The Charles Dickens novella A Christmas Carol is a beloved piece of literature, a mainstay of the holiday season. First published in 1843 and retold countless times in film and on the stage, it tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable old corn merchant and landlord who delights in his own misery and the misfortune of others.
For almost two centuries now, A Christmas Carol has been used, unfairly, as an indictment of the free market. Leftists delight in the delusional belief that Scrooge represents the worst and true face of 19th-century capitalism, but in reality, he and his world demonstrate the harmful effects of protectionist trade policies and the anti-capitalist nature of asceticism and misanthropy. His redemption shows the virtue of free will.
At the time of Dickens’ story, people in the United Kingdom labored under the Corn Laws, which set minimum prices and imposed heavy taxes on the importation of food and grains. This policy, the harmful brainchild of “nationalist” economists like Friedrich List, fell most severely on the poor. It kept food prices artificially high and protected powerful mercantilist interests from competition.
Approached near the Exchange by two gentlemen hoping to make a business deal, Scrooge is told his price is too high. “If you want my grain,” he replies, bluntly, “you will meet my price.” This crass commercialism was more the product of Parliament than Ebenezer’s alleged greed. Repeal of these awful laws, in 1846, came about largely from the efforts of free-trade advocates John Bright and Richard Cobden, a successful Manchester manufacturer.
Capitalists support free trade because value is offered for value, in the hope of mutual gain. Providing customers with the things they desire (or require) is the means. Money is the reward that comes from successfully completing that task. It is an end, but not an end in itself. It represents all that is available for purchase to better one’s life. Money is merely a medium of exchange.
Self-denial, by contrast, is voluntary poverty. Scrooge has amassed incredible personal wealth, still he denies himself the pleasures that can bring. His only love is money, yet he can’t enjoy the fruits of his labor: he keeps his office and home freezing cold when he can easily afford coal for the fire; he sits in the dark, in a room bereft of simple comforts, eating a bland soup for his dinner, dressed in a ragged bathrobe. It’s possible he would purchase a new shirt only if it were made of horsehair.
When Scrooge chides his nephew, Fred, for being jovial despite his poverty, the latter asks, “What right have you to be miserable? You’re rich enough.” Scrooge’s actions are those of an anti-materialist who despises wealth and all it brings. His lifestyle is more in keeping with the Left’s message of anti-capitalism. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would celebrate such commitment to a reduced carbon footprint.
Also, consider Scrooge’s personal life. He has no friends and even spurns the affection of Fred, his only living relative, the son of an adored sister. Yet it is the “progressive,” not the capitalist, that is hostile to the concept of familial love. Leftists have historically viewed the family, like luxury, as “bourgeois,” inimical to their view of humans as bees in a hive. “It takes a village,” remember.
Asked to make a charitable donation, Scrooge bristles, berating the alms-collectors for the very idea of helping the less fortunate. Instead, he pines for a world without its “surplus population.” This sounds more like Thomas Malthus – or Greta Thunberg – than Isambard Brunel. During the 19th century, the populations of market-driven countries exploded, in part because of the incredible philanthropy of the wealthy. Andrew Carnegie is said to have given away more money to charity than anyone had ever earned before. Americans, among the wealthiest people in the world, are today the most generous.
Three haunting specters on Christmas Eve merely showed Ebenezer Scrooge what was, what is, and what will be. Confronted with cold facts and grim reality, he changed his ways, being thereafter “true to his word” and keeping the spirit of Christmas ever in his heart. No government nationalized his industry or plundered his bank account; no social media platform canceled his existence; no Antifa thug took a brick to his head. His was a voluntary transformation.
Let A Christmas Carol be a lesson to modern authoritarians: leave people alone to live, work and compete, free from government interference and keeping what they earn, and they will do right by their fellow man. A free market is not to be feared: it’s the anti-market ideas and policies that bring misery, poverty, and ruin. Capitalism is a Christmas present everyone can enjoy.