MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL WHO COME BY HERE
Is this the best Christmas message ever?
It may run slowly today because a lot of people will be accessing it, overloading the servers
It still reduces me to tears. When will we see the like of him again?
Scrooge: The First 1 Percenter
Ebenezer Scrooge did more good as a businessman than as an altruist
I have no idea whether Charles Dickens, if he were alive today, would have joined the Occupy Wall Street movement. Given the revulsion he expressed when America’s riff-raff had the temerity to become overly familiar on his two visits to this country, one may doubt his commitment to overthrowing society’s class structure. Despite this, he may still be considered among the movement’s intellectual forerunners. For it was he, in the person of his literary creation Ebenezer Scrooge, who gave the world a character who embodied all of the evil traits the Occupiers attribute to today’s 1 percent. In fact, Scrooge might, in many ways, be considered the literary patron saint of the Occupy movement. Who among them does not dream of a time when today’s 1 percent will find the same inspiration Scrooge did, and give away their riches to “more deserving” folk? Oh wait. The occupiers don’t want the rich to give their money away to the charities of their choice. They want the government to take the wealth of the rich and give it away according to the Occupiers’ desirers.
Either way, such actions are not really going to do much to improve the human condition. I contend that Scrooge, before he became “enlightened,” was already doing more to help his fellow man than any of the other main characters we meet in A Christmas Carol. Moreover, by giving away a substantial portion of his accumulated fortune, he drastically reduced his ability to do even more good in the world.
Scrooge was a “man of business” and evidently a shrewd and successful one. Although Dickens fails to tell us exactly what line of business Scrooge is in, a typical 19th-century “man of business” could be expected to involve himself in many endeavors — what investment advisers today refer to as diversifying one’s risk. One can infer from A Christmas Carol that Scrooge was a financier, who lent money to both businesses and individuals. He also spent long hours at the Exchange, probably speculating on commodities, buying and selling government debt, and purchasing and selling shares in various joint stock companies.
We can also infer some things about Scrooge that Dickens does not tell us directly. He left boarding school early, supposedly because his father had a change of heart toward him and wanted him home. A lack of finances may also have had something to do with it, as Scrooge’s formal education ended early and he was apprenticed as a low-level clerk to a tradesman — Mr. Fezziwig. From this low start, Scrooge exhibited a relentless drive that eventually made him rich. Along the way, his business had to survive the Napoleonic Wars, adapt to the Industrial Revolution, and fight its way through several severe economic depressions. In fact, in the year A Christmas Carol was written (1843), Britain was just coming out of a five-year economic slowdown in which only the most nimble and carefully managed enterprises survived. During Scrooge’s business life, upwards of 100 businesses failed for every one that succeeded. Scrooge must have been a very good businessman indeed.
There is no hint that, as Scrooge went about making his fortune, he was ever tainted with any scandal. He appears to be a well-respected, if not overly liked, member of the Exchange. This speaks well for his probity and recommends him as man with a reputation for fair and honest dealing with other businessmen. He probably drove a hard bargain, but that is the nature of business, and his firm’s survival as a going concern depended on it. As Scrooge is trying to keep his doors open in the midst of a great economic downturn, one should not be surprised that he is cutting firm expenses by reducing coal usage. Still, he is not being overly stingy by paying his clerk, Bob Cratchit, 15 shillings a week. According to British Historical Statistics, 15 shillings a week was about the average for a clerk at the time, and nearly double what a general laborer earned. While Cratchit may have to skimp to make ends meet, he is paid enough to own a house and provide for a rather large family. Cratchit is not rich, but by the standards of the time he is doing well. Besides, given the hard economic times, he is lucky to have any job at all. If Scrooge had not been careful with his money, his firm would have folded, and then where would Cratchit be? We may of course also infer something about Cratchit that goes unstated in Dickens’s work. His inability over perhaps two decades to advance himself or secure a better position with a more benevolent boss betrays a singular lack of ambition on his part.
Dickens doesn’t describe how Scrooge dressed. Scrooge must, however, have comported himself in a manner that was customary among those he did business with. And those petitioning him for alms had no problem discerning, from a single glance, that he was a man of some wealth. Still, Dickens tells us that Scrooge led a simple life (a simple dinner at the same restaurant every evening) and did not adorn himself with the trappings of wealth. From that we can deduce that every penny of profit was invested back into his business. And that was a very good thing.
Scrooge’s investments and lending were part of the great British capital engine that was financing the Industrial Revolution. If he was a typical “man of business,” he had recently invested capital in building railroads, establishing textile mills, building and running cargo vessels, and starting manufacturing plants. It is likely that he also was starting to invest some of his money in the United States, where British capital provided much of the early financing that helped make this nation an economic colossus.
Scrooge and his fellow “men of business” financed over 2,000 miles of railroad track in a decade. This track, in turn, greatly cut the cost of moving goods and people across Britain. In a twinkling the cost of moving coal to new industrial plants fell to rates that allowed factories to be built all over the country. This and other infrastructure improvements sparked a commercial revolution that within a generation would see a dramatic improvement in the conditions of the poor and middle class. Scrooge’s mills provided previously unimaginable amounts of cheap cloth that allowed even the poor to afford several outfits apiece. His cargo ships made Britain the richest trading nation on earth, and underpinned her unrivaled global power for a century.
More than anything else, Scrooge’s investments created jobs. A man with the wealth Dickens implies Scrooge possesses was probably making investments that employed many thousands of workers. History tells us that these “men of business” also reaped most of the rewards. They risked their capital in return for huge payoffs. These rich men of early-Victorian England were truly the 19th century’s 1 percent. Some of them did copy the nobility and squander fortunes on great mansions and unproductive land. But many, Scrooge included, took all or most of their gains and put them back into the economy. Scrooge was no miser who hoarded his money. Rather, he went every day to the Exchange to seek out new opportunities. His job — his passion — was finding places to invest. In doing so, he and others like him created a virtuous circle that not only increased their wealth, but also greatly benefited society.
There are few who doubt that the working conditions for the poor in this era were often horrid. These people were, however, leading lives far superior to those they had left behind on the farms. Otherwise, people would not have continued to leave the land in order to take their chances in the burgeoning cities. There was much that was cruel about early-Victorian society, such as children laboring under harsh conditions. Still, much of this was part of the great transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. Life was always harsh for the poor. It was only when industrialization began to make society as a whole richer that a majority of persons were able to start thinking about and caring for the more helpless among us.
It is this final result that should be laid at the feet of Scrooge. His investments began a period of growth and prosperity that, within a generation of when we assume he died, had doubled life expectancies, improved the lot of the poor, greatly increased the size of the middle class, paid for a military establishment that enforced the Pax Britannica, and propelled us into the modern age. Scrooge and the 1 percenters who followed him have enriched our lives to the point where our poor live better than medieval kings.
In the end, of course, Scrooge turned away from his previous ways, in favor of a life of altruism. If this is what makes him happy in his declining years, then he has every right to take this path. He earned the money, and he has every right to use it as he desires. Unfortunately for society, however, and particularly for the many thousands whose jobs Scrooge’s investments had underwritten, his transfer of funds to less productive causes undoubtedly cost them dearly.
But there is hope. With a bit of luck, a healed Tiny Tim, thanks to Scrooge’s generosity, will show more ambition than his father and learn the ways of business from his benefactor. Since Scrooge’s nephew demonstrates no real capacity for business, Tiny Tim might also find himself inheriting what remains of Scrooge’s fortune. If he is truly a good soul with a desire to help the greatest number of persons possible, Tiny Tim will take his inheritance and invest in the growth businesses of his era.
Santa's Not Pagan
As a non-Christian with a deep affection for Christmastime, I've always felt a little left out around this time of year, but not in the way you might think. I've always felt a bit out of place with the venerable conservative tradition of denouncing the "war on Christmas."
I should offer some background. When I was a kid, my parents cut out a jokey headline from a local newspaper that read "Santa Knows We're Jewish" and put it on a cardboard Christmas tree ornament. My father insisted I be raised Jewish. (I went to a Jewish day school and was duly bar mitzvahed.) My Episcopalian mother insisted we celebrate Christmas.
Ever since, I've always loved Christmastime, and it never occurred to me that when raising my own child we wouldn't have a Christmas tree. No Hanukkah bushes for the Goldbergs, please.
Anyway, this time of year conservatives bemoan the effort to scrub the public square of overt religiosity, specifically any suggestion that the big holiday we're all taking time off to celebrate is also a Christian holy day. I feel like a conservative Canadian living in America. I care a lot for a fight that's not really my own.
I think conservatives have the better of the argument, of course. Every year there are enough "war on Christmas" horror stories to lend validity to the complaints.
For instance, this year, the sage bureaucrats of Loudoun County, Va., had the brilliant idea of letting Santa be crucified outside their courthouse. And it wasn't even a jolly Saint Nick. It was a Halloween skeleton in a red Santa suit. It looked like a weird prop from a post-apocalyptic horror movie. "The zombies got Santa!"
Meanwhile, the Swedish branch of UNICEF put out a commercial depicting Santa as hard-hearted 1-percenter who scoffs at the idea of bringing presents to Third World kids. "Come on. I don't do poor countries."
And those are just the highlights. Incapable of getting around the inconvenient first six letters of the word "Christmas," more and more people have decided to duck the issue entirely. Increasing numbers of public schools insist on celebrating "winter solstice." Congress cannot send out "Christmas" cards. The governor of Rhode Island declared that the traditional Christmas tree would henceforth be christened -- whoops! I mean called -- a "holiday tree."
I have no grand solutions. I don't know how you could pass a law to fix any of this. Nor am I sure we would want to. This is a cultural problem, and the only way to fix it is to work it out in the culture. To that end, I have some small observations to mull alongside the eggnog.
While it's absolutely true that there are sincere and committed Christophobes and joyless atheistic boobs out there, one of the major culprits is capitalism itself. I like capitalism -- a lot. Heck, the best Christmas present I could get would be a Scrooge-like conversion on the part of the president after a visit from the Ghost from Socialism Past. But the downside of capitalism is that it will, eventually, encourage the commercialization of everything sacred. For instance, there's an online "dating" company dedicated entirely to facilitating adultery. It shouldn't surprise anyone that a holiday symbolized by a man who gives presents would be exploited. That doesn't mean we have to surrender to the trend, but we should recognize all of the trend's sources, not just the convenient ones.
On a different note, the supposed champions of making Christmas more "inclusive" should at least ponder the irony that they are being intolerant. If you take offense when someone says "Merry Christmas," you, quite simply, are the jerk.
And for the atheists who see "winter solstice" as some kind of victory, you might consider the fact that what you're doing is clearing the field not for glorious logic (which ain't so glorious Christmas morning -- socks are a logical gift), but a rank, petty and vastly more commercialized paganism that lacks anything like the intellectual and moral rigor of Christianity.
Intellectual defenders of a secular Christmas hammer the point that there are some vestigial Pagan frills to the Christian holiday, as if this proves something important. Indeed, in pop culture it's now a given that Santa's boss is "Mother Nature" (and his colleagues are the tooth fairy and the miser brothers). It's pretty odd that a Christian saint -- you know, Saint Nicholas -- doesn't answer to God, but to a pagan deity. And we all know paganism is such a font of tolerance. My hunch is that Santa goes right past the houses with "Santa Knows We're Pagans" signs.
Christianity May Be Eradicated in Iraq and Afghanistan, Says Chair of U.S. Religious Freedom Commission
Despite long-term U.S. military occupations aimed at establishing representative governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Christianity now faces the real threat of eradication in those countries because of severe and persistent persecution of Christians there, according to the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Similarly, despite the “Arab Spring” rebellion in Egypt earlier this year, the survival of Christianity is also threatened in that country because of the escalating persecution of Christians.
“We are looking at two different countries where the United States invaded, occupied, changed their governments in the last decade--Iraq and Afghanistan--where it’s possible Christianity might be eradicated in our lifetime?” CNSNews.com asked USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo in a video interview.
“Yes,” said Leo, “and, unfortunately, that is sort of the pattern throughout the Middle Eastern region. The flight of Christians out of the region is unprecedented and it’s increasing year by year. It’s a very, very alarming situation.”
In Egypt, according to Leo, anti-Christian violence and discrimination may inspire a mass migration of that nation’s Coptic Christian population, thus achieving a strategic goal sought by radical Muslims.
“The radical Islamists would accomplish their goal, if they drove the Coptic Christians out of the country, absolutely,” Leo told CNSNews.com in an Online With Terry Jeffrey interview.
In its official report published earlier this year, USCRIF said that Christian leaders in Iraq were themselves warning of the end of Christianity in their country.
“Half or more of the pre-2003 Iraqi Christian community is believed to have left the country, with Christian leaders warning that the consequence of this flight may be the end of Christianity in Iraq,” USCIRF said in its annual report. “In 2003, there were thought to be 800,000 to 1.4 million Chaldean Catholics, Assyrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East members, Syriac Orthodox, Armenians (Catholic and Orthodox), Protestants, and Evangelicals in Iraq. Today, community leaders estimate the number of Christians to be around 500,000.”
My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. I have deleted my Facebook page as I rarely access it. For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena
List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)
The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)