We’re all familiar with the classic story, “A Christmas Carol,” where Ebenezer Scrooge is the classic miser, demonized by all who have read the book. But what if we got some aspects of the story wrong? Today, Connor and Brittany talk about this classic tale and whether or not Scrooge is a villain or simply misunderstood.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: So we’re in a bit of a Christmas spirit here
Brittany: We are.
Connor: And, coupled with the idea that, you know, we never shy away from controversial topics on this show. hang on it would be fun for us to try and defend poor old Ebenezer Scrooge and, you know, the villain of the season if ever there was one. And you know, even if you haven’t read the book, nearly everyone is familiar with the story of a Christmas Carol. And so, you know, of course in, this story, you’ve got Ebenezer Scrooge, and he is this hardworking guy, and his partner dies and he’s haunted and he has to come to terms with is he a bad person? And am I doing the right thing? Am I, you know, properly, sharing and being compassionate and loving those around me? And am I just an old curmudgeon scrooge, which is now a term, right? Yeah. Like, don’t be a Scrooge, right? Like, it, all boils down to don’t be kind of a selfish, mean grumpy, you know, a person who isn’t friendly and loving towards others. And so, you know, maybe only second to the Grinch is Scrooge one of the more like infamous, or, you know, infamous means famous, but for bad reasons. He’s, an infamous Christmas character, and he is, you know, demonized for not being charitable and, being cruel to his employees. But I, like to sometimes get inside these stories and kind of see, like, even Robinhood is another great example, right? Oh, it is the rich give to the poor. Maybe that’s an episode for another day about how the, the Robin Hoods story isn’t quite what so many feel like it is. And so I think there’s an element here. I’m not gonna say that like the entire story, that everyone’s got it wrong and he is, you know, being totally treated unfairly. But there’s an angle that I think would be fun for us to explore. we like to talk on this show about economics and free markets and human behavior and incentives. And so let’s look at the Christmas Carol’s story, you know, through that lens. What if Scrooge has kind of caught an unfair break for nearly two centuries?
Brittany: I really like this concept because I like these backstories of, villains. wicked is one of my favorite musicals, and I also read the book, that’s like the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, or I should say a alleged Wicked Wick of the West. But, there’s also a good book, you may remember this when we were kids, it was called The True Story of The Three Little Pigs, and it told the story from The Big Bad Wolf. And he was like, it was so funny. He was like, I was just trying to like, borrow a cup of sugar and I had to sneeze, and I kept sneezing and they kept acting like I was blowing their houses down. But it was really funny, and it just gives you this, like, inside again, it doesn’t mean that I believe the Big bad Wolf was good, but I think, like you said, it’s, it’s kind of fun to look into these, you know, villains and maybe see like maybe they’re more redeemable than we thought, or maybe they’re a little bit misunderstood
Connor: And, maybe there’s like two sides to a story, right? Yeah. It’s like you see things from one way, and we’ve been told all along from the three little pigs that this is exactly how things happen, that maybe when you dig into it, that’s not quite the true picture. And I think there’s some fairness there, right? Like, I think maybe that’s a good lesson from these other stories is, you know, the, the way you’ve always looked at something may not be the way that it truly is. And so it’s sometimes helpful to, look at it from a different angle. so, you know, in the story scrooge is just constantly being compared to Bob Cratchit, and you know, sometimes like comparing these two side by side gives us an opportunity to kind of compare and contrast their personality characteristics. Is one good? Is one bad? Is one right? Is one wrong? And so Scrooge is this, you know, rich curmudgeon, this grumpy guy,
Brittany: I love that word,
Connor: The curmudgeon where crochet is, you know, this, underpaid, humble family man who’s trying to provide for his family, right? And he is got kind of a sympathetic story. And so Scrooge is a bad boss and he’s underpaying his employees, making them work on Christmas, you know, only giving them a lump of coal to warn themselves during the workday. Like, the story just really tries to kind of play up this idea that he’s just this like mean dude. but you know, on this show we’ve talked a bit about like compensation or, pay rate, like the voluntary agreement between an employer and an employee. So when you have a boss and you, you know, it’s not slavery, it’s a voluntary agreement. If you go get a job somewhere and your employer or potential employers, like, I’m willing to hire you, but here are the terms of our relationship, here’s my offer, right? and so you get to decide if you wanna take that or not. And since work is voluntary, what’s really happening here is that Bob Cratchit is choosing to be in that particular situation, right? Like he’s not forced to be there. He may feel that maybe that’s like, you know, the best of his bad options, right? Maybe he’s the guy that doesn’t have great options. And so that’s, but it’s still a choice. And if his skills were, you know, in high demand, if a lot of people wanted his services, he’d be able to find a higher paying job with a different employer. He’d be able to make himself attractive, right? To another employer and go out and say, Hey, I want a better job. I wanna work for you. You seem like a better person. I think he made something like 15 shillings a week. And you know, Scrooge always paid him. But again, like if his skills were in fact in high demand crash, it would have options, right? He’d have the ability to leave, but, he doesn’t. And, and so Scrooge is kind of depicted as the bad guy here, but there’s an economic lesson, right? No one is forcing you to work for a seemingly bad employer. And if you feel trapped, if you feel like you don’t have options, then I think that’s an opportunity to look at your skill set and say, what do I need to change or improve so that I do have more options? It’s not like a what is me, I’m trapped here. You know, it’s like, okay, well pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Go read a book, go offer to work for free for two weeks for another company to get your foot in the door and show them how amazing you are. You know, go start a site hustle and, learn something else. Like take the initiative to improve your circumstances and make yourself more in demand. I mean, I, kind of feel like Scrooge is savvy enough of a person where if Bob Crachit went to him and say, Hey look, we’ve been working together for a long while. I know your business inside and out, but I have this other offer from this other company that’s twice the rate. Or you know, they give me holidays off or whatever, and I’m entertaining the idea of going there. Can we have a conversation about me maybe remaining loyal here to you, but you offering the same salary. And so Bob Crachit, or excuse me, Scrooge is now put into the circumstance, right? Of having to decide am I just going to let go of Bob Crachit and have to go hire someone else, right? Do interviews, train someone, find someone trustworthy, wait for them for a few months to kinda learn the ropes, make a bunch of mistakes. Like, am I okay to do that and just see Bob Crachit and go, or is he suddenly now worth more to me now that I know that he might leave, is he worth more to me for me to increase his pay so that I don’t have to deal with that headache? I mean, I’m a boss, I have a bunch of employees and when they come to me and try and ask for a raise, that is the calculation in my mind, right? If I don’t give them a raise, they may go get a job somewhere else. And then I have to deal with a headache of finding someone to replace them and train them and so forth. And so am I willing to risk that or would I rather give them a raise and keep them here? And if it’s an employee who doesn’t have very many skills, it’s probably super easy to find someone to replace them. Yeah. Cause it’s not that hard of a job. But if it’s an employee who knows my business inside and out and, you know, it would be very hard to get someone else up to speed to learn all those things, then I’m like, okay, I’m gonna pay you more cuz I don’t want you to leave. And so it kind of feels to me like Bob Cratchit for all this humbleness and niceness is not taking the initiative to make himself more competitive and worth more to his employer.
Brittany: You’re right. And it was also kind of a choice. So someone at the Mises Institute who we’ve brought up before, wrote an article on this topic, and they also talked about the choice. You know, Cratchit has a ton of kids, he’s got a kid with, health problems. And when you have this decision, when you decide to have a family and do all these things, you have to make a certain amount of money to be able to provide for your family. I mean, I know moms and dads both work now, but I would hate to be a dad because it feels very stressful. You have to provide for a lot of people, but it kinda feels like, crashes It is not making a wise choice. And, I know that sounds a little bit, you know, coldhearted, but for argument’s sake that that’s kind of how the world works.
Connor: I’m gonna maybe double down on that for a second. I, know some people who feel like others should support them in their decisions. And, what I mean by that in on this issue is, well, I’m gonna have kids, however many kids I want. But other people, you’re paying for them for their healthcare, for their school. Like, they want to socialize the costs of their children. What I mean by that, it’s like socialism, right? They want the society, right? Similar root word to socialism. They want society to pay for the costs. They want to socialize those costs so that they themselves aren’t responsible for paying for other people. I always say have as many kids as you want. I love it. Big families are amazing. You come from one, right? Brittany?
Brittany: I do nine kids. So 10, kids including me. Yeah.
Connor: Big families are awesome.
Brittany: They’re so much fun.
Connor: But don’t make me pay for your big family. Yep. Right? Like, if you wanna have a bunch of kids, more power to you. I, actually support that. I think that’s a net positive for our world. I know there’s other people out there who are like, only have one child, you’re destroying the earth.
Brittany: I need to go listen to our population control episode. I think
Connor: Exactly. Cause there are people out there like that. But I think big families are great. I just don’t feel like I should be forced to help financially support those families. And so you got someone like Bob Cratchit to your point, right? He’s got a bunch of kids. There’s risk of some kids like tiny Tim coming up with health challenges and stuff. Maybe that’s a reason to not have had so many kids if you can’t afford, to support that many people. Kind of an interesting argument there. There’s another aspect of the story though, where, Scrooge is approached by, I think there’s a couple people who approach him, raising money for charity, right? And they ask him to donate and help out the less fortunate. And Scrooge, of course, he’s grumpy and he is selfish and he’s angry. And you know, he mentions that there’s already organizations that he’s forced to pay for with his taxes. You know, like, why should I pay more? I’m already taxed for these purposes. And so, you know, we’re supposed to be shocked by Scrooge’s selfishness. So, so maybe a question for you, Brittany. What are your thoughts? Do you think Scrooge is really being selfish here?
Brittany: This is my favorite point pro, like on the pro scrooge category. Cause I think this, hits the point home on a lot of stuff that we’ve talked about. And with Bastiat as well. We’ve talked about Frederick Bastiat on several episodes, but we also talked about something he talked about called false philanthropy. And that’s when the government likes to act high and mighty about all these good things they’re doing. But how are they doing these good things? They’re stealing our money and they’re, forcing us to give to whatever organization they choose, right? This isn’t, and philanthropy is a word that kind of means like doing good for other people, like giving to charities, helping out people. But this isn’t really Phil. I was gonna say philanthropic. Yeah. That’s how you say it. Philanthropic. Because it’s not that everybody is suddenly such a good person. It’s because we don’t have a choice. There’s literally a, you know, a gun to our head saying you have to, pay for these things. That’s the way our society works. But that doesn’t make us good people or moral people. Instead, it kind of teaches us that theft is okay. You know, we’ve called this legalized plunder I think sometimes. And also that, anybody angry about the fact that they’re forced to give money through their taxes. It’s uncharitable that we’re bad people. And in Scrooge’s defense, he was probably just tired of being taxed to death. You know, he was a wealthy man. We know that much, much of his income was already probably going towards all these forced charities. So why should he be responsible for giving so much when they’re already taking so much? So I really empathize with this argument and I hope that does not make me a bad person. But, I, get scrooge in this instance. I understand him
Connor: There. It’s interesting, I’ve actually done a bit of research here how in America there used to be a number of fraternal societies. where a type of like the Masons, right?
Brittany: Aren’t the Masons technically a fraternal? Yeah,
Connor: A similar kind. And there were a lot of them. There were a lot that were organized by like country you came from. So like, there would be a German one and there would be an Italian one. So people of similar cultures migrating to America would, you know, join one with similar people to them. And there, you know, there were a bunch of different types. There were all kinds for blacks and other minorities and these people kind of like the healthcare sharing ministries we talked about. I believe it was on an episode actually, no, that’s on an upcoming episode. Cause we recorded it later. Anyways, these kinds of, businesses where people group together and they kind of shared the costs with one another. They, support one another. And that is what these fraternal societies did. People would chip in a little bit and they would cover life insurance and health insurance and, you know, caring for orphans if the parents died and, and all kinds of stuff. And, you know, poor people especially would utilize these because it was great for them when they needed help. And, they were everywhere, like everywhere. And then when the government started getting involved in welfare in, charity, what happened was just like Scrooge, there were a lot of people who were like, okay, well I’m paying taxes. I don’t need this association, this fraternal organization anymore because the government’s gonna take care of me. Why, would I pay extra money when I’m already being taxed? And, so pretty soon these fraternal organizations, these private, voluntary market based associations were starved to death because they couldn’t compete with the government. And so, you know, no one’s knocking charity. I mean, I, don’t know that this, the idea from, you know, the Christmas Carol story is that screws necessarily hated charity. I mean, maybe, but you know, forcing someone who’s already being taxed a ton or not, you know, asking him to give even more, you can kind of understand why. It’s like, okay, well you’re already forcing me to pay for these things. Like, and now you’re asking for more money. If, the things I’m already being taxed for aren’t good enough, aren’t helping people, then let’s figure out why is there waste there.
Brittany: That’s a good point. Yeah.
Connor: Are bureaucrats like living large off of the, you know, salary for my money? Is the money not actually going to help people? If not, then let’s, let’s go fix that problem rather than just asking me to give even more money.
Brittany: That’s a really good point. I wasn’t thinking about that. But he talks about workhouses and we’re, we don’t get into what those are now and even prisons as, helping people get off the streets. And again, those are both things that failed. And so you have to think like, right, why are we giving all our money to use to use these institutions when they’re bad institutions? So that’s a really good point. There’s one more point that I want you to help me, out with. And it’s that screw just portrayed as kind of this evil, greedy capitalist. Which is funny cuz he’s not, he’s not viewed as like spending all this, money on lavish things. He’s just known as kind of hoarding it. Like that’s, his problem. But when we take a look at this, that’s not really the case. And it looks like Scrooge actually helped his money to create value elsewhere.
Connor: Yeah. The, hoarding money reminds me of, watching Ducktails when I was growing up shopping, Scrooge making ducks swimming in big vaults full of gold, you know, and
Brittany: Always wanted to do that.
Connor: Oh yeah, that’d be nice. You know, so, so at one point, Scrooge’s nephew, he says something like, you know, wealth is of no use to him. He doesn’t do any good with it. Like he’s not, you know, using it or whatever. And everyone seems angry that he’s not using his money to do what other people want from him. But no one was really looking at the good that maybe he was already doing. I mean, he’s, you know, loaning money out and, borrowers are creating value with that money, maybe starting businesses, helping their family get through a tough time. Like he’s making that available to people. And the book tells of the homeowner with a new roof. And I think there’s a merchant who’s able to, buy some tea so that he can then profit from that and provide, you know, service to tea drinkers. And like, those things don’t sound evil at all. He’s, actually through the market it sounds like, helping people who are in need, in his own way and being taxed for that purpose on top of that. And so I think there’s a little bit of sympathy here that maybe screwed isn’t the bad guy that we always think he is. We are gonna link, you guys today on the show notes page to, an article, Brittany, I think you mentioned that the Mises Institute put together kinda a defense of Scrooge if the older kids and the parents want to learn a little bit more about these arguments and come up with a fun little twist and opportunity to think about economics even during Christmas time. during the context of the Christmas Carol, Merry Christmas, you guys. We have a fun, episode for the next one. So we hope you’ll stick with us. Make sure you’re subscribed. Merry Christmas. And until next time, Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.