Here is an apt symbol for our era. At a news conference in New York earlier this month — actually, on the very day that the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly bested the 10,000 mark for the first time — the U.S. toy and game maker Hasbro Inc. announced the results of a campaign to choose a new token for Monopoly, the world’s best-selling board game. And what did the would-be tycoons of the ’90s, who voted via a toll-free hot line, on the Web and in toy stores around America, choose to epitomize the end of the millennium?

Throwing subtlety to the winds, they plumped for … a sack of money (dollar bills, to be exact, although perhaps overseas editions of the classic game of American capitalism will feature little bulging sacks of yen or euros or rupees instead). The bag of cash far outstripped its two rivals in the contest to be the first token added to the game in 40 years: a ’30s-era biplane, symbolizing adventure and nostalgia, and a piggy bank, representing the currently unfashionable virtue of Yankee frugality. A 13-year-old boy at the news conference explained to a report
er just why the new token was the right choice for the time (in case anyone was wondering): “Because it’s money, man,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. Money.”

It wasn’t always all about money, of course. In fact, Monopoly was created at the peak of the Great Depression, when an out-of-work Pennsylvanian named Charles Darrow gambled correctly that poor people might think it fun to play at making their fortunes. The current token of an old work boot points to the game’s Depression origins, and the dog, the iron, the thimble and the wheelbarrow certainly suggest a homelier and thriftier age. The sack of money joins the fantasy tokens — the racehorse, the roadster, the top hat — that point in the other direction, to visions of limitless wealth.

Call it superstitious, but maybe it is foolish at a time like this — with rich America surrounded on every side by stricken or stumbling economies — to tempt fate with such a blatant celebration of greed. It doesn’t pay to forget that the gods play games too.

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