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I’ve been a fan of Monopoly all my life.  Getting brothers and sisters, let alone parents, to play this long game has been hard.  Whenever I had the chance, I would play.  One year for Christmas I got Deluxe Monopoly, the board, box, and various parts of the game wrapped separately so I would have plenty of presents under the tree.  I own a book about Monopoly that gives secrets to the game, among which is the hint to buy orange and red properties, statistically the most landed on spaces. 
 
Before I had real money to speak of, I decided to budget when I played Monopoly.  I kept a ledger and gave myself a $200 allowance each time around the board.  The allowance rolled over, but this budget was not the best strategy for Monopoly.  Property is, as you might expect, key in Monopoly.  (Allowances reduce spending power when the most properties are available.)  In Monopoly, finishing the game is important.  Long term strategy requires that you invest cash now in the future, planning to finish the game as the only player not bankrupt.  Stopping earlier cheats the strategists. 
 
Learning financial principles and investment strategies can be useful, and Monopoly is a versatile tool.  We know there are versions of Monopoly for all sorts of things, changing the wording and the pictures on a board to match a theme: Golf, Disney, Dinosaurs.  Some of these, like Lord of the Rings Monopoly, even offer optional new rules.  Inspired by these game-twisting ideas, my friends and I have come up with some of our own new rules.  Far different than “house rules” (using Free Parking as a lottery), these are made to challenge the way you strategize, and how you think about capital, commerce, and taxes. 
 
Here are a few Alternate Monopoly Rules. —  All games must be finished.  Early terminations necessarily end in a draw, with no winners.  Versions are meant to be played one at a time, and not combined.  However, feel free to modify these rules for your own use.  Unless stated, all rules are as printed in the Monopoly Rule Book.  As a general rule for inventing alternate rules, keep things simple. 
 
Inflation
Every time you pass Free Parking, your cash will be assessed and 25% will be returned to the Bank.  Properties will not be assessed.  Your salary upon passing GO remains the same. 
 
Ultimate Portal (Aughenbaughs)
Use 2 Monopoly Boards, preferably with slightly different cards (vintage, specialized version).  Landing directly on Go on either board shoots you to the opposite board.  Also switch the chance and community chest cards from the two versions.  When a Chance or Community Chest card tells you to go somewhere, go there on the opposite board.  Everyone starts on one board. 
 
Swiss Bank Account
Play like Ultimate Portal with these additions.
Any cash COLLECTED while your piece is on the SECOND board goes into a Swiss Bank Account.  The player may take cash out of that account at any time, but cannot arbitrarily add money.  Income Taxes and Bankruptcies cannot touch any cash in the Swiss Bank Account.  It stays there through the whole game, even if you are bankrupted in the main game.  At the end of the game (when only one player in the main game has any money), the initial winner adds his main game money to his Swiss bank account.  If his total is greater than the balances of his opponents in their Swiss bank accounts, he wins. 
 
Criminal Justice
When you roll three doubles, get a “Go directly to Jail” card, or land on the “go to jail” space on the board, if you do not have a “Get out of Jail free” card with which to bribe the judge, your game is over.  You are capitally executed and your assets are returned to the bank in full. 
 
Wartime/Draft
All taxes are doubled.
If you land directly on any of the four corner squares, you have been drafted.  Roll the dice to determine your fate:
1-Tour of Duty.  Sit out 3 turns.  Come back (to GO) exempt from future service and any taxes.
2-War Hero.  Same as 1 with $1,000 bonus.
3-Casualty.  Game over.  Return assets to the Bank.
4-Draft Dodger.  Sit out 3 turns.  Resume play from GO.  If on any turn afterwards you land on a street property, you may buy any unowned properties in that color group.  If you subsequently land on Go to Jail or get a Go to Jail Card, your game is over.
5-Amputee.  Sit out 1 turn.  Resume play from GO.  All future turns, roll both dice and divide by 2, rounding up. 
6-Did not Qualify.  Proceed with game as normal. 
 
Socialist
At the start of the game all properties are shuffled and dealt to the players.  All rents are the prices posted on Indiana.  Chance and Community Chest cards that involve spending or receiving money apply to everyone.
 
Triggered Socialism
If at any time the least propertied player has 3 or more properties LESS than the next richest player, EVERY player must return his lowest-priced property to the bank.  
 
Economic Stimulus
Pay taxes and fees to Free Parking.  If anyone lands on Free Parking, the pot is divided evenly among all players, with remainders going to the player who landed on the space. 
 
Jubilee
Every time a 7 is rolled, all mortgages are automatically forgiven.  Every 7th time around the board, all rent is free. 
 
Savings Discrimination
Every player must spend money on each trip around the board.  If he completes a circuit without spending money, he must pay a fine of $50 to the bank. 
 
Debt Incentive
If you own a mortgaged property, you do not have to pay any taxes.
 
Foreclosure
If a player lands on a mortgaged property, he may pay 110% of the mortgage value to the bank and acquire that property. 
 
Libertarian
Taxes and jail are cancelled.
 
Mobster
Make up your own rent.  If you own a property, you have 2 options.  You can charge a tenant the printed rent.  Or you can make up your own rent, at which point you have a shoot-off with the tenant.  You each roll one dice.  The higher number wins.  Winner (landlord or tenant) collects the made-up rent from the loser.  In case of a tie, both players pay printed rent to the bank.
 
2012
Put a sticker on a community chest card, and one on a chance card.  Shuffle both decks (separately).  Play Monopoly as usual.  When the special Chance card is drawn, 2012 has arrived; the End of the World has come.  Clean up the game.  There are no winners.  If you draw the special Community Chest card, you can play it as written.  Or you can keep it as a Cycle Card.  If the holder of that card so chooses at the End of the World, he can play his card.  Instead of the world ending, it merely begins a new cycle or phase.  The game is still over, but assets are summed and a winner is declared. 
 
Freaky Friday
Whenever doubles are rolled, players keep their same pieces but all assets shift clockwise (to the left).  No new rents are paid as a result of the exchange until the next turn.
 
Insurance
Optional: Each player has the option at the beginning of the game of receiving a reduced Go paycheck of $150 as insurance against Utilities and Railroads.  The extra $50 goes into the middle of the board and pays Utilities and Railroads charges unless there is no money in the pot, at which point the rents/fees are still charged at $0. 
 
Mayor
When someone rolls a 12, he becomes Mayor.  He holds the special mayor piece.  Property improvements (houses and hotels) are half price to him while he holds that piece.  Mayors are exempt for the duration of their term from property assessment cards.  The next person to roll a 12 is elected the new Mayor.  No special privileges are retroactive.  
 
Feel free to share your own special rules in the comment section!
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn
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I am no fan of government involvement in commerce, even when the industry is health care.  As with most government programs, the three arguments are simple: First, it is quite illogical to think that we can funnel money through a string of middlemen, each of which receives their cut, and come out ahead.  Second, the more the government controls the money, the more they control everything else.  We see this in the recent bailouts of banks, where CEO’s were deprived of their prearranged bonuses by force, and also in the car manufacturing fiasco where the government first handed the money and second forced a government-arranged bankruptcy.  The fear is that when the government is funding health care, the government will tell doctors and patients their options.  Finally, every other experiment the government has made in taking over an industry, however charitable, has been a money-draining disaster with worse results.  For example, consider social security or the public education system. 

Obviously there are other concerns with a socialized, or even a partially socialized health care system.  If things go as they have in Europe and Canada, lines will be long, doctors scarce, and treatments almost rationed (or chosen for their cost efficiency rather than effectiveness).  Private health insurance companies (which insure no such thing) may be put out of business.  Perhaps they ought to be put out of business, but the government is hardly an improvement.  We might worry about fraud, or about people taking advantage of services that cost them nothing. 

 The Problem with Health Insurance

There are two reasons why the people want the government involved in health care:  Many individuals are not insured and cannot afford the high costs of treatment or even of preventative checks.  As an act of charitable compassion, some people argue, the government should take responsibility for these “underprivileged.”  Others, many of whom work in the industry, agree that the present health insurance system is not as good as it ought to be, and think that the government should fix it.  Not surprisingly, these two groups of constituents are looking for very different things from their government.  But they each voted for the same man as president because he at least sounded concerned about the issue. 

 Status Quo

I realize the relatively-free-market health insurance system is not meeting needs, though I believe a free market solution would be better.  Let me describe the problem.  An insurance company takes money monthly to insure you and your family.  They put that money into a pot, part of which goes to pay their employees.  The rest is a bet they make that you will not need the full amount of your premium.  Sometimes they lose the bet, but as long as they don’t lose too often, they can apply the extra money they charged you to the bills for other people.  To keep their costs down, insurance companies tend to be selective and difficult about accepting claims.  They use different ploys, like keeping the most expensive treatments out of formularies; claiming that the treatments are experimental or cosmetic; restricting the doctors you see to those in a pre-approved network; or by prohibitive referral processes.  Insurance companies sign contracts with in-network doctors agreeing to pay a certain amount for specific services – usually an amount less than that which the doctor would usually bill.  This though it actually costs a doctor more to bill an insurance company, due to the amount and hassle of paperwork required.  On top of this, the insurance company usually requires you to pay a copay or percentage of your bill.  Or another old-fashioned, lower-priced option is to have a deductible.  In this system, the patient pays for routine care and emergency expenses up to a certain amount (which they may or may not exceed in a year, and would probably do better not to exceed), at which point the insurance kicks in with a discount or normal coverage.  More on this later. 

To compensate for the arbitrary reductions that insurance companies make to the amount of a doctor’s fee, doctors are almost forced to raise their prices to fool insurance companies into paying them what they need to make a living.  Competitively low prices have been eliminated by an across-the-board amount insurance will pay.  What is to be gained by a doctor charging the insurance less than they have agreed to pay? 

The Corporation Aspect

Insurance companies, except for Medicaid and Medicare, have been private enterprises, required to compete for customers.  To gain a competitive edge, there are several options.  The most obvious is advertising.  Name recognition is important.  Companies can advertise having a large pool of doctors in their networks, easy paperwork, comprehensive coverage, low premiums, small deductibles or copays, perks like inexpensive prescription drugs, or customized get-only-what-you-need plans.  The problem is, insurance companies as a rule have become accustomed to advertising to corporations or businesses, not to individuals. 

Enter Government Interference

I have not studied how the benefits became a normal offering from a corporation to its slaves, but I suspect taxes (translate: government interference and manipulation) have something to do with it.  This is what I know.  Businesses are taxed on the amount of money they pay their employees.  Employees are taxed on their income.  Some things on which people spend their money are tax-exempt (food and medical expenses in most cases).  Perhaps businesses sought to increase the incentive to work for them by offering the untaxed add-on’s? 

(excerpt from an article at http://www.ebri.org/publications/facts/index.cfm?fa=0302fact: “In 1910, Montgomery Ward entered into one of the earliest group insurance contracts. Prior to World War II, few Americans had health insurance, and most policies covered only hospital room, board, and ancillary services. During World War II, the number of persons with employment-based health insurance coverage started to increase for several reasons. When wages were frozen by the National War Labor Board and a shortage of workers occurred, employers sought ways to get around the wage controls in order to attract scarce workers, and offering health insurance was one option. Health insurance was an attractive means to recruit and retain workers during a labor shortage for two reasons: Unions supported employment-based health insurance, and workers’ health benefits were not subject to income tax or Social Security payroll taxes, as were cash wages.

“Under the current tax code, health insurance premiums paid by employers are deductible for employers as a business expense, and are excluded, without limit, from workers’ taxable income.”)

Why is this adverse?  As long as the employees of the company are not complaining – or in worse cases, not threatening strike or resignation – the corporations are under no pressure to do what is best for the patients.  They will buy insurance plans that cost them the least money.  Even if two plans cost the same low price, how is a corporation to know which health insurance provider will offer better service? 

Starbucks and Competition

Let’s compare this to something simple and familiar: Starbucks.  On every corner, there is a Starbucks.  One might be on your way out of your neighborhood when you’re headed to work.  Your grocery store might have one in the corner.  Or there may be that chic spot where you always have coffee with your girlfriends.  Which Starbucks do you patronize?  There might be a friendly Starbucks, a convenient Starbucks, the one with the drive-thru or the excellent customer service.  You might prefer a clean Starbucks or a less busy coffee location.  A few Starbucks offer different selections for their bakery, or later hours.  If you ever have a bad experience at one franchise, you can switch loyalties and frequent the Starbucks across the street. 

Now what if the company you work for, as part of your compensation package, had agreed to fund your Starbucks addiction?  Yet for their convenience they bought a package with a single Starbucks site for all of their employees.  To use your benefits, which your company already paid for, you must go to the Starbucks they chose.  The person who selected the corporate Starbucks didn’t even like coffee, has no idea where you live or whether you like bakery items or drive-thrus.  But now you’re stuck.  To take advantage, you have to drive clear out of your way, get out of your car and walk in, only to find they don’t have the muffins you like and the barrista is grumpy every day.  If you get ambitious, you may complain to your human resources department in hopes that they would change coffee shops for you.  But then someone else is unhappy, because they don’t like the busy, cramped feeling of a drive-thru when they’re reading their novel in the corner, hugging a cardboard-ringed cup of coffee. 

What’s more, as this trend catches on, more and more businesses start choosing a Starbucks for their employee benefits.  Starbucks realizes that they can earn as much by pleasing one corporation as they could by catering to a thousand individual customers.  Once the contract is landed, there’s almost no possibility the business would pull out.  Service wanes, options are reduced, prices inflated, and soon no one who is not part of a corporate plan can afford to buy Starbucks.  Opting for your old favorite Starbucks near your house with the drive-thru and muffins costs you an arm and a leg – and they don’t even have muffins anymore, because that isn’t part of the plan the corporation who chose them wanted.  Your neighbor has to give up his Starbucks addiction because he is self-employed and can’t afford it. 

And the economics get worse, because your wife and kids used to love Starbucks.  The corporate plan includes them (and the trend has made it impossible to afford mocha frappachinos anywhere else), only at that one Starbucks.  To reduce corporate costs, though, they start to restrict the family plan.  Wives and kids under 18 can be included for now for a monthly fee.  After 18, if they enroll in college, the company will still fund their Starbucks life – who knows why the company cares.  Then all of a sudden, at 25, no matter what your family values or circumstances, your kids are no longer covered.  “So get over it,” my reader says, “It’s only coffee.” 

Dire Consequences

But I’m not talking about coffee.  I’m talking about health care, without which you will live with chronic pain or illness.  When you break a bone and can’t afford the X-rays and doctor’s visits, you forever cripple yourself, limiting your employment possibilities.  Or you may die, after exposing your community to sickness.  And remember, the reason an average uninsured person cannot afford basic health care is because the prices are inflated due to insurance policies and corporate-appealing non-competition. 

 Every Man for Himself

In the Starbucks illustration, I even skipped a step, eliminated the middle man.  That middle man not only harms you, the patient, but also the doctor.  And the less lucrative it becomes to be a doctor, the less people want to be doctors.  When there are not enough doctors for immediate care, you wait.  The service gets worse, more and more limited because all these unnecessary people are skimming off their share, and there isn’t enough money to pay for what is needed at the inflated prices.  But everyone is out for themselves, including the patient.  They’re going to get the most they can out of their coverage, too, taking advantage of any free or fully covered procedure, necessary or not.  These procedures have their place, and their price, but are not for everyone.  Someone is paying for them, even if it is not the patient, and no one is benefiting. 

How the Government Makes Things Worse

An astute observer may already have realized that if the government takes over the Starbucks plan system, the problem is only going to get worse.  There will be even less competition; more cost-cutting standardization of inventory; and less incentive for providers leading to less providers and longer waiting and higher costs.  This is not even to mention the regulation that will accompany the government plan, or the government-funded coverage for those who could not afford health insurance under the old system. 

 Creation Rather than Creativity

Nevertheless, the Obama administration presses on towards a government option for health insurance.  A nation already so much in debt that it cannot hope to get out of it, threatened with economic collapse, high unemployment, and runaway inflation is going to invent more money (and possibly also increase your taxes) with which to provide health care to its poor.  The US may be able to create dollars ex nihilo, but it cannot create doctors, and we are going to run low. 

Government Advantage

What’s more, this government plan will have the unmatchable advantage of an endless supply of money for which they will have to give little account, as opposed to the private competitors who have to make do with what they can collect by way of premiums.  Analysts fear that private insurance companies will be shouldered out of business by the government “option.”  Corporations will not choose to carry the expense of health insurance when their employees could get coverage from the government. 

Rationing

Others who risk prophesying anticipate a responsible government (don’t know where they got that idea), which will limit the amount of imaginary money they’re spending, and be forced to ration care.  Even aside from the money, as I said, fewer providers in business may demand rationing, too.  The most fearful consequences of this potentiality are the way decisions will be made.  Would a rationing system choose a younger person for care over an elderly person?  If your condition is the most expensive to treat, would you be left untreated?  Or perhaps your chances of survival are small, so there will be no attempt made to save your life.  An extreme government might choose by party loyalty or by race.  When choices like that have to be made, motives become suspect. 

Forecasting Good Things

Now for the bright side.  Barring a law prohibiting paying for your own care or health insurance, the private half of the system might be improved by this sudden competition.  If under a national health care system you cannot get treatment or if you doubt the quality of the treatment, you may take your savings and pay dearly for health care yourself.  It will be interesting to see if all doctors will be required to accept the government health plan, or if they will have the option of demanding private pay. 

Free Markets Fight Back

When corporations start dropping benefits from their compensation packages, employees worried about the level of health care they might receive under a government-run plan will have the competitive option of buying health care for themselves and their families outside of the corporate insurance model.  I believe the best option for reforming the health care industry is to make just this shift, to competing for the business of the individual rather than the company.  Already I see insurance companies marketing to that class of consumers.  Such policies would be most efficient as catastrophic coverage, for medical expenses exceeding tens of thousands of dollars.  Patients would pay out of pocket for routine medical visits and simple treatments like antibiotics, but in case of surgery, hospital stays, or a disease like cancer, those high costs would be covered.

The Answer for the Poor

In either case the solution requires that you have enough money of your own to pay for health care.  Most people do not.  So in the end we may survive this government takeover only by prevention and caring for each other in community.  Eat healthy.  Wash your hands.  Get enough sleep.  Join a community of people who are going to watch your back – maybe even an insurance community where you all save your money together, agreeing to help each other if any of you incurs a major medical expense. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Do you ever get those moments where you have an idea, and after thinking through it, decide it wouldn’t work?  And then an hour or so later you get the same idea, but have to think through it all over again to realize it won’t work? 

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the thought, “I should just get all my money out of the bank.”  And then the thought inevitably follows, “If the bank crashes, so does the dollar.  What good will it do you to have buckets of cash?” 

 

So you might have guessed I think this is a possibility.  And that the thought has crossed my mind recently that the bank is not the safest place to guard my assets.  Recent events have not improved my confidence. 

 

Earlier this year the Congress approved an economic stimulus package, giving away hundreds of dollars to each individual who filed an Income Tax Form.  This was money they didn’t have.  It was borrowed.  But don’t worry; the government has no intention of paying the debts.  In other words, the money is imaginary.  And as long as you go with the flow, believing in the imaginary system, the system floats.  A crash is coming. 

 

Of course the government announced to everyone that it was flooding the markets with all this extra cash, encouraging people to spent.  Anyone selling something ought to have realized the impact is the same as inflation.  In fact it was inflation: infusing the markets with invented money.  All the prices go up accordingly, and except for consumer confidence, nothing is gained.  Consumer confidence, if not backed by reality, is only setting us up for a harder fall. 

 

Such is the direction of US policy.  We push concepts of money and values higher and higher, borrowing more and more as a government and as individuals. 

 

For example, the mortgage industry bail-out.  A mere few weeks ago, without asking me or even informing me ahead of time, someone in the government (I think it was an unelected entity) approved essentially a take-over of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  I must say that the government’s regulations and requirements for these companies had already constituted a take-over.  To gain popularity, the Democratic Congress and Executive during the 90’s instituted policies requiring foolish loans to be made.  For example, they required welfare payments to be counted as income when qualifying for a mortgage. 

 

Now the mortgage industry is in shambles.  House prices are too high to be afforded by normal people unless they take one of these horrible loans.  The moment times get tight (like gas prices go up by supply and demand, raising the prices of any goods transported from origin to buyers), “homeowners” can’t make payments, and the lenders are stuck losing money.  Their recourse is to foreclose, which isn’t a money-producing venture.  Foreclosure is cutting one’s losses. 

 

Since this is all the result of government interference in the markets, it is hard to not expect the government to fix their mistake.  The problem is that the government can’t fix it.  If they do anything at all (except for backing off their policies demanding imprudent lending practices), they will only make matters worse – economically and politically.  Nevertheless, do something they did. 

 

And do something they are trying to again.  Some people are objecting because the $700,000,000,000 plan introduced this week gives control of the money ultimately to one man which it explicitly makes unaccountable and unreviewable to any body of people.  My objection is more fundamental.  Government, whose purse only comes from taxes and loans (which are taxes), has no business doing anything with $700 billion, let alone something in the markets.  They need to back out. 

 

I don’t even know how to begin to petition our government for a redress of grievances for how they have exceeded the Constitution in the economic sector.  The last thing I want is for them to give me money they don’t have again.  What needs to happen is almost universal reform.  Recall every congressman who exceeds his Constitutional jurisdiction by voting for government interference in or support of financial institutions. 

 

What if the government does what it ought, and stays out of this?  Doesn’t our economy desperately need imaginary money to rescue us?  Our economy will suffer a major correction, hard times, probably increased unemployment.  Ultimately we will be better off.  Our position will be less precarious.  We will be saved from a harder fall or worse political/international outcomes should we try to prop our markets yet again.  Some financial institutions may even fail, if the government bail out does not go through. 

 

Be reasonable, though.  Does anyone want irresponsible financial institutions to continue?  What about these financial maneuvers and loopholes on which entire industries are based?  I’m skeptical of the stock market, let alone the industries whose sole purpose is to lend money.  The Bible is pretty much against debt, especially the kind with interest; it’s probably for a good reason.  Eliminating these industries will make transactions in this country a lot more straightforward, accessible to every man (also giving small legitimate businesses a fair chance of competition and survival).  In this time of mismanagement and corruption, transparency is undeniably something to be desired. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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My brother and I were talking the other night and I had an insight (being only informally trained in economics – I could have been taught it if I’d just taken a class).  But I don’t know if there’s a name for it.  So I’m asking. 
 
I heard an ad for investing in gold.  The price per ounce has gone up a lot in the past couple years, and is understandably predicted to continue to rise.  Right now I think the commercial said the going price is $700 an ounce.  But while I might have $700 free cash to invest waiting for the gold to increase in value, I’m not allowed to buy gold one ounce at a time.  So there is a minumum amount of money I have to have before I can participate in investment.  Buying a home is very similar.  Debt makes money more available in larger amounts (paid back in smaller increments), thus raising the minimum line. 
 
Bartering went out of fashion because having one cow didn’t work as a trade for one spear, since the cow was really worth say, 300 spears.  So we have capital, money, to be the fluid in between and prevent us needing a minimum number of available cows to trade in order to participate.  Capitalism, therefore, should have fixed the minimum line problem. 
 
But then we add inflation (caused by debt on a national level), which depriciates the money someone below the minimum line has, so that they are, rather than gaining worth by saving money, actually losing ground.  They must continue going to work (as an employee, most often) just to get enough money to survive – if that.  And there’s no way out.  This is the modern equivalent to serfs, or the slave class. 
Marx saw this, I assume (never read Marx myself), but his solution doesn’t solve anything.  It emphasizes inflation and simultaneously erases any home of overcoming it through investment.  Marxism is like bailing water from a still-sinking boat. 
 
So what’s it called, the minimum line to participate in investment that would protect your income? 
And what should we do?  
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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