Not everyone, however is a fan. Not only does the game encourage bad behavior, but it presents a distorted view of how economies function:

The problem is that the game seriously misrepresents how an actual market economy operates. To review, in the free market, Mises wrote, "Neither the entrepreneurs nor the farmers nor the capitalists determine what has to be produced. The consumers do that. . . . Their buying and their abstention from buying decides who should own and run the plants and the farms. They make poor people rich and rich people poor. They determine precisely what should be produced, in what quality, and in what quantities. They are merciless bosses, full of whims and fancies, changeable and unpredictable."

That’s the real world. In the game Monopoly, owners of land and houses and hotels, through acquiring their possessions by luck, are flattered into believing they are masters of the universe, extracting profits from anyone who passes their way. There is no consumer choice and no consumer sovereignty. This is not a small detail. The entire raison d’etre of the market is missing, and thus the real goal and the guide of all production in a market economy.

Consumer choice is replaced by a roll of the dice. The player then becomes passive. Landing on property owned by another person creates not a mutual gain but a loss. In this way, trade is portrayed as "zero-sum." The elimination of consumer choice leads to the belief that businesses profit only at the consumers’ expense.

...

Monopoly may be fun to play but it leaves us with two unpleasant choices. The game either misrepresents the nature of trade in a market economy, or if slightly reinterpreted it glorifies rent seeking by making it the object of the game.

Monopoly: Parker Brothers Gets It Wrong, by Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Detailed History of Monopoly
  2. History of Monopoly
  3. All things Monopoly
  4. National Public Radio report on Monopoly
  5. Collectable Variants
  6. Collectable Variants (large collection)
  7. Collectable Variants (large collection)
  8. Collectable Variants (older games)
  9. Ghettopoly
  10. Anti-monopoly
  11. Probability Analysis for Each Property
  12. Straight Dope piece on variants of official rules
  13. Animated Probability Analysis for Each Property
  14. Redesign of money ala US Currency

A Suitcase Full of Dead Presidents

Hundred-thousand dollar bill with Woodrow Wilson

"A single Federal Reserve note–of any denomination–weighs one gram. Ten thousand $100 bills weighs 10 kilograms: roughly 22 pounds. It’s bulky but manageable."

William Bryk

The briefcase full of money is a movie cliche familiar to all. But exactly how much money fits into a briefcase? Would a million dollars really fit? Consider this famous story told about Frank Sinatra:

Another story that made the rounds, then and now, and later portrayed in the film, The Godfather, was that Rocco Fischetti had several travel bags stuffed with two million dollars, the proceeds from dope sales that was owed to Lucky Luciano. Fearing that he was being tailed by narcotics agents, which he was, and terrified that he would be stopped and searched as he left the United States, Fischetti had brought Sinatra along to carry the bags into Cuba because Fischetti knew that, traditionally, starstruck customs agents didn't check celebrities' baggage.

None of it was true. The money in the suitcase story was spread by a writer named Lee Mortimer who disliked Sinatra intensely and at one time the dispute brought the two men to blows. Years later the FBI expanded on Mortimore's story who said that Sinatra carried the money to Lansky in one briefcase.

For decades Sinatra denied the story saying, "If you can show me how to get two million dollars into a briefcase, I'll give you the two million dollars."

The Short Return of Charlie Lucifer

Hundred dollar bill with Ben Franklin

Ok, so the game is on. Can a million bucks fit into a suitcase? Packing a suitcase full of enough bucks to buy an election used to be a lot easier. Until 14 July 1969, specifically, when the Federal Reserve announced that the "$500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 would be discontinued immediately due to lack of use." Mmmm-hmmm. I think we all know the real reason: density. It's a lot harder to lug around multiple suitcases of $500 bills without being noticed. (I doubt criminals would want to use larger bills; how would you change them or use them to pay a bar tab?) But back to our question: what about the suitcase full of retirement money?

Actually, a million dollars’ worth of $100 bills weighs a lot less. A single Federal Reserve note–of any denomination–weighs one gram. Ten thousand $100 bills weighs 10 kilograms: roughly 22 pounds. It’s bulky but manageable.

Still, it would have been easier half a century ago, when the United States still looked beyond the Benjamin. Imagine peeling off a $500, $1000 or $5000 bill. Today we might refer colloquially to $500 bills as "Williams" (for William McKinley), to $1000 bills as "Grovers" (Grover Cleveland) and to $5000 bills as "Jameses" (James Madison). There was also a $10,000 bill we would have had to call "a Salmon" (after Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln). The last of these was printed in 1945, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Treasury Dept. agency charged with engraving Federal Reserve notes (and White House invitations, incidentally). They were withdrawn from circulation in 1969, supposedly due to declining demand.

At one time, the United States issued a note in an even higher denomination: a Series 1934 gold certificate, bearing a portrait of Woodrow Wilson, for $100,000.

Bills: Big Money by William Bryk

Stack of Bills

Rather than just do gedanken experiments this fellow did the math:

The largest U.S. bill in circulation is the hundred dollar bill, and it takes 10,000 of those to make one million dollars. Ten thousand bills. That is the smallest size you can get a million dollars in cash.

...

Next I visited Kinko's copies, where they have an industrial paper-cutting machine. I asked them to cut the 8?x11 sheets of paper into bill-sized mini-sheets. They asked about my intentions, and when they found out about my counterfeiting plans, they reminded me that I would not be able to pay for the cutting service with fake bills.

...

After separating the paper, I designed and printed some paper bands for my counterfeit cash. The bank teller had told me that hundreds are wrapped with purple bands. She asked me about my intentions, and when she found out about my counterfeiting plans, she reminded me that I would not be able to deposit fake bills.

How Much is Inside a Million Dollars

So, to answer the question: "can you cram a million bucks into a briefcase?" Yup, you can if you use a reasonably-sized briefcase. If this turns out to be of practical use to you, pop a few dead presidents over to me.

Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
It’s all about the benjamins baby
Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
It’s all about the benjamins baby
Goodfellas, uhh

— Puff Daddy, "It's All About the Benjamins"

The Functioning Core versus the Non-Integrating Gap

Thomas Barnett's analysis of the modern world, the future of globalism, the industrialized nations versus the non-industrialized disconnected ones, etc. is guaranteed to make you think about the world in a totally different way. He is a war strategist — formerly a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island until his successful book forced him to change careers — who distills down the future of commerce and war into very comprehensible terms.

Thomas Barnett

Thomas Barnett

His book, The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, offers a new perspective on why the political and economic worlds looks the way they do.

Thomas Barnett

Cover for The Pentagon's New Map book

Even if you don't have time for his book — these days, I don't, either — spend a little time reading the excerpts here, or listen to the video or audio of his presentations. Here are some excerpts that will give you the salient arguments, at least enough to impress people at cocktail parties. ( I'd say "core arguments" to impress people with a knowledge "gap" except that would be a bad pun given the subject matter, and I'd never stoop to such depths.) :

Q:The Pentagon's New Map basically divides the world into two groups: a Functioning Core and a Non-Integrating Gap. What are the main hallmarks of these two groups?

A:The Functioning Core consists of basically those states or regions that have already integrated themselves deeply into the global economy or are currently working to do so. By my way of thinking, that includes North America, Europe (both old and new), Russia under Putin's "dictatorship of the law" (yes, with some recent slippage), India, China, Japan, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa and the ABCs of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile). My Core therefore includes not just the West, but a host of emerging markets that have joined globalization over the past twenty years. That collection accounts for roughly two-thirds of the global population.

Contrasting the Functioning Core of globalization are those regions I categorize as falling into its Non-Integrating Gap. These regions include the Caribbean rim of Central and South America, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. These regions constitute globalization's "ozone hole" or "bald spot," where connectivity - no matter how you measure it (trade, people movement, communications) - is relatively thin and, in many cases, getting thinner over time. These countries either reject globalization because of its content flows, or new ideas (think of the ruling Muslim clerics in Iran) or are losing out to its advance because they simply cannot attract the foreign direct investment that ultimately leads to economic integration.

What's crucial about this global breakdown is this: virtually all of the U.S. military crisis response activity (or overseas military interventions) since the end of the Cold War have occurred inside the Gap. So either we shrink the Gap and eliminate those endemic conflicts and diminished expectations that give rise to transnational terrorism or America had better be prepared to retreat from the world dramatically and let globalization possibly suffer the same fate it did in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Frankly, those are the historical stakes we face today. Either we make globalization truly global or we condemn one-third of humanity to long-term violence and suffering that will inevitably intrude upon our "good life" on a regular basis. This isn't about charity or any religious-inspired crusade. It all comes down logically to acting in our own best interest while making the world a better place over the long run.

Interview With Thomas Barnett

Now consider this in the context of China and the terrorist attacks upon the West by Islamic fundamentalists:

Understanding that the line between the Core and Gap is constantly shifting, let me suggest that the direction of change is more critical than the degree. So, yes, Beijing is still ruled by a — Communist party — whose ideological formula is 30 percent Marxist-Leninist and 70 percent Sopranos, but China just signed on to the World Trade Organization, and over the long run, that is far more important in securing the country's permanent Core status. Why? Because it forces China to harmonize its internal rule set with that of globalization — banking, tariffs, copyright protection, environmental standards.

...

Think about it: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are pure products of the Gap — in effect, its most violent feedback to the Core. They tell us how we are doing in exporting security to these lawless areas (not very well) and which states they would like to take "off line" from globalization and return to some seventh-century definition of the good life (any Gap state with a sizable Muslim population, especially Saudi Arabia).

If you take this message from Osama and combine it with our military-intervention record of the last decade, a simple security rule set emerges: A country's potential to warrant a U.S. military response is inversely related to its globalization connectivity. There is a good reason why Al Qaeda was based first in Sudan and then later in Afghanistan: These are two of the most disconnected countries in the world. Look at the other places U.S. Special Operations Forces have recently zeroed in on: northwestern Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. We are talking about the ends of the earth as far as globalization is concerned.

Article in Esquire

A short Q&A with Barnett is available on World Changing.

C-SPAN has a fascinating video of a 90 minute talk by Barnett. The video is available directly if you have a streamripper that can download it to your hard drive. (C-SPAN doesn't archive forever.) I listened to part of this and was very intrigued. (But my streamripper, alas, crashes before it gets more than 15% of the way done. Sigh.)

IT Conversations has an MP3 of an interview with Barnett which is perfect for your portable player. I haven't had the time to listen to this yet.

That ought to hold you for a while.

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