The Monopoly Money Era — Are We Too Immature for Capitalism? — Nicole Sallak Anderson
It was love at first sight when I got out of the realtor’s car and saw the building, a beautiful six-flat built before cars and cheap, industrial, profit driven architecture-only a block from Lake Michigan. Gazing upon it, I knew I was home, only making the home mine was a process that would trigger every aspect of my insecurities, as well as my conscience when it comes to money, capital, and the state of the American dream.
There were two units available in the same building, something my realtor said was unusual, given the low inventory of the past few years. The one I loved the most was on the third floor, and the other was on the first. I toured them both and even though I knew it wasn’t quite my home, I bid on the lower unit because as I’ve written recently, my parents and in-laws aren’t aging well, and I feared three stories might be hard for them to climb to. Our property in Bonny Doon is too far away and too wild for them already, and I want to be able to have them over for dinner in my Chicago home. So, I put in a bid, even though it was more expensive and my heart wanted the one on the third floor, and within a few hours got a verbal accept. The seller wanted an earlier closing date, so my realtor quickly updated the contract and sent it back. I was excited, but being from CA, I knew in my heart that until they signed, it wasn’t a done deal.
Turns out my heart is quite wise because the next morning, the sellers said an offer for more came in and they needed to consider it-aka they needed to see if the buyer’s financing would come through. Immediately, I knew I’d made a mistake and should have gone with the one on the third floor, the one I knew was home, the one that had called me here this weekend in the first place. I’d let practicality get in the way of my knowing. Quickly, my realtor sent in an offer for the upper apartment, but the bidding wars had already started up there. Three other offers, all going up, up, up, up…like children playing Monopoly and each of us wanted to buy a part of Park Place.
This up, up, up, up nature of the market concerns me, in part because even though I haven’t enough money to live in California anymore, I thought I’d had enough to return home. My own home burned in a wildfire almost two years ago, and the time has come for me to find my place, and I want it to be closer to my parents, in-laws, and my children on the East Coast. Moreover, I love Chicago as much as I loved the trees that I used to live with before the fire. But as I kept upping my bid and the amount approached my absolute limit, I realized that 1) I might not have enough money to live in Chicago and 2) If that’s true, then who can?
Where are Americans who can’t afford to keep outbidding one another going to live? What happens when even Mediterranean Avenue on the Monopoly board is too expensive for the upper class to buy? Who can win at this game? Our children need shelter, don’t they? Or are they to live with us forever? Our elders should be able to downsize, shouldn’t they? Or do they cling to homes much too big for them to care for because they know if they sell, they might not be able to afford to a smaller home because there are five others bidding against them?
I posted a lament on Facebook, my favorite place to do social research, and learned that this is happening everywhere; from the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the constant new construction in Davenport, Iowa where the homes sell before the foundation is even poured. We’re desperate for housing, yet a group of us is swooping in and overpaying beyond appraised values, changing the whole landscape for the people that already live there. This is what gave me the greatest concern…I was that California asshole myself each time I raised the bid. My desire to return home and use whatever means I had in my bank account was the very thing I abhor, and the seller’s need to exploit my desperation in the name of getting the best offer they could are just as guilty. There we were, buyers and sellers, tearing at the two apartments like a pack of hungry wolves on a dying deer.
What sort of messed up world are we creating?
I got the house, or at least, they signed the contract and asked me to send in escrow money. I should be elated, and yet I’m deflated as if all my joy was released into the atmosphere of greed. This situation is hurting us as a whole and as I experienced the unfolding of this nightmarish interaction, it became clear to me that the issue at hand isn’t money itself, but the very fact that we Americans are children wanting to play with a very grown-up idea and failing miserably.
I love money. I studied economics as my undergraduate electives and fell in love with money even more while pursuing my MBA in International Business. While I stuck with technology as a career, and then eventually homemaking and writing, I’ve continued my love of money, or more importantly, the story of money. I regularly read books written by economists just for fun. To me, money is beautiful, not because supply-side economics looks nice as an equation, but because money is the truest historian of humanity. Money is our faithful scribe.
If you want to know who you really are as a person, then study your bank statements. Where do you spend your money? Whom do you spend it on? Why? How do you feel about your purchases? How did you earn your money? How do you feel about that? Do you ever take the time to think about the story of your money? If you do, you will know more about yourself than any shrink will ever tell you. Money never lies. Money is pure. Money will tell you the story of your heart.
Go deeper, look at each purchase and consider what’s behind it. What did it take for that car to be in your garage? What resources were needed? What amount of labor? Where was it built? Why did you need it? What does it say about you? The story of money is rich, deep, and never, ever false. What you see might make you uncomfortable, but it’s still the truth of who you are as person, both emotionally and intellectually, at the time the money is spent. At the moment, when I look at this transaction I just participated in, I’m ashamed. It’s not the home’s fault, this will be a place of love and memories, as it was for the current owner. A haven like I used to have before the fires took it all away. Yet the story my money tells is painful to read — one of desperation and clinging, out bidding and maneuvering on all our parts-buyers, sellers, and realtors. It’s a story I’d rather forget.
Follow the money and you shall know the truth.
As within, so without.
Money tells the story of our society. A peek at the government budget for the United States of America tells us who we are as Americans-fearful, warmongering, self-interested juveniles set on the acquisition and hording of money, power, and profits at the expense of human lives and environmental degradation. Why would I say that? Because any country that spends more than half of its resources on war is afraid, and here’s the kicker — people who are afraid don’t make particularly positive capitalists.
Capitalism is the golden jewel when it comes to money systems. Free trade allows humans to invest, invent, and imagine. A strong merchant class allows the flow of information and goods in and out of a society. A strong labor class allows for the creation of high-quality products to improve the lives of the community. This ideally happens within the structure of freedom. The freedom to choose your craft or trade, the freedom to acquire capital and investments, and the freedom to spend your money according to your values. When viewed this way, what could go wrong?
There are three components to the creation of goods-raw materials, labor, and capital. Where do we get our raw materials? From the earth. Where do we get our labor? From humanity and technology, which has been invented by humanity. Where do we get our capital? From banks, family members, profits, venture capitalists, rich folk with nothing better to do, insurance payouts when your home is destroyed in ecological disaster, and the sale of investments. When a human is empowered and living from a place of ingenuity, these three things are in balance. The higher the person or society moves up Maslow’s hierarchy, the clearer their thinking and the ability to plan long term kicks in. This is what capitalism requires — healthy adults who are secure enough to see the bigger picture and operate from a place where the relationships between raw materials (nature), labor (humanity,) and capital (money) are in harmony. One is not focused upon to the detriment of the other.
A person who lives in fear, who’s afraid of losing something, whether it’s their yacht, their stock options, their job, their house, their hot girlfriend, or even their national identity or status among peers, will not be able to keep the three in balance. Since capitalism eventually produces profits, which is what ultimately remedies a person’s fear and insecurities, then that is where the short term, fearful human will focus. How do I get more capital? How to I pay my investors and still make a buck? How can I implement a system of trade laws that maximizes capital so I can have never ending growth? How do I manipulate a situation overseas to force regime change so that I can have control of the raw materials of that region? How do I make sure I get this house no matter what, even if it means overbidding to the point that I alter the real estate market in this area forever? How do I get the most for my house even though I already said yes to someone who has already offered me over asking? This type of society will not consider what happens to nature when its resources are over-mined for production, nor what happens to workers when benefits are reduced to increase the bottom line, nor what happens to the local economy when we throw hundreds of thousands over asking price just to live there.
Many Americans claim the government should stay out of the economy, yet when business leaders pay the government to create labor and environmental laws that enable them to make more money, that’s progress. Or when our real estate values rise 35% but wages are stagnant for 90% of the population, that’s progress. Why? Why is it progress to operate from the mindset of a child? A toddler can’t understand why he needs to share. His parents show him that, yet sharing isn’t about taking from the 1% and giving back to the 99%. It’s about implementing capitalism in a way that keeps all three things-nature, labor, and capital-in balance.
It takes an adult mentality to do that. America, unfortunately, doesn’t have what it takes. We’re the selfie-stick culture. The mine, mine, mine culture. The individual reigns supreme culture. America has become the place where adults think its fine to throw a tantrum on an airplane because they don’t want to wear a mask. America is a place where it’s okay when one celebrity slaps another on national TV because they’re offended by a tasteless joke. America is a place where arguing about each of these events is a political identity imperative and the Twitter/Tik Tok battles that ensue soothe the American fear of not having enough.
Capitalism requires a certain emotional and intellectual advancement from its people. Money has always required this from us. To me, money isn’t the root of all evil, it’s the refusal to grow up and see the connections between all of us that causes all the evil in the world. Money is just the messenger.
And everyone knows you shouldn’t kill the messenger.