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Andy Whitman

Charles Dickens

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Analyses of our current political predicament aside, the author is arguing that Scrooge is under no moral obligation to help the Cratchit's. That's what the government is for.

Nope. The author is stating that Scrooge has a financial incentive to do what he does, so to continue his business, so to continue paying Cratchit (who came to work for him, freely) and supporting the households who came to him, freely, and continuing to do so indefinitely. Scrooge's fault is not in how he runs his business, but his stinginess with his profits afterwards--(which he is equally stingy towards himself) as he is with his employees. His fault is also that he doesn't like people in general, and he doesn't like Christmas in particular. All of these qualities apply equally to everybody, whether a high-ranking CEO or a widow with only two denarii to spare.

The pre-transformed Scrooge is motivated by greed and avarice. You can put it in nice business terms -- call it maximizing profits, ensuring the proper ROI ratio, whatever -- but he is motivated by greed and avarice. And these are not positive qualities to be emulated, in spite of what the learned professor says. That's the true bottom line here. And I'm at pains to bring this up because I saw and heard, over and over again in the MBA program in which I participated for two years, greed presented as a positive attribute. It wasn't called greed, of course. That would be too gauche. But it was greed. And the message that was presented -- that was drilled into our numbers-obsessed noggins, in fact -- is that the paramount goal of Today's Modern Manager is to ensure maximum profitability, whatever the cost might be in non-monetary trivialities such as human beings, or morals, or anything else that might inconveniently get in the way.

When I read that article, I came away believing that I had just digested an MBA Finance professor's self-serving misinterpretation of a classic novel. He probably wrote the damn thing using Microsoft Excel; one spreadsheet cell per paragraph. I'll give him a bit of grace because he wrote the article in 1998, in the middle of an economic boom. Maybe Scrooge didn't look so bad in an era when profit sharing was an actual reality, and some of the gold doubloons could still trickle down to the wretched clerks. But in light of what we've seen in the past few years, I find the article indefensible. It not only does great injustice to the novel Dickens wrote, but it champions a miserly Bean Counter with the compassionate heart of an eel as some sort of misunderstood hero. There's a reason that there's never been a great novel written about a CPA.

Cratchit started it by having all those blasted children, he's got no discernible skills, and so he ought to be content with his lot, including that part of the lot that involves his disabled child who will die within a year.

It stands to be said that there's something to be said about being responsible when having a family. Obviously, this was written a few decades before the industrial revolution, and a century before the advent of artificial contraception, when having a large family was a great help for those living in a farm, but not so much in the squalor of London. Suffice it to say, I do not support artificial contraception, but even Humanae Vitae offers reasons why one ought to consider refraining from marital relations to which the end would be another mouth to feed. And in this year of the Octo-Mom, and in this year where there's a high school in Massachussetts has a large percentage of teenage pregnancies (so to allow the government to take care of them), I think the point is still valid. It shouldn't have to be articulated, but apparently it does.

I'm all for responsible family planning. But "planning" that involves non-intervention in a medical crisis after a child is born is -- I don't know -- callous indifference, inhumanity, perhaps murder. The author of that article wants us to believe that Tiny Tim should have been sacrificed upon the altar of Pragmatic Business Practice. It's Bob Cratchit's own fault that he's got more kids than he can care for. And so Scrooge has been unjustly portrayed as the bad guy here. He's just being a good CEO, watching out for his shareholders. I'll say it again: Bah! Humbug!

Unfortunately, some of them are CEOs in America.

Name names, please. I find it hard to believe that a smart businessman, a frugal CEO (whose only care is the bottom line) would NOT want to donate the largest percentage of funds to a charitable organization, so as to take advantage of the tax breaks, and to incur positive p.r. . Certainly, you can point to the thieves at Enron, but there is no point in Dickens' narrative that indicates that Scrooge is a cheat. I'm sure there's another great story out there about the cheats--even Mr. Potter applies--but don't misguide yourself as to that Scrooge is equal to such vermin.

I think you underestimate the power of greed.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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The article perniciously assumes that the market always takes care of everything. Thus, sweathouses that impose 15-hour days are by definition not oppressive since those so employed could seek more desirable work elsewhere if their services were worth enough to negotiate more satisfactory working conditions. Exact same logic applies to Cratchit and his single lump of coal -- there's no moral threshold of humane working conditions, there's only what people are willing to endure for what you pay them.

The article assumes, in other words, sufficient economic and social conditions to ensure competition and the free play of market forces. Absent such conditions, Scrooge may have something like monopolistic freedom to dictate terms to Cratchit, and thus to impose undue hardship on him, taking advantage of his need.

The free play of market forces is a powerful engine of equity, but it is far from sufficient to ensure justice.

The argument that Scrooge's own self-interest would lead him to give charitably for the sake of tax write-offs and PR runs contrary to the established facts of the story. It is not clear to me in any case that the tax laws of the time would ever reward a man more for giving money to charity than they would penalize him in taxes for keeping the money (I have to admit I'm not financially savvy enough to understand why it would be different in any other time, unless it has something to do with bracket thresholds or something). And Scrooge does not seem interested in PR.

Even if it were argued that his attitude was contrary to his economic self-interest, people do not always perfectly calibrate their actions to their self-interest. Emotional responses are also a factor, and Scrooge's emotional aversion to charitable giving (and disapproval of those who need it) may make him prefer to support the workhouses and prisons in taxes than the charities with giving.

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The pre-transformed Scrooge is motivated by greed and avarice.
If it is greed, it's an odd form of greed. The greed that characterizes, say, Mr. Potter or Gordon Gekko, is a greed in which the money earned from the low-income classes goes directly to the luxuries that they relish in. Expensive cars, jet airliners, portable phones (that last bit being a dated reference), reservations at the hottest clubs, penthouse apartments, and phenomenally ugly artwork.

Scrooge, to his credit, eats alone, in an underheated dwelling, and his dinners constitute an undigested bit of meat or cheese. This is not luxury. This is denying oneself the very luxuries that others would very easily take upon themselves.

It doesn't make him a good person. But it makes him an honest person. That's the difference. If it were any other way, it would very easily be misconstrued that the problem isn't about business in general, but it's about personal responsibility to share what you have, not to let taxation do the job for you.

Having this discussion reminds me about how Stanley Kramer handled the Sydney Poitier character in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (an admittedly inferior work). As a film that tackles a very specific subject matter, it was most important to craft his character in such a manner that the very issue being addressed--interracial marriage be stripped down to its very essentials. Critics accused Kramer of stacking the deck so that Poitier's character is simply soooooo perfect to not exhibit any personal flaws. Yep. Because each of those flaws can be a stepping stone as to why such a marriage should not take place, thus clouding the issue of whether interracial marriage should exist or not.

In much the same way, Scrooge is a mean, heartless, cold, penny-pinching, money-grubbing individual, with no religious sense nor moral imperative to help care for another. But, as a businessman, he is still honest. The business he runs is still a valid one. The people who work under Scrooge are treated just as fairly as he treats himself (which is, admittedly, a warped interpretation of "Love your neighbor as you do yourself"). And those who do not like the environment don't have to work there--they could be sending out resumes to other valid places of employment. The author is simply looking at, not Scrooge the man, but the strength of his business.

Did you see SNL this week? The first sketch? The one where the president of China chides President Obama for lecturing him, when we are going to them for 800 billion dollars of IOUs? That's the point. I deplore China as much as any sensible moral person, but the fact of the matter is, they have money to lend, and our economy is crippling. A basic reason why the market fell apart is because unethical lenders focused an inordinate amount of attention to giving out loans to lower-income families that could not possibly pay them back. That is a point that should not go unnoticed.

Nick

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If it is greed, it's an odd form of greed. The greed that characterizes, say, Mr. Potter or Gordon Gekko, is a greed in which the money earned from the low-income classes goes directly to the luxuries that they relish in. Expensive cars, jet airliners, portable phones (that last bit being a dated reference), reservations at the hottest clubs, penthouse apartments, and phenomenally ugly artwork.

Scrooge, to his credit, eats alone, in an underheated dwelling, and his dinners constitute an undigested bit of meat or cheese. This is not luxury. This is denying oneself the very luxuries that others would very easily take upon themselves.

How is miserliness an "odd form of greed"? That seems like saying that daintiness is an odd form of gluttony. I don't think St. Thomas would hesitate to label Scrooge's condition a species of greed.

So he's an honest greedy man, positively ascetical in his preference for the sheer accumulation of capital over most anything capital can buy, beyond the bare necessities. It doesn't change his greed into something else. The love of money is not less disreputable than the love of pleasure; if anything, the reverse is more plausibly the case.

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The argument that Scrooge's own self-interest would lead him to give charitably for the sake of tax write-offs and PR runs contrary to the established facts of the story. It is not clear to me in any case that the tax laws of the time would ever reward a man more for giving money to charity than they would penalize him in taxes for keeping the money (I have to admit I'm not financially savvy enough to understand why it would be different in any other time, unless it has something to do with bracket thresholds or something). And Scrooge does not seem interested in PR.
This is to Dickens' credit. I believe the power of this story is such that it encouraged legislation to allow for charitable deductions to be a tax write-off, something that was likely not instituted in Victorian England. That is why there has never been a quality modern version of this story--not even Bill Murray or Vanessa Williams could give a performance that can overtake the problems with the narrative.

But I think the reason for mentioning the modern day tax practices and PR is because it has become altogether too convenient to love this story for what it does not promote. Too many people look upon the distortions of Scrooge and enjoy seeing him get his comeuppance, without realizing that Dickens is saying that we--you and I--are very likely to be the very Scrooge, hoarding our money away and not giving to help our neighbor. The term "Scrooge" has become synonymous to somebody who does something rotten during the holiday season (I read this morning about a 'Scrooge' that stole a baby Jesus from a neighbor's lawn), but upon closer reading of the narrative, I sensed that Scrooge (whose faults I've already expressed), would never do such a thing. This isn't to say that Scrooge is good; it's to say that we can be Scrooge, and not even know it.

Sorry for the circular arguments, e2c. I'd like to think my evidence is airtight, and that all will bow in my general direction. Wait and see...

Nick

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But I think the reason for mentioning the modern day tax practices and PR is because it has become altogether too convenient to love this story for what it does not promote. Too many people look upon the distortions of Scrooge and enjoy seeing him get his comeuppance, without realizing that Dickens is saying that we--you and I--are very likely to be the very Scrooge, hoarding our money away and not giving to help our neighbor. The term "Scrooge" has become synonymous to somebody who does something rotten during the holiday season (I read this morning about a 'Scrooge' that stole a baby Jesus from a neighbor's lawn), but upon closer reading of the narrative, I sensed that Scrooge (whose faults I've already expressed), would never do such a thing. This isn't to say that Scrooge is good; it's to say that we can be Scrooge, and not even know it.

I have no quarrel with any of this, nor, I suspect, has Andy (though he can speak for himself). My only caveat is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the proposition of the original article.

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If it is greed, it's an odd form of greed. The greed that characterizes, say, Mr. Potter or Gordon Gekko, is a greed in which the money earned from the low-income classes goes directly to the luxuries that they relish in. Expensive cars, jet airliners, portable phones (that last bit being a dated reference), reservations at the hottest clubs, penthouse apartments, and phenomenally ugly artwork.

Scrooge, to his credit, eats alone, in an underheated dwelling, and his dinners constitute an undigested bit of meat or cheese. This is not luxury. This is denying oneself the very luxuries that others would very easily take upon themselves.

How is miserliness an "odd form of greed"? That seems like saying that daintiness is an odd form of gluttony. I don't think St. Thomas would hesitate to label Scrooge's condition a species of greed.

So he's an honest greedy man, positively ascetical in his preference for the sheer accumulation of capital over most anything capital can buy, beyond the bare necessities. It doesn't change his greed into something else. The love of money is not less disreputable than the love of pleasure; if anything, the reverse is more plausibly the case.

I'll tell you what it does mean; it means that for every penny that he saves, it's a penny that goes back into his business, which allows him to lend more to people who are in need of a loan. Which keeps him in business. Which allows him to continue keeping Cratchit employed. Which allows him to continue supporting the government via taxes.

Now... I do not support Scrooge's actions, obviously. But it must be made clear that Dickens is demonstrating that the problem is not that his business has no right to exist, (he is servicing a need), but that one ought to be generous with his surplus with his neighbors, and not trust the government to get charity right.

ETA: Tying this back to the original article: he is talking about the validity of Scrooge's business, in light of the scenario that Dickens has painted.

Nick

Edited by Nick Alexander

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But it must be made clear that Dickens is demonstrating that the problem is not that his business has no right to exist, (he is servicing a need), but that one ought to be generous with his surplus with his neighbors, and not trust the government to get charity right.

ETA: Tying this back to the original article: he is talking about the validity of Scrooge's business, in light of the scenario that Dickens has painted.

Who ever argued that Scrooge's business had "no right to exist"? Contra whom would such a point need to be made? If that were all Levin were arguing, why would he bother writing the article?

Scrooge's first offense, according to Dickens, is that he refused to give to charity -- that he considered his taxes sufficiently grievous provision for the less fortunate. That the money Scrooge did not give to charity might (or might not) be lent to individuals who would benefit from the loan does not obviate the need to make charitable provision for those needier still in no position to secure loans. This is Dickens' point, it is Andy's and my point, and it seems to be the point Levin contests. If you aren't defending that, what are we talking about?

Scrooge's larger defect is that he suffers from a general atrophy of human feeling and sentiment. He has no capacity for generosity either toward others or toward himself. He regards Cratchit, and other human beings, solely in economic terms, rather than valuing them as persons.

Levin argues that Tiny Tim's needs are no greater than the hypothetical Sickly Sid who might benefit from Scrooge's use of the money with which he is not helping Cratchit. But Scrooge has not made that calculation. He never bothered to learn about the circumstances of the one man whose livelihood most directly depends on his own disposition. Had he bothered to take a human interest in those around him, he would have seen the world differently. He didn't because he hadn't.

For Dickens, Christmas is among other things a celebration of largesse and solidarity. Scrooge's defect is an incapacity for largesse and solidarity. Levin's argument seems to be "Largesse and solidarity are overrated; self-interest is enough." It isn't.

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If it is greed, it's an odd form of greed. The greed that characterizes, say, Mr. Potter or Gordon Gekko, is a greed in which the money earned from the low-income classes goes directly to the luxuries that they relish in. Expensive cars, jet airliners, portable phones (that last bit being a dated reference), reservations at the hottest clubs, penthouse apartments, and phenomenally ugly artwork.

Scrooge, to his credit, eats alone, in an underheated dwelling, and his dinners constitute an undigested bit of meat or cheese. This is not luxury. This is denying oneself the very luxuries that others would very easily take upon themselves.

How is miserliness an "odd form of greed"? That seems like saying that daintiness is an odd form of gluttony. I don't think St. Thomas would hesitate to label Scrooge's condition a species of greed.

So he's an honest greedy man, positively ascetical in his preference for the sheer accumulation of capital over most anything capital can buy, beyond the bare necessities. It doesn't change his greed into something else. The love of money is not less disreputable than the love of pleasure; if anything, the reverse is more plausibly the case.

I'll tell you what it does mean; it means that for every penny that he saves, it's a penny that goes back into his business, which allows him to lend more to people who are in need of a loan. Which keeps him in business. Which allows him to continue keeping Cratchit employed. Which allows him to continue supporting the government via taxes.

Now... I do not support Scrooge's actions, obviously. But it must be made clear that Dickens is demonstrating that the problem is not that his business has no right to exist, (he is servicing a need), but that one ought to be generous with his surplus with his neighbors, and not trust the government to get charity right.

ETA: Tying this back to the original article: he is talking about the validity of Scrooge's business, in light of the scenario that Dickens has painted.

I don't think anyone is questioning Scrooge's right to be in business. Nor does Dickens. But the crucial question is whether Scrooge has received a fair critical reception lo these past 166 years since the publication of A Christmas Carol. Is he, prior to his ghostly visitations, the miserly misanthrope that most people assume him to be, or is he the misunderstood businessman who actually contributes to the common good, as the author of that article maintains?

I submit that whatever abstract "common good" that Scrooge may be contributing to by paying taxes, lending money to others, etc. is more than offset by the very specific indifference if not outright evil he shows to the Cratchit family. The author finds Scrooge's hard-nosed, no-nonsense business approach to be commendable. Let's not have any sentiment get in the way of making a buck. I disagree with him. Such behavior is not commendable. It's loathsome. Scrooge has the opportunity to respond not as a business owner, but as a human being. He fails miserably. This does make him a heroic captain of industry. It makes him a miserable human being who needs to be shaken up and redeemed. To view him as that heroic captain of industry, as the author does, is to completely miss the point of the story.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Complete agreement on every point, Andy, with the lone caveat that I'm not sure the author so much misses the point of the story as rejects it.

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Who ever argued that Scrooge's business had "no right to exist"? Contra whom would such a point need to be made? If that were all Levin were arguing, why would he bother writing the article?
I can't speak for Levin, but from what I got out of the article, is that many people demonize Scrooge for attibutes that aren't there, and attributes that are there that the critics happen to share. Even Andy pointed to CEOs as Scrooge-like, to which I think is too broad a brush, especially in light of the current tax laws.

Scrooge's first offense, according to Dickens, is that he refused to give to charity
Nope. His first offense was in refusing his nephew's invitation, calling Christmas a "humbug", not celebrating Christmas, and barely heating his establishment.

that he considered his taxes sufficiently grievous provision for the less fortunate. That the money Scrooge did not give to charity might (or might not) be lent to individuals who would benefit from the loan does not obviate the need to make charitable provision for those needier still in no position to secure loans. This is Dickens' point, it is Andy's and my point, and it seems to be the point Levin contests. If you aren't defending that, what are we talking about?
We're talking about the demonization of big business (again, Whitman's comments about CEOs), at the expense of the other elephant in the room, big government. Dickens certainly acknowledged the insufficient response of the government to the poor in Victorian England, but in this story, he wasn't saying the response was to correct these problems from a government-level (to which paying taxes would have been sufficient), but to encourage personal charity towards one's neighbor. And at this moment, Obamacare is being debated in the Senate, which, if passed, is likely to force individuals to cut back on personal charitable giving, and trusting the big government to be a solution to all.

In a free market, if I didn't like how Scrooge did his business, or that he didn't give to charitable organizations, I had the freedom to look elsewhere for that loan. But if a big government does not sufficiently care for its own, I do not have the choice to withdraw my tax revenue. As far as I see it, Dickens is very clearly advocating for personal responsibility towards the poor, in cooperation with limited government.

Scrooge's larger defect is that he suffers from a general atrophy of human feeling and sentiment. He has no capacity for generosity either toward others or toward himself. He regards Cratchit, and other human beings, solely in economic terms, rather than valuing them as persons.
Agreed. This is a terrible fault, one which the article did not address.

Levin argues that Tiny Tim's needs are no greater than the hypothetical Sickly Sid who might benefit from Scrooge's use of the money with which he is not helping Cratchit. But Scrooge has not made that calculation. He never bothered to learn about the circumstances of the one man whose livelihood most directly depends on his own disposition. Had he bothered to take a human interest in those around him, he would have seen the world differently. He didn't because he hadn't.

For Dickens, Christmas is among other things a celebration of largesse and solidarity. Scrooge's defect is an incapacity for largesse and solidarity. Levin's argument seems to be "Largesse and solidarity are overrated; self-interest is enough." It isn't.

What I get out of Levin's argument is that Scrooge sees largesse and solidarity as integrated in the business that he runs, and the taxes he pays. And where we would agree is that Scrooge needs to, well, like people again (starting with himself). That his business, while having helped many in need, does not institute a lot of grace. The *challenge*, however, is learning how to institute this same grace and generosity and love of neighbor in a way that still keeps the business alive, so to keep everybody involved gainfully employed. That the 12-26-Scrooge allowed Cratchit's salary to be doubled meant that the funds were there all along, and he would have to work the books so to make sure everything remains solvent (the story is not concerned with how). That is, we hope that to be the case. We don't consider the solvency of his business as an essential ingredient to the story. Which is why I appreciated the article.

Nick

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We're talking about the demonization of big business (again, Whitman's comments about CEOs), at the expense of the other elephant in the room, big government. Dickens certainly acknowledged the insufficient response of the government to the poor in Victorian England, but in this story, he wasn't saying the response was to correct these problems from a government-level (to which paying taxes would have been sufficient), but to encourage personal charity towards one's neighbor. And at this moment, Obamacare is being debated in the Senate, which, if passed, is likely to force individuals to cut back on personal charitable giving, and trusting the big government to be a solution to all.

I suppose I do believe that employees not only have an obligation to perform their work well, but that employers also have some obligation to their employees. This seems to be one of the points Dickens makes in A Christmas Carol as well. I realize it's a fantasy. If it was ever true, it hasn't been true for a long time. I'm not sure what big government has to do with any of it. I do know that the personal charitable giving doesn't seem to be cutting it for tens of millions of Americans.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I suppose I do believe that employees not only have an obligation to perform their work well, but that employers also have some obligation to their employees. This seems to be one of the points Dickens makes in A Christmas Carol as well. I realize it's a fantasy.

Not really. Every year there are articles in BusinessWeek and segments on CBS Sunday Morning listing the best corporations to work for, listing all the great perqs of working at such an establishment. So long as the money was made honestly, and people are free to give of their own surplus, there is no problem. Now, not everybody works at such an establishment, but I'll tell you this--every time articles like this are put out there, more companies take it upon themselves to provide for their workers, as best that they can. It's not an absolute, but it is good business.

I'm not sure what big government has to do with any of it. I do know that the personal charitable giving doesn't seem to be cutting it for tens of millions of Americans.
There has been plenty of statistics to demonstrate exactly this point--that the vast majority of Americans, even those of a religious persuasion, do not tithe. I'll have to get the exact figures, but we're talking between 1 and 3 percent, across the vast majority of denominations. Imagine the good that can be done if this was increased!

Big government does not cut it for tens of millions of Americans either. It didn't work for Victorian England, and it won't work today.

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: I suppose I do believe that employees not only have an obligation to perform their work well, but that employers also have some obligation to their employees.

Well, that's what contracts are for. They spell out what each party's obligations are.

: I'm not sure what big government has to do with any of it. I do know that the personal charitable giving doesn't seem to be cutting it for tens of millions of Americans.

Keeping in mind that, as Nick noted, the current predicament was caused partly by what we might call governmental charity (e.g., lending massive amounts of money to people who simply couldn't afford to pay it back, all in the name of ensuring that everyone, no matter how poor, could own their own home). Personal charity isn't the only kind that fails, or has its limits.

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I'm just starting to read through George Orwell's comments on Charles Dickens, but this paragraph jumped out as apropos our current discussion:

The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens's attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature’. It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong as a system. Nowhere, for instance, does he make any attack on private enterprise or private property. Even in a book like Our Mutual Friend, which turns on the power of corpses to interfere with living people by means of idiotic wills, it does not occur to him to suggest that individuals ought not to have this irresponsible power. Of course one can draw this inference for oneself, and one can draw it again from the remarks about Bounderby's will at the end of Hard Times, and indeed from the whole of Dickens's work one can infer the evil of laissez-faire capitalism; but Dickens makes no such inference himself. It is said that Macaulay refused to review Hard Times because he disapproved of its ‘sullen Socialism’. Obviously Macaulay is here using the word ‘Socialism’ in the same sense in which, twenty years ago, a vegetarian meal or a Cubist picture used to be referred to as ‘Bolshevism’. There is not a line in the book that can properly be called Socialistic; indeed, its tendency if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be rebellious. Bounder by is a bullying windbag and Gradgrind has been morally blinded, but if they were better men, the system would work well enough that, all through, is the implication. And so far as social criticism goes, one can never extract much more from Dickens than this, unless one deliberately reads meanings into him. His whole ‘message’ is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent.

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: I suppose I do believe that employees not only have an obligation to perform their work well, but that employers also have some obligation to their employees.

Well, that's what contracts are for. They spell out what each party's obligations are.

I don't know what business contracts are like in Canada. But having just signed one in the U.S. within the past couple weeks, I can tell you that I can be dismissed at any time, for any reason or any non-reason. I am completely at the whim of my employer. This is standard practice here. There's no use protesting it. If I don't like it, there are plenty of other people out there who would love to have my job. This is not precisely what I had in mind when I wrote that I would like to believe that employers also have some obligation to their employees.

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I don't have anything very constructive to add to this thread except to say that reading it has been one of the great pleasures of my day.

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: I don't know what business contracts are like in Canada. But having just signed one in the U.S. within the past couple weeks, I can tell you that I can be dismissed at any time, for any reason or any non-reason.

Are you saying that this is spelled out in the contract, or that contracts are unenforceable?

: This is not precisely what I had in mind when I wrote that I would like to believe that employers also have some obligation to their employees.

Until you signed that contract, you were not an employee. Therefore, the employer had no obligation to you whatsoever. And then, once you signed that contract, the contract itself stipulated what the obligations on both sides were. If you are now saying that the employer (i.e., the person who gives money in exchange for services) is somehow obliged to go BEYOND the contract, while the employee (i.e., the person who gives services in exchange for money) is NOT similarly obliged to go beyond the contract, then I am not sure on what basis you are making this claim.

If I rent a car, am I suddenly obliged to do more than what the contract stipulates, simply because I am the one providing money rather than services to the exchange?

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Andy Whitman wrote:

I don't know what business contracts are like in Canada. But having just signed one in the U.S. within the past couple weeks, I can tell you that I can be dismissed at any time, for any reason or any non-reason.

Are you saying that this is spelled out in the contract, or that contracts are unenforceable?

I'm saying it's spelled out in the contract. I'm saying the document I signed states that I can be dismissed at any time, for any reason, at the whim of the employer.

This is not precisely what I had in mind when I wrote that I would like to believe that employers also have some obligation to their employees.

Until you signed that contract, you were not an employee. Therefore, the employer had no obligation to you whatsoever. And then, once you signed that contract, the contract itself stipulated what the obligations on both sides were. If you are now saying that the employer (i.e., the person who gives money in exchange for services) is somehow obliged to go BEYOND the contract, while the employee (i.e., the person who gives services in exchange for money) is NOT similarly obliged to go beyond the contract, then I am not sure on what basis you are making this claim.

The obligation is somewhat one-sided. Essentially, the company agrees to pay me until they don't agree to pay me. That could be tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Based on what I've seen in the corporate world over the past decade, it almost certainly doesn't mean next year or for the next two years. Everybody's a hired gun, trying to string together enough work with enough companies to make it until they can mercifully get off the merry-go-round. Whee. Company loyalty? Only the very foolish or the very naive would believe in such a concept, although, incredibly, it is still preached in occasional rah-rah corporate pep talks.

In an ideal world (heh), an employee who is doing a good job (as deemed by the employee review process) for an employer who is not under financial constraints to rid themselves of employees, ought to have some assurance of ongoing work. That assurance is not there in the U.S. This is a sea change in the world of employment in the past twenty or thirty years. Everybody's heard of people who started work right out of school and who worked for the same company until retirement. That idea is now quite quaint and outdated. I know very, very few people in the IT world in the U.S. who have not been laid off (another quaint term that essentially means "we're done with you now; have a good life") multiple times in their careers. These layoffs have had nothing to do with job performance. They've been entirely economically motivated, usually as a way to achieve short-term profits.

Corporate America is run by the kind of reptiles who wrote that article about A Christmas Carol, the Scrooge apologists who wonder what the hell is wrong with a lump of coal. Shouldn't that be sufficient? You'll have to pardon me if I respond less than enthusiastically.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Scrooge, to his credit, eats alone, in an underheated dwelling, and his dinners constitute an undigested bit of meat or cheese.

Now who's prooftexting? -- and not very well. Scrooge, we're told, takes his usual melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern. We're not told how well the tavern is heated, nor how much or how little he eats, nor what constitutes the meal. We can be fairly certain, however, that Cratchit is not taking his dinner in that tavern, nor in any other tavern. Scrooge does have a bowl of gruel at home -- because he's got a cold in the head, just as you or I might have chicken soup for the same ailment. The "undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato" refers to Marley's ghost ... Scrooge is hypothesizing that he's hallucinating because of something he ate -- which means either that part of his meal disagreed with him, or that he [gasp!] ATE TOO MUCH.

The people who work under Scrooge are treated just as fairly as he treats himself.

Wrong. Whereas Scrooge no doubt deprives himself of certain comforts, let's note that his fire is still bigger than Cratchit's, and he keeps the coal-box in his own office.

And those who do not like the environment don't have to work there--they could be sending out resumes to other valid places of employment.

I think both you and Levin are overlooking Victorian/Edwardian British notions of employment portability vis-a-vis class status. Underlings like Cratchit weren't free in any meaningful sense to quit their jobs and start spreading resumes around London. Think of Leonard Bast in Forster's Howards End. Leonard's a clerk at an insurance company, more or less the same economic/social status as Cratchit. He gets some bad advice and gives up his job voluntarily ... and because of that, no other prospective employer will touch him.

One possible reason for Cratchit's large family is that when the kids get old enough, they can start putting something in the kitty. Martha already has a job, and we're told that Peter will soon get one. Bob's kids are more than simply a drain on his resources. Things might actually be looking up for Bob aside from that nasty chronic illness that Tiny Tim has. And inasmuch as we might pity Bob because his kid is sick, we are also clearly meant to see that he is generally happy in spite of his circumstances ... happier than Scrooge by a good long shot.

A basic reason why the market fell apart is because unethical lenders focused an inordinate amount of attention to giving out loans to lower-income families that could not possibly pay them back.

Perhaps, but they sure didn't do it out of a charitable disposition toward those families. They did it to make more money.

As to whether Scrooge's miserliness is a form of greed, here are two other characters from British literature:

He fetched another cup from the shelf; and then, to my great surprise, instead of drawing more beer, he poured an accurate half from one cup to the other. There was a kind of nobleness in this that took my breath away; if my uncle was certainly a miser, he was one of that thorough breed that goes near to make the vice respectable.

——Stevenson, Kidnapped

Your patient's mother, as I learn from the dossier and

you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be

astonished—one day, I hope, will be—to learn that her whole life is enslaved to

this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the

quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can

use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience,

uncharitableness, and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She

is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what

has been offered her to say with a demure little sign and a smile "Oh please,

please...all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest

weeniest bit of really crisp toast". You see? Because what she wants is smaller

and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as

gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be

to others.

——Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Edited by mrmando

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I'm saying it's spelled out in the contract. I'm saying the document I signed states that I can be dismissed at any time, for any reason, at the whim of the employer.

...Everybody's heard of people who started work right out of school and who worked for the same company until retirement. That idea is now quite quaint and outdated. I know very, very few people in the IT world in the U.S. who have not been laid off (another quaint term that essentially means "we're done with you now; have a good life") multiple times in their careers. These layoffs have had nothing to do with job performance. They've been entirely economically motivated, usually as a way to achieve short-term profits.

Two things. Those people who worked at a company for twenty, thirty years? Had to sign the exact same type of contract. Those who have job security? Teachers with tenure, semi-successful self-employed, and anybody whos last name is "Kennedy."

Second thing: the goal is profit. Not short-term profits, but profit, period. No profit, loss of capital, out of business.

I, too, work in IT. It's a crazy line of work. It's better suited for temps, because it's largely project oriented, and then maintenance. Do you want consistency? Choose another line of work. (Sorry for my bluntness, but as someone in IT, I feel justified in saying it).

Corporate America is run by the kind of reptiles who wrote that article about A Christmas Carol, the Scrooge apologists who wonder what the hell is wrong with a lump of coal. Shouldn't that be sufficient? You'll have to pardon me if I respond less than enthusiastically.
Actually, if you read my posts carefully, you'll see that I'm not apologizing for Scrooge, especially in regards to how he treats fellow human beings. I'm making a distinction between his terrible attitude towards his fellow man, and how it applied to his most particular line of work (banking). His same attitude towards others would be a colossal flop if he were to be a McDonald's franchisee, or an inner-city high school teacher, or in technical support. And regardless of how confident you are in job security in your (our) line of work, the bottom line is that Dickens very capably demonstrated that Scrooge's fault was not that he was crooked, or head of a Ponzi scheme, but that he did not care for his fellow man. Dickens is making a plea that a person can sustain a long term business venture, while still being a great steward of the earned income one receives, both for his employees, and his community.

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Scrooge, to his credit, eats alone, in an underheated dwelling, and his dinners constitute an undigested bit of meat or cheese.

Now who's prooftexting? -- and not very well. Scrooge, we're told, takes his usual melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern. We're not told how well the tavern is heated, nor how much or how little he eats, nor what constitutes the meal. He does have a bowl of gruel at home because he's got a cold in the head. The "undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato" refers to Marley's ghost ... Scrooge is hypothesizing that he's hallucinating because of something he ate -- which means either that part of his meal disagreed with him, or that he [gasp!] ATE TOO MUCH.

I am writing from memory, so I knew I would get a little bit wrong. But even so, a tavern. Not quite the five-star dining establishment one expects from a CEO, don't you think? As for eating too much, I'm sorry, but we live in a country where many people of all financial stripes can eat too much.

The people who work under Scrooge are treated just as fairly as he treats himself.

Wrong. Whereas Scrooge no doubt deprives himself of certain comforts, let's note that his fire is still bigger than Cratchit's, and he keeps the coal-box in his own office.

I'll re-check this, but my point is still valid: he deprives himself of certain comforts. Can you say the same for Gordon Gekko or Bernie Madoff?

And those who do not like the environment don't have to work there--they could be sending out resumes to other valid places of employment.

I think both you and Levin are overlooking Victorian/Edwardian British notions of employment portability vis-a-vis class status. Underlings like Cratchit weren't free in any meaningful sense to quit their jobs and start spreading resumes around London. Think of Leonard Bast in Forster's Howards End. Leonard's a clerk at an insurance company, more or less the same economic/social status as Cratchit. He gets some bad advice and gives up his job voluntarily ... and because of that, no other prospective employer will touch him.

Not familiar with Howards' End. I will say that one does not have to give up their job voluntarily--no employment adviser in their right mind would ever suggest that! Instead, keep their options open, put out feelers, send out resumes, and do so outside of work. I'm not saying this is any easier in Victorian England, but surely it has been done.

A basic reason why the market fell apart is because unethical lenders focused an inordinate amount of attention to giving out loans to lower-income families that could not possibly pay them back.

Perhaps, but they sure didn't do it out of a charitable disposition toward those families. They did it to make more money.

Yep. But they also did it because of certain laws that were passed that forced them to relax their policies. Nobody is immune...

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As for eating too much, I'm sorry, but we live in a country where many people of all financial stripes can eat too much.

Perhaps we do, but Scrooge did not. And anyhow, today on Warren Olney's "To the Point" show, Warren moderated a pissing match between two idiots (I've conveniently forgotten their names, but you could look them up) arguing over whether as few as 10 million or as many as 55 million people in this country were currently suffering from "hunger," or whether some are hungry and some just suffer from "food insecurity." As if what you choose to call it made any difference to those people's stomachs.

I'll re-check this, but my point is still valid: he deprives himself of certain comforts. Can you say the same for Gordon Gekko or Bernie Madoff?

No, but we can say it for Ebenezer Balfour, or Wormwood's patient's mother, or Ebenezer Scrooge. Miserliness is a particular species of greed, but it's still greed, as Lewis shows. And anyway, your point was not that Scrooge deprives himself of certain comforts. That was MY point, dammit. Your point was that Scrooge deprives himself as much as he deprives others, which is clearly not true.

I've mentioned in the Christmas Carol thread that Patrick Stewart, in his TV version of the story, plays the line "What's Christmastime to you but a time for paying bills without money? ... a time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer?" to suggest that the year in question actually has not been a good one for Scrooge's business, and that he may not be as financially successful as Levin would like to think. At least we have no indication from the story that Scrooge thinks himself a success. However much wealth he has or doesn't have, he is clearly not satisfied with it.

Not familiar with Howards' End. I will say that one does not have to give up their job voluntarily--no employment adviser in their right mind would ever suggest that! Instead, keep their options open, put out feelers, send out resumes, and do so outside of work. I'm not saying this is any easier in Victorian England, but surely it has been done.

You're also not saying it was any harder. But the fact is, it was much harder. Well nigh impossible, as a matter of fact.

Yep. But they also did it because of certain laws that were passed that forced them to relax their policies. Nobody is immune...

Forced? Forced, you say? Laws did not force any bank to offer junk loans. Laws made the junk loans possible, but it was still up to individual banks whether to offer them or not. Unfortunately, when one bank starts drumming up a lot of new business with bad loans, it's hard for other banks to resist the temptation to follow suit.

Scrooge's first offense, according to Dickens, is that he refused to give to charity

Nope. His first offense was in refusing his nephew's invitation, calling Christmas a "humbug", not celebrating Christmas, and barely heating his establishment.

Well, then, refusing to give to charity is his second offense, since it's the next thing he does after his nephew leaves the office. Bravo, sir. That hair was finely and truly split.

Edited by mrmando

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As for eating too much, I'm sorry, but we live in a country where many people of all financial stripes can eat too much.

Perhaps we do, but Scrooge did not. And anyhow, today on Warren Olney's "To the Point" show, Warren moderated a pissing match between two idiots (I've conveniently forgotten their names, but you could look them up) arguing over whether as few as 10 million or as many as 55 million people in this country were currently suffering from "hunger," or whether some are hungry and some just suffer from "food insecurity." As if what you choose to call it made any difference to those people's stomachs.

We live in a country where the obesity crisis has affected our poorest communities. That is because it isn't about how much they eat, but what they eat. Instead of eating healthy foods, they go for fast-food, heavily processed foods, foods high in saturated fat and trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. You may say that they did not have fast food of this sort in Victorian England, and you would be correct, but my point still stands: One can eat the same amount of a non-healthy food as a healthy food, and still come out obese. Take THAT with your "undigested bit of beef" and "underdone potato".

The bigger point? Scrooge has many faults, but gluttony was not among them. Sorry, but his wiry chin stands in great contrast... to Fezziwig!

And anyway, your point was not that Scrooge deprives himself of certain comforts. That was MY point, dammit. Your point was that Scrooge deprives himself as much as he deprives others, which is clearly not true.
You may want to re-read page two of your Scholastic paperback: "The cold within him froze his old features,... He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas. External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather can chill him." In other words, while he did have a bigger fire (good eagle eye there), it had zero influence on him.

I've mentioned in the Christmas Carol thread that Patrick Stewart, in his TV version of the story...
Bzzzt!! Wrong answer. Stewart's version is notoriously bad, in the fact that it attempts to modernize Dickens' prose. Even the Muppets have a more faithful version. We couldn't even sit through it, that's how banal it was, and we watch six or more versions of this every season.

Forced? Forced, you say? Laws did not force any bank to offer junk loans.
Um... you may want to re-read about the Community Reinvestment Act, which fined banks for turning down a percentage of loans in lower-income communities.

Well, then, refusing to give to charity is his second offense, since it's the next thing he does after his nephew leaves the office. Bravo, sir. That hair was finely and truly split.

Well, you DO know something about splitting hairs, since you found the passage about the slightly larger fire in Scrooge's office.

Edited by Nick Alexander

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The "Cost of Living for a Senior Clerk (1844)" table is most interesting, since it's within a year of the original publication date of A Christmas Carol. Bob is a clerk whose annual wage works out to exactly 39 pounds, whereas the annual cost of living for a "senior clerk" in his day is 150 pounds. Perhaps Bob isn't a senior clerk, but then again he's the only employee Scrooge appears to have. Apparently Scrooge isn't raking in more money than can be handled with two rakes.

Not only is Bob happy, we never get the indication that he is particularly dissatisfied with his job, nor even that he dislikes Scrooge, tight-fisted though the latter may be. To suggest that Cratchit leave his situation is to answer a question that neither Dickens nor Cratchit is asking.

Edited by mrmando

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