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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4460/scrooge-defended/

Scrooge Defended

December 19, 2005 by

His business benefits his employees, society, and himself. FULL ARTICLE from 1998 but it still holds up.

{ 24 comments }

Daniel December 19, 2005 at 8:45 pm

To present the opposite perspective, I like Roderick Long’s view of Scrooge as well. I think they’re both valid takes on the character in their own rights.

tz December 20, 2005 at 2:13 pm

Where to start… (apologies for the length)

Friction is recognized in economics. It takes effort and money to change jobs or even change raw material suppliers. If Cratchit is fired, then friction doesn’t matter. Also, Scrooge knows exactly Crachit’s productivity, and Crachit knows Scrooge’s processes.

Scrooge would outsource if it was cheaper, i.e. if he could compartmentalize the function and send it out for weekly or monthly bid. That doesn’t happen often in the real world because the act of compartmentalization is expensive. Scrooge might find any number of other people as employees, but they would have to be trained before they could replace Crachit and Scrooge himself would have to fill the gap.

There is an economic cost to changing anything, and there might be a far better job two streets down that Crachit will never find because he doesn’t have the time to look, for if it is not there, he and his family starves.

Crachit may have had children while working for a better paying employer who could better use some unique skill, so the children were not miscalculations. So why doesn’t Crachit just kill one or two, especially Tiny Tim who uses up more resources than the rest and can’t contribute?

Aren’t children merely choices before they are conceived and commodities afterward? If you look at today’s teenagers and their nihilism they may just be. What happens to those who were “planned and wanted” when economics change – some children today were only conceived because the parents thought they could send two but not three to college. If there is a downturn, which of the two children shouldn’t exist and wouldn’t if the parents could have forseen things more clearly?

There seems to be a common fallacy that I can today simply eat a million calories and then will never need to worry about starvation for the rest of my life. Some things have to be done constantly. Other things have to be done when the opportunity presents itself. Should women today wait until they are 50 to have children as they will have built up capital?

Scrooge is somewhat like these women. The ultimate message is that he will be dead within the year (apparently from the stress of his monomanical acquisitiveness). The article asks how did Fezziwig afford it? Because he had a smaller pile of Gold than Scrooge. Fezziwig wasn’t able to take it with him, nor will Scrooge. He would rather have the vicarious joy of his rejoicing employees than a large pile of notes saying that he has claim on so many ounces of gold in a vault. Fezziwig may get instant gratification, but he doesn’t worry if the bank is issuing more claims than actual gold, or if the stuff at home is secure enough.

Also, Scrooge and Marley is never represented as a marginal hand-to-mouth business. Scrooge even lives in a nice place with a housekeeper – he isn’t a cenobite sleeping on a palette near where he can find some warmth and wearing rags. Neither is he opulent. So there are profits to the business. And they are somewhere. They could make Crachit and his family better off.

Nowhere is it shown that even with his turn toward spendthrifiness does he endanger his business, and it is probable that it improves, much like when someone who is too tight refuses to use any new equipment which is more efficient and cheaper in the long run.

This also goes to Scrooge’s loan policies. Somehow it is proposed that if Scrooge gives Crachit a Christmas Bonus, there won’t be enough money left to loan to Sid’s family so Sid can get an operation and survive. Scrooge has money. Lots of it. And it isn’t in circulation or in the form of loans, or would be in some form that could be liquified (sell the loans).

Although there are men soliciting for charity, and they would not likely be looking in a place where they expect no donations, it is quite possible that Scrooge is the BEST employer and is redeemable, and the rest are as bad as Marley or even worse in their greed (the desire to acquire money as an ends, not as a means). Their employees may just die and be replaced with new ones as they expire, and Scrooge simply notes it is more efficient to keep someone this side of actual starvation than to go through that bother. But in either case, the representatives of the charity might misjudge the character of the people, but would likely have known the amount of liquid assets available for donation. Scrooge has money.

Scrooge can have gotten rich without satisfying any customer, or where such satisfaction would be considered dishonorable (Aren’t all 100 senators millionaires here?). I may be glad that I could borrow money to fix my broken window instead of letting the cold air in, but it is no cause for joy. The transactions were voluntary, and profitable at least to Scrooge, and would normally satisfied some need, but might even cause resentment if they were made under circumstantial pressure.

As an example, if I want to buy most computers, I have to take and pay for Microsoft Windows whether I want it or not – the transaction is only voluntary in that I can only either take or leave the entire bundle. If I need a computer, I may decide to pay the extra money, but it will only annoy me, and the small satisfaction of the need for the computer will not negate the very great annoyance and disgust of being forced to take something that even says “If you don’t agree with this EULA, return the SOFTWARE where you bought it from for a refund” which is never honored. You may be satisified with the package, but I am not given the choice.

If Scrooge’s transactions were all like this then there would be no customer mournful over his death. Maybe he was the only supplier. The article assumes competition. That need not be true, or there is competition only in the sense that the alternatives are worse as when there is only the one payday loan, but also mafia loan sharks.

Scrooge does not seem depressed, but there are many morbidly obese people who are really joyous and fun to be around, even at their rather premature funerals. Scrooge has a soul, though he spent his life (but not his money) denying it.

The purpose of the Ghosts is to remind Scrooge that he has a soul. That on one day it will separate from his body and his pile of gold.

Keynes noted the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, and that in the long run we are all dead. Whether there is or isn’t something after death, the fact that we die should affect how we treat money. It should be a means to a happy end.

Michael A Clem December 21, 2005 at 10:14 am

I hate to make too much of fiction, even the fiction of Charles Dickens. However, I imagine that bosses like Scrooge would have a hard time keeping good employees like Bob Crachit, and instead would have much less productive employees, hurting Scrooge’s bottom line and profits.

Of course, it’s possible that Bob really is a poor employee, and would have a difficult time getting any other job. And of course, Dickens didn’t go into any detail about the job climate or politics of the time and location (he assumed that his readers would already be familiar with the setting), and that could play a factor of which most modern readers would be unaware, unless they did some research.

pirx January 17, 2009 at 4:31 pm

In Crachit’s time having many kids was the equivalent of a 401k. Tiny Tim was the equivalent of our recent stock market crash. So, does it bother you that you and I just lost 40% of our savings?

Jim November 23, 2009 at 9:50 am

Nowhere does the author point out that Scrooge paid for his success by being a lonely old man with a sad a shallow life. By failing to open his heart to others, he cheated himself out of all the things that actually make life worth living. Nice that he got the message before it was entirely too late.

Cratchit's Other Son, The Angry Rebellious One November 23, 2009 at 11:10 am

More Levin: … society’s provisions for the poor must be, well, Dickensian. The more pleasant the alternatives to gainful employment, the greater will be the number of people who seek these alternatives, and the fewer there will be who engage in productive labor. If society expects anyone to work, work had better be a lot more attractive than idleness.

Couldn’t this argument just as easily be read as an argument for more taxes on the rich, especially more estate taxes and more confiscatory taxes on the wealthy?

After all, it is the rich who can best afford to be idle. And it’s the rich who parasitically suck up money and resources from the rest of us.

.

Spiffy November 23, 2009 at 11:13 am

If one is going to argue that poor people are foolish for bearing children they may not be able to afford, one should first make damned certain those people have full and easy access to birth control, such that there can be no excuse for unintended pregnancy other than laziness or sheer bad luck.

We have technology that makes this possible today and yet are nowhere near this situation. To claim it as a factor in defense of Scrooge based on the actual time frame of the book- not using it simply as an allegory to the modern day- is insane. (“Don’t have sex”, as a general message to all people of questionable resources, is not effective.)

This, of course, assumes Cratchit has always been poor. That his family grew when he was of better means is certainly a plausible scenario as well.

Lord Buzungulus, Bringer of the Purple Light November 23, 2009 at 11:46 am

“If one is going to argue that poor people are foolish for bearing children they may not be able to afford, one should first make damned certain those people have full and easy access to birth control, such that there can be no excuse for unintended pregnancy other than laziness or sheer bad luck.”

If I had to vote for the stupidest comment of the day, this would surely get my vote. If people lack the means to support children, why is it someone else’s resonsibility to ensure they have adequate birth control?

Lord Buzungulus, Bringer of the Purple Light November 23, 2009 at 11:52 am

Also, what does subsidizing birth control (or otherwise making it more available) have to do with the observation that children are costly, and one should be able to bear that cost before having children? I.e., that undertaking actions whose consequences you are ill-prepared to deal with is unwise?

joeyess November 23, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Defending Scrooge, huh? That figures. Because everybody knows that we can all be rich and our standard of living will never decline!!

d. b. cooper November 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Pre-visitation Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserable man who barely realizes the misery he causes in others lives. He lives an empty life with only paper (or metal, as the case may be) wealth to show for it. To defend this is to defend the most destructive instincts of man. Dickens understood the destruction that economic realities could create, if he hadn’t been such a talented writer he might well have spent his life working in slave-like conditions for real-life Scrooges, as so many of his contemporaries did.

Spiffy November 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm

“Also, what does subsidizing birth control (or otherwise making it more available) have to do with the observation that children are costly, and one should be able to bear that cost before having children? I.e., that undertaking actions whose consequences you are ill-prepared to deal with is unwise?”

On an individual level, with regards to family planning, yes, it would be better for somebody to be able to support whatever extra mouths will need feeding before bringing them into the world. That’s logical, and I’m not debating that.

What I’m saying is that the overarching philosophy- that people in general should behave this way- while logical, fails on the scope of society as a whole because it’s simply not realistic. If people don’t want kids and have birth control handy, they’ll generally use it. If they don’t want kids and have no realistic way to get birth control, a hell of a lot of them will take their chances anyway. That’s human nature, and it will win out no matter how logical our arguments that people should behave otherwise for their own good.

Therefore, if you think people should not be having kids when they’re ill-equipped to afford them, that’s all well and good as a theory; but if you actually want to see people without means have fewer kids, they need to be provided with the means to have sex while producing fewer kids. And that doesn’t happen in this country to nearly the extent that it could.

slightly_peeved November 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm

If society expects anyone to work, work had better be a lot more attractive than idleness.

And yet, according to the OECD’s world survey of poverty (see link in username), the US has the worst rate of persistent poverty of any developed nation. This despite the US providing the least support to unemployed people of any developed nation.

Less time analyzing fiction and more time analyzing fact, please.

Timothy Fuller November 24, 2009 at 1:26 am

This is satire, right?

Gil November 24, 2009 at 1:56 am

Perhaps a stocking filler for Libertarians is Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. The reverse storyline with Ebeneezer Blackadder starts off as a wimpy, nice guy . . .

P.M.Lawrence November 24, 2009 at 5:07 am

“FULL ARTICLE from 1998 but it still holds up”.

No, it never did hold up, and it’s amazing that it keeps getting trotted out without any acknowledgement of the critiques that have been made of it, for instance Kevin Carson’s. I seem to recall commenting about it on one of those earlier occasions myself, but I can’t track that down.

Beefcake the Mighty November 24, 2009 at 6:55 am

Probably the reason Kevin Carsons critique is not acknowledged is because, like most of his work, it’s crap.

Jeffrey Tucker November 24, 2009 at 7:14 am

I was going to try to address Carson’s thing but it begins by calling Mises.org “vulgar libertarianism” – I guess this is a phrase he made up so that he can apply it how he wants – and then goes on at length about all the injustices in the world of the 18th century, concluding that no wage can be appropriate to the task given all the horrors of the land. None of this has anything to do with whether or not Scrooge was paying his workers their marginal value product.

P.M.Lawrence November 24, 2009 at 7:31 am

No, Jeffrey Tucker, that is not how and why Kevin Carson uses the term “vulgar libertarianism”. If you look at the articles he wrote to bring out cases of it, you will see he is simply getting at the prevalence around here of the likes of Beefcake the Mighty and arguments such as his.

Oh, and “…whether or not Scrooge was paying his workers their marginal value product” isn’t the underlying issue that this article has skated over – the issue of how things got that way and were kept that way. I’ll see if I can track down my own previous comments somewhere, but they seem to have become inaccessible when this site was reorganised.

Beefcake the Mighty November 24, 2009 at 7:45 am

As usual, PM Lawrence is complaining that people just don’t understand Carson. Seems like a lot of people don’t understand him; maybe those people aren’t really the problem.

Get a life.

Jeffrey Tucker November 24, 2009 at 10:26 am

Having read Carson and Long (yes, I’m for charity too), I still don’t see what’s wrong with Levin defense of Scrooge in particular. I’m sure there were lots of things wrong with the world at the time, but Levin’s essay is dealing with Scrooge’s own pay scales in particular.

You know, I try really hard to get the hang of Carson’s stuff, but the whole project seems like a massive effort at pettifoggery constructed as a way to avoid favoring capitalism.

Janus Daniels November 24, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Does satire require intent?
Michael Leven “… argues that homosexual sex… is a misuse of body parts… that white people score higher on IQ tests than black people due to genetic differences… was cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s publication Intelligence Report (Summer 2006) for repeatedly addressing the American Renaissance at that white supremacist organization’s bi-annual conferences and then not attending due to anti-Semitism he encountered among members.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Levin
Satire requires humor and irony; Leven proved he lacks both… yet his works provide each in ample measure. He belongs at Cato.
Parenthetically, we need a way to distinguish glibertarians from libertarians; I propose “Tragedy of the Commons” as a necessary, but not sufficient, filter.

Nick December 14, 2011 at 4:39 am

What a load of BS. As for the idiotic claims made in this little “article”: 1) The book was written in the 19th century, no such thing as birth control so suggesting that Cratchit shouldn’t have had children is ridiculous. Most people including the very poor had numerous children during that time period. 2) As for Scrooge paying him what his labor was worth, again more BS. Quite possible most employers paid crap and people desperate for a means of support had no other choice than to take those crap paying jobs. We’ve already gone through such a time here in the US and people like the author of this excuse for cruelty and misanthropy would happily take us back to those days. The more I read the clearer it becomes what a bunch of deluded hacks supporters of Austrain Economics are. They should just drop the cover and call themselves what they really are: feudalists.

nate-m December 14, 2011 at 6:43 am

1) The book was written in the 19th century, no such thing as birth control so suggesting that Cratchit shouldn’t have had children is ridiculous.

I take it that nobody has really explained to you yet how children come to be. There are probably some good articles on pregnancy and it’s causes in wikipedia that should help you out. (hint: children are not delivered by storks spontaneously and you do not need birth control to not have more children)

We’ve already gone through such a time here in the US and people like the author of this excuse for cruelty and misanthropy would happily take us back to those days.

You do realize that before the industrial revolution and before ‘crap jobs’ existed the common way to deal with the poor was to just let them starve to death and die from diseases?

They should just drop the cover and call themselves what they really are: feudalists.

As long as you are willing to admit that you have no clue about anything you are talking about then I am sure that we can come to some sort of arrangement.

Maybe at that point you’ll start to realized that the government schools that you were forced to attend true job was to institutionalize you and force a certain type of conformity on you that favored the people that ran said institutions. The principal lesson you were to taught was how to obey. You’ve been lied to your entire life. You were lied to in pre-school, in day care, in kindergarten, in grade school, in highschool. About everything. And if you attended college you were probably lied to there also.
Your teachers did not have your best interests in heart. They are not the greatest people on earth. And for any higher educational facility that depended on government subsidized student loans all you represent to them is one big walking, talking dollar sign.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking for yourself and you may actually learn something if you pay attention.

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