In a bid to sell more of the games that everyone already owns, Hasbro took to social media to decided what traditional Monopoly piece would get the axe, and what would replace it. The new options weren't exactly iconic: a guitar, a helicopter, a diamond ring, a robot, and a cat. And because this is the Internet, the sad old iron got punted, and the cat won. Surprise!
But aside from the fact that it offers species balance with the original dog, the cat is a terrible choice. Monopoly is capitalism on a board, and the iron always stood as a symbol of the pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality that, for much of the 20th century, acted as a promise that hard work, even rote manual labor, can lead to success. Sure, you might start off at minimum wage on Baltic Avenue, but the iron stood as Monopoly's promise that one day, if you work hard and save your singles, you might end up owning a laundromat on St. James Place.
But while the iron pays (paid) lip service to the mythical small business owner, everyone knows that's not what Monopoly's about. It's about starting off your career as a land baron with enough cash to buy Park Place and Boardwalk twice. Monopoly, at its heart, is less about capitalism as an economic structure and more about all-poweful, well-funded Capitalists (with a capital "C" just like Ayn Rand would want it). As you speed about in your sports car with the massive bankroll you've been handed, not earned, you laugh as you're asked to pay a poor tax of $15 right after you dropped $1,000 on hotels. Every now and then you get $200 just for being a fast mover, and if you're ever tossed in jail, leaving is a trivial monetary affair.
Monopoly is how we plebes get a window into the bubble of the hyperwealthy, and I suppose that it's fitting that people voted out one of the only symbols of good-old labor in the game. And look at the rest of the pieces that nearly got kicked out: the wheelbarrow, the thimble, the actual bootstrap. Monopoly is finally reflective of our modern United States, where the lopsided concentration of wealth has outpaced banana republics. Your wheelbarrow is no longer relevant, and no one even knows what the fuck a thimble is. In 2013, Monopoly is for tycoons only.
So how the hell did we end up a cat? If we weren't going to go with the helicopter, how about a summer home in Europe? If a high-frequency trading algorithm piece is too hard to envision, why not a $100,000 nightclub receipt that's been Instagrammed for personal brand development?
Or, if we really want to represent the modern tycoon, why not the robot? Sure, one day robots will save us all from our jobs, but right now automization is the best thing since outsourcing for executives looking to climb out of the rubble of the Great Recession. Neil Irwin, writing for the Washington Post, notes Harley-Davidson as the model of efficiency: the firm has increased motorcycle-per-worker production from 33 per year in 2002 to 41 in 2012. During that time, the firm's workforce dropped by 2,000 employees.
I certainly don't mean to pick on Harley, as a) that's how a smart business is run these days and b) that recent example is replicated throughout the entire auto industry, and for manufacturing as a whole. The manufacturing sector in the U.S. has increased productivity per worker by about five times since World War II, a boom that's mostly come in recent years as a huge boom in robotic manufacturing has required fewer workers to do the same tasks. In the long term, that hopefully means the entire economy will become more productive and more high-tech, with fewer menial jobs. But in the short term, that means profits shift upwards while the middle class collapses. So let's face it: The cat is a pointless, idiotic nod to the trope that cats rule the internet. If Hasbro really wanted to modernize Monopoly, it'd allow its pretend industrialists to soar around the board on the backs of a 'bot.