Economics of Christmas Past

There was much talk last year about capitalists. None of it was very nice. President Obama complained about millionaires, billionaires and corporate jet owners in between his vacations to Cape Cod on Air Force One. Occupy Wall Street vilified the “1 percenters.” Even the erstwhile Newt Gingrich complained about capitalist vultures if their name happened to be Mitt Romney. With all this commotion about capitalists, I thought it might be revealing to do some research on Ebenezer Scrooge—the original “capitalist pig.” So I was excited when I found a December 23, 2011 National Review article titled “Scrooge: The First 1 Percenter” written by Jim Lacey, a professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College. My excitement turned to surprise when the tagline of this article said, “Scrooge did more good as a businessman than an altruist.” My first reaction was “Bah, humbug.” After all, everyone who has seen any one of the many film adaptations of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” knows that Scrooge is rich and heartless. He underpays his employee, Bob Cratchit. He’s even mean to the crippled Tiny Tim, for goodness sake. Au contraire, says Lacey. His research shows that Scrooge wasn’t “being overly stingy by paying … Cratchit 15 shillings a week.” In fact, this was an “average” salary for a clerk like Cratchit “and nearly double what a general laborer earned.” It enabled Cratchit to own a house and raise a large family. What’s more, if Scrooge hadn’t been such a good businessman, Cratchit might have been unemployed because Dickens’s novel takes place in tough economic times, according to Lacey. As I was reading Lacey’s article, I wondered if Scrooge was the 19th century equivalent of Britney Spears. You know, someone who just needs a good publicist to rehabilitate his or her image. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that people regard Scrooge as a penny-pinching grump. But hey, if Carlin Axelrod can turn Mitt Romney from a charity giving, tee-totaling, Boy Scout into the Grinch who stole Christmas, it must certainly be possible to give Scrooge a celebrity makeover. Let’s begin with the criticism that Scrooge should have burned more coal to heat Bob Cratchit’s work space. What a bunch of malarkey. If you think otherwise, just channel your inner Al Gore and repeat the words “global warming” after me. Then it will become apparent that we should applaud Scrooge for reducing his carbon footprint. Indeed, we should canonize him for having the foresight to be “green” at a time when the British Industrial Revolution was burning coal and polluting the environment. But you might ask, “Wasn’t Scrooge a miser?” No, Scrooge was a frugal job-creator, not a cheapskate. Lacey indicates, “Scrooge’s investments created jobs … that employed many thousands of workers.” What’s more, Lacey notes how these “investments began a period of growth and prosperity that…doubled life expectancies, improved the lot of the poor, greatly increased the size of the middle class, paid for a military establishment that enforced the Pax Britannica, and propelled us into the modern age.” According to Lacey, Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in 1843, the year “Britain was just coming out of a five-year economic slowdown.” Sound familiar? You bet it does. So, shouldn’t we follow Scrooge’s lead and finally emerge from the shadow of our Great Recession by saying “Bah humbug” to soaring debt, record poverty, governmental incompetence and the new normal of high unemployment? Or would you prefer the Senate to take another 1,350 days before it passes a budget? The choice is up to you. Eric Meyers is a two-year Senior from Miami, FL, and a Columnist for The Phillipian.