Book recommendations

Monopoly: A new take on an old game

By Larry Gennari
Boston Business Journal

During the throes of the pandemic, board games were a refuge, and we dusted off and played a few that miraculously survived my childhood and multiple moves, including Scrabble, Masterpiece, and of course, Monopoly. You can learn a lot about a person (and yourself) when playing Monopoly. Winners end up with hotels on Boardwalk and losers settle for the meager rents offered on Baltic Avenue and the fleeting refuge of Free Parking.

Sure, strategy plays some role (I always buy railroads), but more likely than not, the smug winner of one round can be trounced in the next based on the luck of the dice. So what insights can Monopoly offer on today’s real economy, given that creating vast and dominating wealth at the expense of others is just a game (right)? For answers, we need to consider a few books.

Interestingly, Monopoly dates back to 1904, when Elizabeth Magie first patented the “Landlord’s Game” to promote awareness of income inequality and poverty. If only she knew that the game would reach generations of Americans, among them Monopoly enthusiast and U.S. Sen. and Antitrust Subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar, whose new book Antitrust is a compelling tour de force on U.S. antitrust policy and on the state of the national and global economy today. Starting with American anti-monopoly impulses dating back to the Boston Tea Party and covering more than a century of antitrust action and inaction by Congress and the federal courts, Klobuchar details modern-day competitive challenges in a wide range of industries, including pharma and Big Tech. Her Top 25 list of policy fixes seem sensible, bipartisan and doable. The breadth and depth of this book is impressive, and I especially appreciated Klobuchar’s connection of “competition policy” to the critical state of entrepreneurship in the U.S.

For more on that, you need to read The New Builders, the engaging book by venture capitalist Seth Levine and journalist Elizabeth McBride, on how the next generation of Brown, Black, older, and increasingly female entrepreneurs are remaking and redefining our communities and our economy. Most media attention is on the fewer than 1% of entrepreneurs who are venture capital-backed. Levine and McBride instead introduce us to inspired and inspiring entrepreneurs who are creating “Main Street” businesses that employ fewer than 20 people and yet accounted for over 1.6 million new jobs in 2019 alone. These “new builders” are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, and they face a host of competitive and systemic challenges. You’ll root for them and want to learn more about how we can reduce barriers and increase access to capital to ensure their success.

Indeed, our nation’s continued prosperity depends on a renewed commitment and a shared trust in a vibrant, diverse and competitive business community. All the more reason to read The Power of Trust, the important new book by Harvard Business School authors Sandra Sucher and Shalene Gupta on how trust’s four components — competence, motives, means and impact — shape how we feel about companies, large and small, as customers, employees, suppliers and communities. This is a terrific framework, and for anyone starting a business or managing strategy in an existing one, an essential read. I finished it alongside Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America, Alec MacGillis’ superb book about Amazon’s dominance, which gave the overall theme of trust even more resonance.

We need to get this right — and you should read these books. After all, our economy, much like a great board game, works best when everyone has a chance to win.

Read in the Boston Business Journal

 Authors & Innovators is an occasional column by Larry Gennari, a transactional lawyer, law professor, and chief curator of Authors & Innovators, an annual business book and ideas festival.  Gennari also teaches Project Entrepreneur, a business fundamentals bootcamp for returning citizens, at BC Law School.

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