Has Life Changed that Much in the Last 150 years?

If we go back in time to pre-Civil War era United States, we would see a country that is a 180 degrees different than the United States in 2008. The powerful, upper crust of society was dominated by the large plantation owners and slavery was a legal and accepted practice. Wealth was mostly created in agriculture and Wall Street was largely unregulated and but a pittance of what it is today. Leading up to the outset of the Civil War, our country became as divided as it would ever be. The war itself forever altered how U.S. policy is formulated. The Union Army was victorious, slavery was abolished, and America took a huge step forward.

In looking backwards, it is sometimes a fun to speculate on what life would have been like if certain major events had turned out differently (e.g. if the Confederacy had won the war, if Harry Truman had not dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, if the New York Giants had not won Super Bowl XLII and allowed those insufferable Boston fans to forever gloat about their Patriots and their undefeated season, etc.), but the Civil War is arguably the single most defining moment in U.S. history. Had the Confederacy won, America would undoubtedly have followed a radically different path thereafter.

Incidentally, Milton Bradley released the original version of The Game of Life(tm) in 1860, right at the brink of the Civil War. I have no idea how that version was laid out, but I’d love to see a copy of it in a museum somewhere to see its rules, playing pieces, professions to choose from, and dollar (penny?) increments for each of the playing cards and spaces on the board. Many versions have since been released, and each have been updated in order to get the closest match to how life was lived during that particular era. In essence, Milton Bradley tried to create an entertaining game that is a microcosm of our own lives.

The Game of Life was one of my favorite board games growing up and, although I haven’t played it in many years, I bet I’d still get a kick out of it. I’d especially like to see how the latest version (2005) would compare with the 1978 and 1985 versions I used to play.

I can imagine that the college tuition and insurance premiums would be noticeably higher, but what about the professions? Would they be different today than the standard accountant, lawyer, doctor, police officer, etc of yesteryear? Why not include today’s top professions such as Greenhouse Gas Trader, Exotic Derivatives Trader, Sarbanes-Oxley Auditor, and LBO Tycoon?

Additionally, what about the spaces the pieces land on? Is there a space called “Corporate Malfeasance Scandal Uncovered” where anyone who lands on it has to pay the SOX auditor $100,000? What about a space called “Carbon Tax Enforced”, where the GHG trader would collect a fee from everyone? And finally, would the police officer still collect $5,000 from anyone who is caught “speeding” (spinning a 10 on the spinner)? I always did think that $5,000 was a pretty hefty fine for a speeding ticket…

At the end of the game, you might reach retirement and either end up in the Millionaire Estates or the Poor Farm. The player in the Millionaire Estates who has amassed the most money would be declared the winner. But given today’s market dynamics, is this really accurate? Is the Millionaire Estates up for foreclosure because a sub-prime loan was originated and is now defaulting? Or did the investment banker, the LBO magnate, and the trader of these sub-prime loans already lose their jobs and therefore had to drop out of the game early?

By the same token, is there really a Poor Farm today? With the way agriculture and livestock commodity prices are escalating, the farmers are the ones that are now reaping the most benefits while the rest of the supply chain is feeling some pain. After years of suffering losses, maybe it’s about time the tables were turned. Even at the expense of everyone else. Which brings me to my next point.

Isn’t that the way life was before the Civil War? That the farmer/plantation owner represented society’s upper crust and everyone else was simply “everyone else”? So shouldn’t the new version of The Game of Life end at the “Millionaire Farm” and the “Poor Estates” just like it probably did in the 1860 version? And if The Game of Life is supposed to be a microcosm of our own lives, have our lives really changed on a net basis since the Civil War?

Carolyn Ehrlich LCSW, CGP specializes in Relationship Counseling Tribeca. I increase your self- awareness and help you gain more insight into your inner-life. We’ll work together so you can get more out of every day and meet any challenge life throws at you.