The idea of how we lived before civilization is contested between philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hobbes believed we behaved like savages and the civilizing influence of government saved us from a wretched existence. Rousseau on the other hand thought that we used to live much more harmoniously in an equal society at a time before land ownership. These ideas can be found in his book The Social Contract (1762).
People who own land have a financial advantage over those that do not. As Mark Twain famously said ‘buy land, they’re not making it anymore’. Henry George in his famous book Progress and Poverty (1879) proposed a system of taxation that would work to even out this wealth disparity called the ‘Land Value Tax’. This tax would be levied on property, whereas labour would be untaxed.
Lizzie Magie, a game designer and supporter of the Land Value Tax invented a board game to show how unfair the monopoly on land ownership can be. This game The Landlord’s Game slowly morphed into the game we know today as Monopoly. Unfortunately for Magie, Charles Darrow falsely claimed the idea as his own when he sold it to the Parker Brothers and she was written out of history for some time.
During the colonial scramble for Africa, land was stolen from the local people by various European powers. Here in South Africa this land was never returned and there is talk now of changing Section 25 of the constitution in order to expropriate land without compensation. About 20 years ago a similar fast-track land reform took place in Zimbabwe in a controversial and violent manner.
In both Zimbabwe and South Africa early European settlers imposed a Hut Tax onto the local population. This levy per hut forced the inhabitants to work for the settlers as part of the newly formed economy providing them with a workforce. In the colony of Mashonaland, now part of Zimbabwe the hut tax was 10 shillings per hut. This led to an act of rebellion among the Shona people that became known as the ‘First Chimurenga’.
In the USA during the late 19th century some large corporations became monopolies in their respective fields: oil, railways and steel for example. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 was passed to end monopolies in the USA. That same year Cecil John Rhodes used the Rudd Concession to send a pioneer column into what is now Zimbabwe. As a result of the antitrust law in the USA, De Beers, founded by Rhodes was not allowed to operate there because it monopolized the diamond trade. The De Beers monopoly was finally dismantled at the turn of the 21st century.
There are now 5 new American corporations that are dominating the market place. The big tech companies Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook currently function as monopolies.