In Defense of Scrooge?

An Essay By Laura Elizabeth // 8/26/2011

 In Defense of Scrooge?

 

I was on the HSLDA website, and I clicked on the 'contests' link. One of the categories for 2010 was to write an essay on an article entitled 'In Defense of Scrooge' by Michael Levin, a Libertarian. Although the contest is long over, I would still like to write my own essay on this article. So, here goes.

 

A Christmas Carol may well be the most famous of Christmas stories, or at least one of the most famous (alongside The Gift of the Magi, for example). Dickens himself wrote a huge amount of novels, and is still regarded as a master of the art of writing. I myself have read and enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and I am presently reading David Copperfield. So, of course my interest was sparked when I realized that there was an article, of all things, in defense of Scrooge! I am sure we are all familiar with Scrooge's story: a miser, hater of mankind, hated (or at least feared) by the same, is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him that he will be haunted by three ghosts. Indeed, the only way to escape the terrible fate of Marley is to be haunted by these Spirits: of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. Scrooge goes with these Spirits to different places: his past, from when he was a young boy to when he had become a greedy, money loving man; his present, where he sees his employer's poor but happy family, his nephew's family, and other places; and his future, where he is shown his eventual un-mourned demise, among other unpleasant things. Through all of these scenes, he becomes a different man, and upon waking up, he begins to take delight in giving, and in return finds true happiness.

What, we might wonder, could be said in defense of the old Scrooge? The hard, tight fisted, miserly, old man who grudges his employee's one paid day off? And could we actually find fault with poor Bob Cratchit, who works long, underpaid hours to maintain his family? Michael Levin says there is a lot to say in Scrooge's vindication, and that we can, indeed, find fault with Cratchit.

He approaches the whole thing in a Capitalist manner, and argues that Scrooge was an entrepreneur, who was actually doing society good, that he had good reason for being stingy, and that Cratchit worked for Scrooge because he wanted to, and he could have found a job anywhere else if he'd really wanted to. So, let's examine this argument.

 

The second paragraph of Levin's article states,

"To appreciate them (the things that Scrooge supposedly got right), it is necessary first to distinguish Scrooge's outlook on life from his disagreeable persona. He is said to have a pointed nose and a harsh voice, but not all hardheaded businessmen are so lamentably endowed, nor are their feckless nephews (remember Fred?) always 'ruddy and handsome' and possessed of pretty wives. These touches of the storyteller's art only bias the issue."

Let us examine these points.

First of all, Scrooge's disagreeable persona is a natural outworking of his cold nature. He never smiles, I believe. I have known at least one person who is so disagreeable that you can just see it in their face.

Secondly, Dickens often employed a kind of 'character externalized' approach to writing. In other words, people would be described as having features corresponding to their surroundings or personalities. In Scrooge's case, he has a hard, cold, bitter nature, and this is shown by Dickens description of him:

"Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him..."

Now, obviously, someone could look like this. This isn't exaggerated, as some of his characterizations in other books were, but a kind of inside-for-outside thing. He will still look much the same after his transformation, of course, but he will be different. He will have an air about him that is as warm as a fireplace on a cold night, a smile as bright as Christmas candles, and a generosity that will match his former miserliness in every respect.

The same points could be made of Fred. Dickens knew, of course, that beauty and niceness didn't go together always. In 'Great Expectations', the beautiful Estella is hard and cold, while Biddy is a sweet, gentle natured girl who is not outwardly much to look at.

But, anyways, back to the article.

 

Levin says that obviously, if Cratchit is working for Scrooge, then he must be where he wants to be, he must be getting fair wages, and he must be able to just find another job anywhere else. What Levin does not realize is that many people (perhaps especially in the time which the story takes place) cannot always work where they would like to. They may not be able to find other work, or perhaps other work would pay even less than miserly old Scrooge. Which brings us to our next point: that he must be getting fair wages. How can we infer that Scrooge would be paying him what he ought to? Often, people have to just take the pay they get, or settle for nothing. And, of course, some money is better than none. Bob Cratchit may not be particularly gifted, and might, even in the best of times, have a hard time finding another job. He might have not even had time to look for another, since he worked long hours for Scrooge already. Whatever the case, we cannot lay all the blame on Cratchit. He is obviously not lazy. He does his job, and does it well, or else Scrooge would have dismissed him long ago. I don't think there is a case to be made in this respect.

It is easy, of course, for us who are capitalists and believe in free trade, to just go along with Levin's sound economic logic. However, I think he misses the point of the book, and the whole reason Dickens wrote it.

 

Now comes a paragraph which has an argument which always earns my immediate wrath:

Levin argues that Scrooge is not responsible for Cratchit's family, and that it was irresponsible of him to have that many children if he could not afford them.

This is a common (and very modern) concept, and it ignores the fact that birth control was not, in fact, a common practice (nor should it be). Therefore, if Scrooge has hired a man with six children to take care of, he should be even more willing to pay him the fair amount. And especially if one of those children is a cripple who could be helped. We know that Scrooge had a whole lot of money, which he didn't use for himself. So why didn't he use it in helping his employee? The answer is obvious: he was a miser.

Levin leaves no room in his article for charity, for a free and open hand in Scrooge's dealings with his fellow men (most especially, the fellow man nearest him, Cratchit). Instead, Levin's world is one of hard, cold dealing, without a care in the world whether others are suffering. He fails to see that Dickens was operating, not on a socialist worldview, wherein the government forcibly takes from one man to give to another, discouraging hard work and rewarding laziness; he was actually working on a Biblical worldview, which is one of charity. The Bible does say that if a man does not work, neither should he eat. But this is completely irrelevant to this situation, since Cratchit is a hard working man who obviously is not paid enough for his work. Scrooge should not be commended or defended for being a man who thinks only of money, and dislikes his fellow man so intensely that he says those who are likely to die should do so, and decrease the surplus population (which is most certainly a dreadful thing to say; Levin does not really address this).

 

So on, to the issue of Cratchit's one lump of coal. I quote Levin:

“If he (Cratchit) stays there, he shows by his behavior that he prefers his present wages-plus-comfort package to any other he has found, or supposes himself likely to find. Actions speak louder than grumbling, and the reader can hardly complain about what Cratchit evidently finds satisfactory.”

This is faulty logic, and relates to the above points about Cratchit obviously not being able to find a better job. Scrooge has more coal in his fire, but he stingily denies Cratchit enough to even warm himself. Is this right? And why would Cratchit be grumbling about something he supposedly finds ‘satisfactory’? There are a lot of things in life that we can’t change, and we just have to bear them. I’d say it’s mighty unfair to say that Cratchit is grumbling about something he doesn’t mind (does that even make sense?).  In fact, I don’t even recall that Bob Cratchit ever complained at all, not even to his wife.

 

Levin then goes on to the issue of workhouses, and says that, since Scrooge is forced to pay taxes to support prisons (debtor’s prisons?) and workhouses,  “it is not unreasonable for him to balk at volunteering additional funds for their extra comfort”. Well, perhaps not. No one should be forced to give to charity. But Scrooge has merely been asked to give money to men apparently not connected to the government.

 

I’m going to try to make this short, because the article goes on for quite a while longer. Levin says that Cratchit, in asking for a paid Christmas holiday, is not being ‘fair’, and that he has apparently forgotten the golden rule in regards to Scrooge. Cratchit, it says, would object to a request that he work for a day without being paid. Now, if Scrooge is practicing the golden rule (I don’t see that even Levin attempts to say he is) then the golden rule must not be what I’m thinking it is. Scrooge certainly does not treat people as he would wish to be treated (unless he wishes to be overworked, underpaid, and barked at). Another thing is that Levin makes it sound as though Cratchit forced Scrooge to pay him for a day off. But there is no indication of this in the book. Scrooge, apparently, decides it’s in his best interests to do so (or otherwise he would not do it).

 

Levin continues:

“The biggest of the Big Lies about Scrooge is the pointlessness of his pursuit of money. ‘Wealth is of no use to him. He doesn’t do any good with it,’ opines ruddy nephew Fred.”

Levin goes on to say that he does do good by lending money to people, thereby helping a homeowner put a new room on his house, and a tea merchant makes a profit and benefits tea drinkers. If we are going to assume this much, we might as well go on assuming a few other things: Scrooge’s interest rates are outrageously high (called usury in the Bible) and he relentlessly pursues his debtors for every last penny. After all, Scrooge enjoys being unpleasant. He would probably show up at someone’s house at an unexpected time just to make them nervous (or send someone else). It didn’t matter even if the debtors were able to pay him back. He still haunts them until they have paid in full.

Levin says,

“Dickens doesn’t mention Scrooge’s satisfied customers, but there must have been plenty of them for Scrooge to have gotten so rich.”

Yeah, right. Or maybe he hounded them until he got the payment, or maybe he was the only creditor they could find, or on and on. The point is, that Scrooge is not the man Levin makes him out to be. Who says the customers were satisfied?

 

Another point (which may actually have been made in another, similar article written by someone else) is that Tiny Tim is only one of many such children suffering and soon to die an early death. Does this mean that, because Scrooge can't help all of them, he should help none? If you saw a child running out into the street, do you not help the child because, after all, there are other children running right in front of a car that won't be helped? I wouldn't think so.

Levin imagines a hypothetical 'Sickly Sid', whose father has borrowed money from Scrooge, but can't get the operation for his son because Cratchit has not paid back the money he owes to Scrooge. First of all, does it ever say that Cratchit borrowed from his employer? No. Secondly, if he had, don't you think Scrooge would have just taken it out of Cratchit's paycheck? Third, Sickly Sid is basically a distraction from the real problem of Tiny Tim, who is not hypothetical, but really there, really needing help. He can be helped by Scrooge out of charity, while Sickly Sid's father has the money he needs to get an operation without charity.

Mr. Libertarian Levin believes that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they please, so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. In other words, as long as Scrooge isn't actually physically harming anyone, he can be as miserly as he likes, and go his merry (or not so much) way, while others go theirs.

Mr. Levin, could it be that you are defending Scrooge because you yourself are so much like him? Hmmm, there's a thought. Also, may I ask you why you would want to take all the joy out of a story that is not about economics, not about hard working entrepreneurs misunderstood by society, not about welfare, but about the joy of giving? Why would you want to ruin a story like that?

There's a lot more I could address, but won't because this has already gotten really long. So, I'll leave ya'll with the link to Michael Levin's article: http://mises.org/daily/573

 

Comments

Good Job!

Good job on that essay Laura.

Emma Katherine | Sat, 08/27/2011

Check out my etsy shop!
https://www.etsy.com/shop/AmethystToGarnet

An excelent job.

This was an excelent refutation of Levin's article.  I definately share your resentment at his suggestion that Mr. Cratchit should have had less children.  Birth control.... ugh.

James | Sun, 08/28/2011

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

 Again, wonderfully done.

 Again, wonderfully done. Especially pulling out of Dickens's other novels to show how he uses outward appearance to reflect inner character. And I agree with you and James 100% about the whole birth control and only-having-kids-if-you-can-afford them thing. Once when I told someone I wanted a lot of kids they said "well you'd better have a husband with a good job," I said, "A good job would be nice but whatever income we have we'll trust God with how many kids and how He provides. He knows what we need and don't need." I keep thinking of a quote from Mr. Phillips - "The Bible calls debt a curse and children a blessing, but in our culture we apply for a curse and reject the blessing." 

Kyleigh | Mon, 08/29/2011

TOTALLY AMAZING!!!

This must be one of THE BEST essay's I've ever read!!!

HERE! HERE! To everything you said!

Did he really put in his artical that? (the part about birth controle!!!) UGH!!! He absolutely disgusts me! I do have to say that he is the part of Scrooge that was shed! I think Scrooge left his bad side behind and gave some of it to him! UGH!!! Absolutely OUTRAGIOUS!

To say that Cratchit was the bad guy is ridiculious! What Levin is doing, is practically framing Bob's character! Which is unright... and really... ridiculious! Sense it is only a book and not real life happenings! :/

I LOVED THIS!!!

Thank you so much! this was marvelous!

Write on!

 

Kassady | Wed, 08/31/2011

"Here's looking at you, Kid"
---
Write On!

Awesome, Laura!

You did a swell job on that, Laura!!!

Aredhel Írissë | Wed, 04/04/2012

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