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Was Scrooge the Victim in A Christmas Carol?

December 23, 2017 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


By: Ryan McMaken

In the past, a few brave iconoclasts have taken exception to the treatment Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol has received from his critics.

While a fictional character created by Charles Dickens, Scrooge has become, in the minds of many, a representative of the imagined miserly financiers who serve as caricatures of capitalists everywhere.

This has led some defenders of markets to step in and offer a defense of Scrooge.

Butler Shaffer writes that Scrooge is one of “the true heroes of the time of which [Dickens] wrote, namely, the industrialists and financiers who created that most liberating epoch in human history: the Industrial Revolution.”

And Michael Levin avers: “Dickens doesn't mention Scrooge's satisfied customers, but there must have been plenty of them for Scrooge to have gotten so rich.”

Levin sensibly points out that so long as Scrooge wasn't in the business of using violence, everyone remained free to refuse to do business with him. Since Dickens gives us no reason to suspect that Scrooge did ever actually rob anyone, we can conclude that everyone who did business with him did so voluntarily.

However, if we're going to look on every non-coercive act as morally neutral or as even laudable — and employ that standard to evaluate Scrooge's actions — then we also ought to extend the same courtesy to all of Scrooge's detractors. When Scrooge's associates engage in non-violent attempts to convince Scrooge to be more charitable — if we are to be consistent — we can't judge those actions to be any more unsavory than Scrooge's many non-violent business dealings.

After all, no human being in A Christmas Carol forces Scrooge to do anything. Some people — such as Scrooge's nephew Fred — engage him in conversations that Scrooge finds unpleasant. Scrooge tells those people to go away and they do. Some men ask him for a charitable donation. Scrooge refuses, and he is free to do so. While it is acknowledged that Scrooge pays taxes to the British state, no one in the story advocates for higher tax rates, or demands that Scrooge pay more in taxes. Taxation is not presented as the solution to the central problems of the story.

If this were the case, of course, things would be different. We would then be forced to defend Scrooge from the grasping hand of the state and its cheerleaders. But A …read more


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