People all over the world love to play Monopoly.
As of 2013, Hasbro had sold more than 275 million Monopoly games in 111 countries. The game-maker produces it in 43 different languages. San Francisco jeweler Sidney Mobell created a version the game valued at $2 million, featuring a 23-karat gold board and diamond studded dice.
Monopoly world champions hail from 10 different countries, including the United States, Ireland, Singapore, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Japan, Netherlands, Hong Kong and Spain. Hasbro estimates more the 1 billion people have played Monopoly since its creation in 1935. Clearly, the quest for power knows no geographical or socio-economic boundaries.
So, why do we love monopoly?
Because deep down, we all want to dominate the board.
You have probably experienced “that guy.” Heck, maybe you are that guy! You know – the soft-natured soul who suddenly turns into an obnoxious jerk, taunting and chortling with glee after purchasing hotels for Boardwalk and Park Place. Every time one of his hapless victims lands on his property, he jumps up, and bellows with pleasure at their misfortune and quickly demands payment. When he finally bankrupts and opponent, he pumps his fist as if he just won the Super Bowl.
Most find it intoxicating. And even the seemingly docile personalities can quickly find themselves swept up and transformed by its exhilarating currents. As Lord Acton famously said:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
Or if you prefer a more artistic expression, consider the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches.
America’s founding generation took great pains to avoid centralizing power. Why? Because they did not trust authority placed into the hands of a few. The founding generation feared monopolized power. Abigail Adams expressed the general distrust for political authority in a letter to her husband dated Nov. 27, 1775.
“The great fish swallow up the small; and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government.”
The founding generation drafted and ratified a Constitution that enumerated only a few, specific powers to the general government, leaving all other authority with the states and the people. They built a system intended to ensure decision-making power remained distributed among many sources. They even included checks and balances within the federal government, distributing authority and thus ensuring no individual or small group would ever dominate the system. They endeavored to ensure those “great fish…eager after the prerogatives of government” would remain checked within competing spheres of authority.
The Tenth Amendment made explicit this fundamental constitutional structure. It was implied in the very nature of the Constitution itself, but the Tenth set it in stone – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The Constitution was intended to prevent the kind of monopoly government we have centered in Washington D.C. today. You know a government has become monopolistic when it dictates how much water you can have in your toilet and what kind of light bulbs you can screw into your fixtures.
They didn’t call it monopoly government during the founding era, but many expressed concern about the “consolidation of the states,” into one homogeneous mass. During the Massachusetts ratifying convention, delegate Fisher Ames argued for the inclusion of language that would later become the Tenth Amendment. He said a consolidation of the states – monopoly government – would “subvert the Constitution.”
“Too much provision cannot be made against consolidation. The State Governments represent the wishes and feelings, and the local interests of the people. They are the safeguard and ornament of the Constitution; they will protect the period of our liberties; they will afford a shelter against the abuse of power, and will be the natural avengers of our violated rights.”
The United States has become exactly what the founding generation feared. The states have become consolidated under a monopoly government in Washington D.C. But all is not lost. They still have the power to protect our liberties and afford shelter against the abuse of power. They can still break the monopoly. We just need leadership at the state level willing to assert state authority.
James Madison gave us a blueprint. He advised a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union.” This doesn’t take any special legal maneuvering. It just requires state legislators with the courage to say, “No!” For all of its centralized, monopoly power, the federal government still needs state personnel and resources to enforce its laws and implement it programs. When states refuse, the feds find it nearly impossible to get anything done.
Most people recognize the danger of monopoly power in the economic realm. It is just as dangerous in the political realm. That’s why the Constitution decentralized power and divided authority. It’s time to break up the monopoly!