Ebenezer Scrooge: the consummate capitalist, or…

George C Scott as Ebenezer ScroogeDoes another economic system better fit the worldview of the unreformed money miser? During the Christmas season, it is the habit of some to describe capitalists as scrooges; however, an examination of Scrooge’s behavior shows him to be an interventionist at best, and socialist at worst. At the start of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Scrooge has a visit from two representatives from a charity.

“Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list.

“Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Scrooge, or Mr Marley?”

“Mr Marley has been dead these seven years,” Scrooge replied. “He died seven years ago, this very night.”

“We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word “liberality”, Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

According to Scrooge’s own words, the responsibility of caring for the poor falls on government institutions and unions, not individuals such as himself. Yet, government welfare is a characteristic not of capitalism, but of interventionism and socialism. The institutions of government welfare allowed Scrooge to be greedy and heartless. After all, welfare was not his business, but the business of the State. During the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge receives condemnation for his dependence on socialism.

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw!”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The spirit condemned Scrooge for neglecting his individual responsibility to care for the poor. After his redemption, Scrooge no longer left welfare in the hands of the government, but gave freely, generously, thankfully, and joyfully from a converted heart.

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About haroyce

Royce is an aspiring writer of fantasy, history, philosophy, and theology. He earned his BS in History from Cedarville College, and his MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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3 Responses to Ebenezer Scrooge: the consummate capitalist, or…

  1. Kaley says:

    Very interesting analysis of a classic tale that so many dismiss as a seasonal tradition without any real importance.

  2. Bob Haskell says:

    Hello… I don’t understand what Scrooge means by saying “I don’t know that” in the following passage:

    I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

    “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

    “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”

    What doesn’t he know? Is this an outdated idiomatic way of saying “It’s none of my business?” Or is he saying “I’ve gone too far; I shouldn’t have said that.” (which would be out of character).

    Do you have any clues on this?

    Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

    Bob Haskell

    • haroyce says:

      Hello Bob,

      That’s a great question. I believe the answer lies in the context of both the preceding conversation and the character of Mr. Scrooge. The “if” clause makes his assertion conditional. It is my educated guess that his saying “I don’t know that” is related to the conditional statement. In other words, he does not know if the poor would rather die than be supported by the welfare establishments.

      With that said, I think you are correct in your analysis. Scrooge’s character was engulfed in his own selfish interests, not the affairs of others. The entire conversation may be summed up as Scrooge saying, “Taking care of the poor and needy is none of my business.”

      Merry Christmas,

      Royce Hunt

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