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#41 Andy Whitman

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 07:08 AM

I didn't want to put this in one of the film Christmas Carol threads, so this seemed like a good place for it.

Scrooge Defended:

It's Christmas again, time to celebrate the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the ritual: boo the curmudgeon initially encountered in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, then cheer the sweetie pie he becomes in the end. It's too bad no one notices that the curmudgeon had a point—quite a few points, in fact.


This reminds me of the article that tried to defend Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life that SDG and Co. so thoroughly deconstructed here.

That was fascinating in a Bernie-Madoff-Tries-Literary-Analysis kind of way, but the author seems to miss the point that Scrooge does undergo a radical transformation over the course of the story, and that before that transformation he is presented as a greedy, hard-hearted bastard. Sorry, Mr. Bean Counter, but we're not really supposed to admire the pre-transformation Scrooge. See, he's a bit of a villain, and he's not really presented as a shining champion of laissez faire capitalism.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 24 November 2009 - 07:20 AM.


#42 Nick Alexander

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 09:28 AM

That was fascinating in a Bernie-Madoff-Tries-Literary-Analysis kind of way, but the author seems to miss the point that Scrooge does undergo a radical transformation over the course of the story, and that before that transformation he is presented as a greedy, hard-hearted bastard. Sorry, Mr. Bean Counter, but we're not really supposed to admire the pre-transformation Scrooge. See, he's a bit of a villain, and he's not really presented as a shining champion of laissez faire capitalism.

Owwwch.

Andy, can you point out to me where, in Dickens' exquisite text, does Ebenezer Scrooge engage in a Bernie Madoff scam? I'll tell you where--nowhere.

Dickens is very delicate in his creation of Scrooge. Scrooge's faults are indeed, many. He is unkind, and he considers Christmas to be a humbug. But he as unkind as he is to others, he is equally unkind to himself. He is frugal to a fault, keeping costs way, way, down so that his profits would increase--but to what end? He doesn't use his profits for any positive means. He trusts the government to take care of the poor, thru the use of his taxes.

I suspect that one of the central reasons why the Scrooge tale is so revered today (being the most covered story in cinematic history), is because it allows us to fool ourselves into thinking that we are immune from the pitfalls of who Scrooge is. Andy, this is where I suspect you may be missing the point. It's not so much that Scrooge is a villain, but that Scrooge is _us_ at our worst, at our least altruistic, if we were truly honest. Just because we don't exhibit the same features as Scrooge, we don't have a funny name, and we don't say "Humbug!" doesn't make it any less so.

Nick

#43 Andy Whitman

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 10:15 AM

That was fascinating in a Bernie-Madoff-Tries-Literary-Analysis kind of way, but the author seems to miss the point that Scrooge does undergo a radical transformation over the course of the story, and that before that transformation he is presented as a greedy, hard-hearted bastard. Sorry, Mr. Bean Counter, but we're not really supposed to admire the pre-transformation Scrooge. See, he's a bit of a villain, and he's not really presented as a shining champion of laissez faire capitalism.

Owwwch.

Andy, can you point out to me where, in Dickens' exquisite text, does Ebenezer Scrooge engage in a Bernie Madoff scam? I'll tell you where--nowhere.

Dickens is very delicate in his creation of Scrooge. Scrooge's faults are indeed, many. He is unkind, and he considers Christmas to be a humbug. But he as unkind as he is to others, he is equally unkind to himself. He is frugal to a fault, keeping costs way, way, down so that his profits would increase--but to what end? He doesn't use his profits for any positive means. He trusts the government to take care of the poor, thru the use of his taxes.

I suspect that one of the central reasons why the Scrooge tale is so revered today (being the most covered story in cinematic history), is because it allows us to fool ourselves into thinking that we are immune from the pitfalls of who Scrooge is. Andy, this is where I suspect you may be missing the point. It's not so much that Scrooge is a villain, but that Scrooge is _us_ at our worst, at our least altruistic, if we were truly honest. Just because we don't exhibit the same features as Scrooge, we don't have a funny name, and we don't say "Humbug!" doesn't make it any less so.

Nick

First, to address your point, Nick, yes, we are all capable of living like Scrooge, hardening our hearts, etc. I agree with that. But I think the author of that article is arguing much more than that. To quote a (representative, I think) snippet from the article:

So let's look without preconceptions at Scrooge's allegedly underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. The fact is, if Cratchit's skills were worth more to anyone than the fifteen shillings Scrooge pays him weekly, there would be someone glad to offer it to him. Since no one has, and since Cratchit's profit-maximizing boss is hardly a man to pay for nothing, Cratchit must be worth exactly his present wages.

No doubt Cratchit needs—i.e., wants—more, to support his family and care for Tiny Tim. But Scrooge did not force Cratchit to father children he is having difficulty supporting. If Cratchit had children while suspecting he would be unable to afford them, he, not Scrooge, is responsible for their plight. And if Cratchit didn't know how expensive they would be, why must Scrooge assume the burden of Cratchit's misjudgment?

As for that one lump of coal Scrooge allows him, it bears emphasis that Cratchit has not been chained to his chilly desk. If he 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.


I can only hope that the author is engaging in satire gone wrong here. But since I suspect he is serious, let me me note that pulling yourselves up by the bootstraps didn't work any better in Victorian England than it does in current-day Haiti, that people really did starve to death under the good queen's royal nose, that the exploitation of the poor by the rich is a theme Dickens returns to again and again in his writing (it can be argued that it's the dominant theme of his work, and it was certainly a reality he experienced firsthand in his childhood), and that the "allegedly underpaid" Bob Cratchit could not afford the medical care that would have saved his son's life (we are shown, by the Ghost of Christmas Future, that Tiny Tim dies without Scrooge's intervention). But that's probably just a want, not a need. These wretched poor people with all their children; why can't they exercise some restraint? It's funny how Dickens remains contemporary.

Scrooge's "let the government take care of them" dismissal was one that Dickens roundly condemned, not only in A Christmas Carol, but in almost all of his novels. "Government care" meant the debtor's prison, a subject that Dickens goes on about at length, particularly in Little Dorrit. To put it mildly, Dickens was not a fan of what the government could do in these situations. What he was a fan of was private, individual generosity and moral responsibility; the very kind of responsibility that Scrooge shows following his Christmas Eve transformation.

Thus, from what I can tell, the author's "look without preconceptions" essentially involves interposing his own beliefs over the story, ignoring every literary convention employed by Dickens, and willfully distorting and contradicting the plain meaning of the text. I think he's woefully missed the point. And I'm pretty certain that I wouldn't want to hang out with him. He'd probably view me, with my four college degrees and my six months of unemployment in 2009, as a lazy parasite leeching off society. It's my owned damned fault, and I'm sure that the rest of society had nothing to do with it. I probably preferred my then-current wages-plus-comfort unemployment package to any other I could have found. Bah, humbug to you sir. And that's about as polite as I can get with this clown.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 24 November 2009 - 10:16 AM.


#44 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 10:38 AM

FWIW, I have never read the book, but I am familiar with the story from countless stage and screen adaptations, and I can certainly imagine liberals taking exception to A Christmas Carol on the basis that it credits the salvation of the Cratchits to a private benefactor (i.e. the post-conversion Scrooge) and not to any sort of systemic, governmental solution. So the story doesn't lend itself to either extreme on the political spectrum, really.

#45 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 10:48 AM

That was fascinating in a Bernie-Madoff-Tries-Literary-Analysis kind of way, but the author seems to miss the point that Scrooge does undergo a radical transformation over the course of the story, and that before that transformation he is presented as a greedy, hard-hearted bastard. Sorry, Mr. Bean Counter, but we're not really supposed to admire the pre-transformation Scrooge. See, he's a bit of a villain, and he's not really presented as a shining champion of laissez faire capitalism.

FWIW, I don't think Mr. Bean Counter is doing literary analysis, he's doing literary deconstruction -- i.e., not saying "This is who Scrooge is in Dickens' story" but "This is how (Dickens notwithstanding) we should actually think about the traits unfairly pilloried by Dickens in his stacked-deck morality play."

In other words, yes, Dickens wants us to not-admire Scrooge, but this writer says "Bah humbug to Dickens' values." The analogy to the similar deconstructions of It's a Wonderful Life was on the money.

(I had a friend with British roots who took a similar line on Star Wars: "Anti-imperial propaganda. Who says the Empire are the 'bad guys' and the Rebellion are the 'good guys'?")

#46 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 11:01 AM

SDG wrote:
: (I had a friend with British roots who took a similar line on Star Wars: "Anti-imperial propaganda. Who says the Empire are the 'bad guys' and the Rebellion are the 'good guys'?")

That friend wouldn't happen to be my dad, would it? (He was born in England.) Years ago, when The Empire Strikes Back came out, I can remember my dad feeling some sympathy for the way Darth Vader implored Luke to help him "end this destructive conflict."

But I can also remember him saying how unpopular the Star Wars trilogy would have been with the Communist governments of that era, because it encouraged rebellion against oppressive empires. (We lived in Poland for a year in the 1970s -- just one year before the first Polish Pope was elected, and a few years before Lech Walesa made the news with his Solidarity movement, and a few more years yet before Steve Taylor sang about the oppression of Poland in 'Over My Dead Body'...)

#47 Nick Alexander

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 11:10 AM

Andy,

I'm confused about your last email, perhaps you ought to explain it to me.

Dickens certainly painted Tiny Tim, a specialty needs child, in dire need of medical attention. Indeed, there are many families like this today, and it is a serious problem.

You're also correct that Dickens spoke against government-sanctioned solutions to societal ills, not just here, but in all of his works. The "prisons/workhouses" were entirely ineffective, and treated people like cattle. The solution, as he saw it, was in heart-felt giving, which is something not sanctioned by the government, but in the attitudes and decisions of individuals.

So if the government is not the solution, the solution is most clearly there being some sort of way for average persons to help assist those in great need. Churches have filled this void, as has individual efforts to appease debt, like giving to, say, "The Jimmy Fund", or "St Joseph's Children's Hospital." From here we agree.

But looking at Victorian England and comparing it to Haiti, and, sadly, your current predicament, is not an indictment towards capitalism, per se, because neither were fully capitalistic societies. The United States, by contrast, helped encourage businesses to engage in altruistic endeavors, by allowing tax breaks for individual contributions for charitable organizations. To Dickens' credit, his writing helped spur a wave towards giving, and looking after the less fortunate, and the tax laws were an extention of that.

I suspect that if our present government were to restrict the contributions of charitable organizations, and instead invest in huge economic plans (like nationalized health care), then our taxes would go up so astronomically (to help pay off the excrutiatingly high debt... currently at 800 billion dollars of interest-only, annually), then people would be a lot more hard up for cash, not being able to give to the organizations that they would want to give to. Companies would not be able to afford to hire new people, or would have to cut back on salary and benefits. And our GDP would continue to fall.

All of this does not speak well for your current situation, for which I am truly empathetic. When I hear "pull up by your bootstraps", I do think that sometimes people come up with the most incredible inspirations while living desperately close to the grind. The great thing about a free economy is that we have the opportunity to attempt to pull ourselves out of our rut. Even when I've been unemployed, I've forced myself to rediscover talents I didn't know I had.

That's my long way of saying, continue pulling yourself up.

Peace,
Nick

#48 Nick Alexander

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 11:31 AM

FWIW, I have never read the book, but I am familiar with the story from countless stage and screen adaptations...

Suffice it to say, you really are missing half the book if all you know is the story from the screen adaptations. What you are missing is Dickens' exceptional use of words, the voice of the narrator (the Muppets actually got this right--but they could only do so much within its brief running time).

I highly, *highly*, **HIGHLY** recommend, for those who wish to approach this book anew, to listen to the masterful narration of the audiobook rendition, as performed by Jim Dale. Available on iTunes. Perfection. We listened to it while trimming the tree last year.

Nick

#49 Andy Whitman

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 11:38 AM

Andy,

I'm confused about your last email, perhaps you ought to explain it to me.

Dickens certainly painted Tiny Tim, a specialty needs child, in dire need of medical attention. Indeed, there are many families like this today, and it is a serious problem.

You're also correct that Dickens spoke against government-sanctioned solutions to societal ills, not just here, but in all of his works. The "prisons/workhouses" were entirely ineffective, and treated people like cattle. The solution, as he saw it, was in heart-felt giving, which is something not sanctioned by the government, but in the attitudes and decisions of individuals.

So if the government is not the solution, the solution is most clearly there being some sort of way for average persons to help assist those in great need. Churches have filled this void, as has individual efforts to appease debt, like giving to, say, "The Jimmy Fund", or "St Joseph's Children's Hospital." From here we agree.

But looking at Victorian England and comparing it to Haiti, and, sadly, your current predicament, is not an indictment towards capitalism, per se, because neither were fully capitalistic societies. The United States, by contrast, helped encourage businesses to engage in altruistic endeavors, by allowing tax breaks for individual contributions for charitable organizations. To Dickens' credit, his writing helped spur a wave towards giving, and looking after the less fortunate, and the tax laws were an extention of that.

I suspect that if our present government were to restrict the contributions of charitable organizations, and instead invest in huge economic plans (like nationalized health care), then our taxes would go up so astronomically (to help pay off the excrutiatingly high debt... currently at 800 billion dollars of interest-only, annually), then people would be a lot more hard up for cash, not being able to give to the organizations that they would want to give to. Companies would not be able to afford to hire new people, or would have to cut back on salary and benefits. And our GDP would continue to fall.

All of this does not speak well for your current situation, for which I am truly empathetic. When I hear "pull up by your bootstraps", I do think that sometimes people come up with the most incredible inspirations while living desperately close to the grind. The great thing about a free economy is that we have the opportunity to attempt to pull ourselves out of our rut. Even when I've been unemployed, I've forced myself to rediscover talents I didn't know I had.

That's my long way of saying, continue pulling yourself up.

Peace,
Nick

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. 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. He made (and sported in) his own bed; now he he has to lie in it. Scrooge is just being a good businessman, watching out for the bottom line, human beings be damned. Or starved. Whatever. It doesn't really matter.

Sorry, but I disagree with the author and his perspective. I'm fairly certain that Dickens disagrees with this perspective. I've known plenty of people who think like the author. I think it's best if they're isolated on some remote island, where they can do as little harm as possible, and where they can battle it out privately to see which one of them is the fittest. Unfortunately, some of them are CEOs in America.

#50 Nick Alexander

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 12:05 PM

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.

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.

Scrooge is just being a good businessman, watching out for the bottom line, human beings be damned. Or starved. Whatever. It doesn't really matter.

True, true, Scrooge doesn't care for people. That's a fault. But then again, his business wouldn't survive if it actually didn't help the very same people that had a need for it.

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.

Nick

#51 Andy Whitman

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 02:05 PM


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, 24 November 2009 - 02:09 PM.


#52 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 02:27 PM

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.

#53 Nick Alexander

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 02:28 PM

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

#54 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 02:50 PM

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.

#55 Nick Alexander

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 02:55 PM

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

#56 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 03:00 PM

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.

#57 Nick Alexander

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 03:03 PM

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, 24 November 2009 - 03:07 PM.


#58 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 03:30 PM

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.

#59 Andy Whitman

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 03:40 PM


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, 24 November 2009 - 03:40 PM.


#60 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 03:45 PM

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.