Tuesday, December 02, 2008

We are doomed. Well, our kids are anyway.

Think we've learned fiscal discipline? Think we've had our collectively irresponsible bottoms slapped and that we're through with the "buy now, pay never" mentality? That we've pledged to do much better in the years ahead?

You're wrong. And I didn't come to this conclusion after reading the latest pronouncements form economists, futurists, lawmakers and financial gurus. I figured it out by watching a commercial on television. A commercial for the latest edition of Monopoly. The "no cash needed" version of the game.

Remember Monopoly? I have vivid memories of playing the game during my childhood, where we would start a game of Monopoly on a small table in our dining room on a Monday morning and by the next Wednesday, we still weren't quite finished with it. We just kept winnowing each other out, and watch whoever bought Park Place and Boardwalk, plus the green and orange properties, wipe up the rest of us who bought the purple, violet and two railroads instead.

It's also interesting to recall the money we would count out and watch over so carefully as we could until we passed Go and collected another paycheck.

Well, all of that angst and strategizing may be something of a 20th century anachronism. The newest version of the game is a 'No Cash' needed edition. Here is some of the language from the copy on the website: "Wheel and deal your way to a fortune even faster using debit cards instead of cash! All it takes is a card swipe for money to change hands. Now you can collect rent, buy properties and pay fines - with the touch of a button." I can barely stand to think about it.

Maybe they have some new tokens that represent banks who go around the board reclaiming properties that have fallen into foreclosure. Maybe there are loan documents that replace the money the banks used to hand out. Maybe instead of Chance cards there are decks of overdue notices and credit cards.

Here's the thing. I realize plenty of people who played the old-fashioned Monopoly are the very same people who are losing homes, cars and any hope of reasonable credit because of poor financial choices they've made. Or because the people who pushed various financial instruments on them (who also played the old game)made some unscrupulous decisions that benefited themselves and their companies.

But do we have any hope of anyone who is prime Monopoly-playing age recognizing the dangers of buying without money in the bank, or spending beyond your means if its modeled for them in a venerable board game?

Sure, it's not Finance 101 but Monopoly was the closest any of us ever came to a course in money management. Whether or not it mattered in terms of our behavior in the long run is debatable. And it should take about twenty years or so to see if the latest version means anything in the real world or not.

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