Was Scrooge a Neoliberal?

A Christmas Carol is often mistakenly charged with creating our contemporary, festive, largely secular Christmas. And while that may have been one of Dickens’ motives, a bigger one is more obvious: that of better treatment of children and the working poor. Dickens’ own experience of being plunged into poverty and having to work at the age of 12 stoked his frustration with continued desperate conditions for children in England. From a 2010 Guardian article:

Dickens himself had written about Christmas before 1843 – there are references to it in Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers – and he continued to do so long afterwards. He published five Christmas books in total (including The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth) and a great many stories on the theme by other writers in Household Words, some of which it is thought he collaborated on. But it is the Carol that has endured in the public imagination. Sickened by the finding of Second Report (Trades and Manufactures) of the Children’s Employment Commission set up by Parliament, he set to work on a book which he hoped would revive the real meaning of Christmas: love, charity and goodwill. Cannily, he incorporated a supernatural element that proved enormously popular with readers.

Now in reading a story that is 170 years old, it’s far too easy to overdo projecting the preoccupations of our era on to a very different time. But politically and economically, we are in the midst of a finance-led counterrevolution, in which the top wealthy, having succeeded in taking an ever-larger share of assets and wealth, are seeking to cement and extend their gains by rolling back hard-won labor reforms and social welfare programs. Their immediate target is the New Deal, but they’ll take as much ground as they can. That makes Victorian England more relevant than it might seem.

Scrooge is a speculator; he has no compunctions about profiting on his corn position even when told his gains come at the expense of the poor.Scrooge is strict and stingy: he begrudges the cost of coal to heat the office, has few servants for a man of his wealth, and thinks that people who go to parties are after free food and drink. He feels much abused by having to give his clerk Bob Crachit one day paid day off a year because convention demands it. He famously berates a group of men who ask for a holiday donation for the poor:

“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.” Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

Perversely, Scrooge comes off well relative to our modern neoliberal elites. He was the product of a class-stratified society with no pretense of equality of opportunity. Yet his beliefs appear to echo our contemporary myth of meritocracy: his wealth and superior position are the result of his hard work, and those less fortunate must deserve their fate.

While he and they (for the most part) choose to know little about desperation in the lower orders, he is in most regards as stingy with himself as he is with them. By contrast, just as some important aspects of warfare have become more distant and sanitized than in, say, the Civil War (think bombings, drone warfare, missile strikes), so to has class warfare become a more sterile affair. Executives, business pundits, and the press don’t go about saying the poor should hurry up and die faster. Yet that’s happening in certain cohorts in America, such as rural white women. The game is more advanced in Europe, with Greece as the warning to the other nations of the cost of not falling in with the Troika’s programs earlier. And the excuse is the need for more fiscal discipline, and for greater labor market “flexibility,” aka “China made us do it.”

However, Scrooge 1.0 hates consumption, while in theory neoliberals regard it as a driver of commerce, and love to drive activities into markets because neoliberals attribute virtuous, even magical, attributes to them. Yet both views come to the same end. Capitals should have the untrammeled right to call the shots, the consequences to human welfare be damned. And we see that ultimately this leads to austerian policies and a belief that most people have to accept, indeed deserve, lower standards of living. That of course means lower consumption. So it is a mistake to assume that the neoliberals’ fondness for markets as a device is actually the same as being pro-consumption (better living standards). Ordinary people get to have them only to the extent that that end serves the needs of more powerful interests.

Obviously, it’s important to acknowledge that ordinary people have seen tremendous gains since Victorian England. But while we no longer have pre-teens working in factories to keep their families from starving, the trend is going entirely in the wrong direction. Hunger and homelessness among school-age children are rising. School budgets are under attack. Educated young adults have a brutally hard time finding jobs, let alone stable, meaningful employment. But even with with a hostile job market, large segments of the media depict those out of work as lazy and parasitical. Make no mistake about it, the program is to thin the surplus population. And ordinary citizens can’t afford to rely on supernatural intervention to get their oppressors on their side.

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  1. Billikin

    Small comment: Scrooge says, “I can’t afford to make idle people merry.” At that time, “idle” was what people called the unemployed. Scrooge would have approved of cutting off unemployment benefits at Christmas time.

    Early in the 19th century, a British Royal Commission on the poor laws found that there were two kinds of poor people, the slothful, irresponsible poor, who did not deserve aid, and the virtuous, frugal, industrious poor, who did not need it. Dickens helped to change that attitude, although it was still around at the time of another Royal Commission in the early 20th century. The Minority Report of that commission, principally authored by Beatrice Webb, took a more enlightened view.

    1. F. Beard

      Early in the 19th century, a British Royal Commission on the poor laws found that there were two kinds of poor people, the slothful, irresponsible poor, who did not deserve aid, and the virtuous, frugal, industrious poor, who did not need it. Billikin

      “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.

      “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:1-11

      It follows then:
      1) Since England DID have poverty that it was disobeying God but worse
      2) the rich were not generous to the poor, when it was their disobedience that was the likely cause of the poverty in first place.

      Add to that that English factory workers were forced to work 6 1/2 days a week (making Sabbath observance impossible) and one concludes that England was a decidedly un-Christian nation and hypocritical too since it pretended otherwise.

  2. brian t

    “the program is to thin the surplus population”
    Sounds like “Social Darwinism”, but that’s an idea falls apart under examination. In the natural world, wining the evolutionary race means that you survived long enough to produce the next generation to breed. The “losers” don’t reproduce.

    This is not how it works in American and European economies: if you are poor (i.e. a “loser”), not only do you not die off to make space for the winners, it’s also no barrier to reproduction. The poor are always with us, as some guy said, many years ago. So, “Social Darwinism” doesn’t produce the “benefits” that it might in theory. Such “natural laws” only work for animals, and even then they aren’t perfect. How else can you explain the duck-billed platypus ..?

  3. YankeeFrank

    And lets not forget those parts of the world where there are indeed children slaving away so their families don’t starve. And its not just for their own oppressive regimes they do this. Its for the Gap. And Banana Republic. And many, many other American firms. Hell, down the block from me I see Central American women packing snacks into plastic bags all day for a pittance. It would be nice to see an update to A Christmas Carol that with Scrooge as an American plutocrat consigning the poor third world factory workers to desperate poverty having his comeuppance. The neoliberal Christmas Carol would not be hard to make.

    1. scott

      Laying in bed this morning I realized that even though Wal-Mart has over a million employees, I have never met one outside of a store. Not a manger, stocker, clerk, truck driver, nobody. I’ve met dozens of postal workers over the same period socially.

      I stepped into a Wal-mart (first time in years) to buy two onions last Sunday and left empty-handed. It felt like a prison with a slow-motion riot going on. Who were the prisoners, the employees or the customers? I couldn’t tell without the blue vests.

      1. Butch In Waukegan

        It felt like a prison . . .

        I was in one a while ago. I told the cashier (an elderly man who was struggling to keep up with a very long line) that I didn’t need a plastic bag for my small item. I could see a flash of fear in his eyes when he told me he was required to bag it and something to the effect “it avoids trouble”.

        Not a happy place.

    2. diptherio

      My thought as well. When we consider our entire economic system as a whole, it would appear that many of the worst labor abuses of former times have not been eliminated at all, but merely moved to more “remote” areas. One of the lessons capitalists have learned (and learned the hard way) is that it’s a good idea to keep your exploited laborers far from your bleeding-heart customers. But let us make no mistake, those cheap consumer goods we’ll be exchanging today require the extreme exploitation of workers to create (at such low prices, anyhow). Wealth and poverty are two sides of one and the same coin, much as we hate to admit it. Our modern-day Scrooges could not have reached the heights of wealth that they have without requiring millions to live in destitution. Many must have nothing so that a few may have much…

      Merry Christmas, and Goddess bless us, everyone!

      1. Klassy!

        Yes, I think of this when Canada is held up as enlightened society– mostly due to their health care system. That’s fine, but my guess is that all those Canadian mines in Latin America are not offering socialized healthcare to their laborers.

        1. JEHR

          Society in Canada is for the most part enlightened; it is the government that is making Canada’s name a black mark.

          “Just why it is that Canada is the go-to place for mining companies to set up shop?

          “There’s two sides to it,” he said. “One is that there is a concentration of expertise in mining finance and mining law, it does have a historical basis” He is of course referring to the various Canadian gold rushes, the nickel deposits in Sudbury, coal in Cape Breton, etc. “The other side is that Canada provides very favourable conditions. The listing requirements for the TSX are pretty lax, the disclosure requirements are pretty lax, you don’t have to have Canadian directories or Canadian shareholders to be a Canadian company… and the Canadian government doesn’t ask too many questions about whether you’re paying your taxes in other jurisdictions (i.e. foreign countries where the mines are operating).”
          (See: http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/75-of-the-worlds-mining-companies-are-based-in-canada

          Canada is on a death-march to destroy both its environment and its standing in the world community. I am totally disgusted with the way the so-called “economy” must take precedence over the despoiling of the environment, over human rights in places where the mines are located, over climate changes that are now taking place, over increasing employment, etc., all for the sake of the 10% of the population that will be won over to vote conservative in the next election because of this focus on the “economy.”

          See: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/for-two-years-conservatives-are-all-about-the-10-per-cent/article16059597/

          1. jrs

            Yes well society in the U.S. might for all we know we somewhat enlightened too. It’s not like everyone polls authoritarian right all the time. Chomsky makes this point all the time. What if Americans are actually social dems? Maybe that takes it too far, since I’m often distressed by public option, but it really doesn’t matter anyway, we are ruled over by complte sociopaths regardless!

            As for Canadians: I hope, hope you will fight what is going on in your country now with the destruction of the environment with the tar sands and so on. The fate of the world depends on it.

  4. Working Class Nero

    “A Christmas Carol” shows Scrooge going through a transformation from a standard 19th century industrial capitalist (prisons, workhouses, etc.) to a welfare capitalist (or industrial paternalist, for example Robert Owen, Cadbury, Henry Ford) who cares about the wellbeing of his workers.

    While Scrooge may have started out promoting a Malthusian solution (which by the way was very much against his class interests) with ““they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Later in the story however, when shown that Tiny Tim will die, Scrooge sends Bob Cratchit a Christmas turkey and the next day gives him a raise. This foreshadows the rise of welfare capitalism where Henry Ford paid his workers $5 dollars a day in lieu of the standard $11 a week.

    And as welfare capitalism spread throughout the Western world, the standard of living of the citizen’s of these nations skyrocketed and Christmases become times of joy. But the rest of the world stayed behind; locked in a Malthusian nightmare of over-population, under-development, and sheer misery.

    So to continue “A Christmas Carol” into the present, our modern day Neoliberal Screwges have reacted the haunting Dickensian conditions in the third world by instituting global capitalism. No longer is Bob Cratchit even employed in Screwge’s factory; that shit was off-shored to China long ago. Cratchit is now on food stamps and Tiny Tim failed in his recent attempts to sign up for Obamacare. Screwge is raking in the profits from his factories in China although he may need to off-shore them soon to Vietnam as the local workers are daring to utter the word “more” a little too often. Best of all he was able to accomplish his act of global charity by not raising salaries as Scrooge had to do back in his day. No, our modern Screwge shows his philanthropy by drastically cutting salaries as he moves his factories abroad.

    And for those jobs that Screwge cannot offshore he makes sure lots of the Dickensian poor from other countries can have easy access to jobs in his country; albeit, not surprisingly, at a lower salary than the natives used to get.

    But what about our modern day Bob Cratchits and Tiny Tims? If they dare object to the ways of Screwge by demanding a return to welfare capitalism where the wellbeing of a nation’s citizen was priority number one, they are held up to be know-nothing racists.

    So the goal of our modern day Screwges is population replacement. The ungrateful and racist Bob Cratchits need to be replaced by more compliant third worlders who will be happy enough with the meager crumbs that fall off of Screwge’s table.

    1. from Mexico

      Just one little quibble, because the rest of your analysis is outstanding.

      You are attributing to Malthus what should be attributed to Adam Smith. In is, as Robert Heilbroner notes in Worldly Philosophers, Smith’s Law of Population:

      “To Adam Smith, laborers, like any other commodity, could be produced according to demand. If wages were high, the number of workpeople would multiply; if wages fell, the numbers of working class would decrease. Smth put it bluntly: ‘…the demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates the production of men.’ “

      Heilberoner gives a much more lengthy explanation of Smith’s Law of Population, the main operative mechanism being child and infant death, but hopefully one gets the picture.

      Both Malthus and Ricardo were disciples of Smith’s Law of Population. “Although Malthus and Ricardo disagreed on almost everything,” Heilbroner writes, they did not disagree about the Law of Population.

      And in real history, and not Dicken’s fictional account, there was no epiphany on the part of the capitalists. Any gains the workers made were hard fought and hard won, even though I think it can be argued that in any random population something like 1/4 to 1/3 are the very antithesis of Smith’s instrumental rationalists — the fabled homo economicus — and are driven by other considerations than mere selfish individual and class interest. Probalby another 1/3 fall somewhere in between, with the homo economicus types making up only about 1/3 of any random population.

      The workers’ political movements began in the first half of the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the latter 1/3 that they began to bear fruit.

      Sydney Smith was perhaps the most talented of the early workers’ “Radicals,” and was one of the finest statesmen Great Britain ever produced. In 1829 he led the battle for the expansion of the franchise to allow those with only middling amounts of property to vote. In one of his four speeches on the Reform Bill, Smith answered the objection that if it were passed, agitators would not let the people alone but ask for more and more: “If the winds would let the waves alone, there would be no storms. If gentlemen would let ladies alone, there would be no unhappy marriage and deserted damsels. And so we muct proceed to make laws for a people who we are sure will not be let alone.”

      But from there on out, your comment is outstanding.

      It is absolutely impossible to understand capitalism from a provincial perspective. Capitalism and imperialism go together like Thelma and Louise. Marx understood this, but unfortunately left the subject largely unexplored, as Benjamin Kunkel notes here:

      “Marx himself somewhat curiously concluded the first volume of Capital – a book otherwise essentially concerned with local transactions between capital and labour, illustrated mostly from the English experience – with a chapter on the ‘primitive accumulation’ of land and mineral wealth attendant on the European sacking of the Americas. In the same way, Rosa Luxemburg, Marx’s first great legatee in the theory of crisis, insisted in the Accumulation of Capital (1913) that imperial expansion across space must accompany capital accumulation over time. Without the prising open of new markets in the colonies, she argued, metropolitan capitalism would be unable to dispose profitably of its glut of commodities, and crises of overproduction doom the system.”


      It would be left up to scholars like Veblen (I”m not sure what school he falls in), Marxist scholars like David Harvey and Giovanni Arrighi, and philosophers from the Realist school like Reinhold Niebuhr, E.H. Carr, Hans Margenthau, Hannah Arendt and Jonathan Schell, to explore the nexus of capitalism and imperialism more thoroughly.

      1. from Mexico

        And in case you missed it, in yesterday’s Links was a presentation by Warren Mosler where he gave, probably unknowlingly, a perfect model of how capitalism works.


        Expanding on Mosler’s model, slavery works by giving the following options:

        1) Work, or
        2) Get your hut burned down

        Imperialism works by giving the following options:

        1) Work to earn “money” to pay taxes or,
        2) Get your hut burned down

        Capitalism works by giving the following options:

        1) Work to earn “money” to buy food, or
        2) Starve to death

        Necessity is predominately, but by no means exclusively, the coercive mechanism embodied in capitalism. Violence is certainly still present in spades, but is disguised and more hidden, and certainly never acknowledged.

        1. Calgacus

          Yes, that is how those systems, these mechanisms work, at their best, at their well-oiled loving-kindest. But that is not what they are in reality. If only the world were so kind, so enlightened as to have always presented those options.

          In the first two cases, (3) was always present: starve, die, be killed. No matter what you do. (Except fight back, as is your right – and usually lose and die then too.) In capitalism, option (3) has become just starve – you are not given the option to work. (The exception here becomes – or steal – which is the right you have left.) As I’ve said many times, a monetary economy without a JG is an insane idea. It is option (3).

    2. F. Beard

      Capitalists would have no need to be generous to their workers if they weren’t allowed to steal from their workers in the first place?

  5. Ignacio

    It was just yesterday when I left a comment in which I expressed some simpathy for Mr. Scrooge as a contrast with the Christmasts hyperconsumptiom spree. This morning was a pleasant surprise for me to find this post that describes how the spirit of Mr. Scrooge seems to be well alive almost two centuries later. Thinking about the differences between the Victorian England and the contemporary situation, an important one migth be how MONEY and the financial superstructure has become a more sophisticated repression tool these days. A good example was discussed in a recent post featuring an interview with Michael Hudson on financial repression and housing. Housing is, almost certainly, the most important target for money repression via rent extraction. Mr. Market (a.k.a millionaires with lots of cash) reigns in the housing industry and is now hoarding houses at a price that would be a dream for a mere mortal just because they have cash and can buy many houses at once. In some instances the price is so low that the investments will be profitable even if they leave half of the houses they bougth empty. This fact gives the speculators ample room to manipulate rent prices and maximise rent extraction through housing needs. According to the press we should be happy because Mr. Market is clearing the housing mess and those massive buys mean that money is back and happy times will be back again.

    1. Klassy!

      Why would you have sympathy for Scrooge? For me, that the only pleasure he derived from his wealth was in hoarding and cultivating its growth hardly makes him sympathetic. Anyway, there is no shortage of stories of the thrifty wealthy. The main point of these stories is to promote the glories of personal responsibility– not to promote contentment or god forbid, rejection of the idea that the market can provide all your needs.

      1. Banger

        Scrooge was a deeply unhappy man which means he had a conscience somewhere deep within and thus had the capacity for change. I think it is good to have compassion even for those who are your enemies because there is always the possibility for change.

        1. from Mexico

          Well that’s certainly what reparative theory and the ex-gay ministries argue.

          And there may be some truth to that for those who fall in the middle ranges of the Kinsey Scale.

          But for those who fall on the upper range of the Kinsey Scale, it’s a lost cause.

          1. scraping_by

            Scrooge had the advantage of being a loner. If he’d had to explain his change of view to wife, children, and the members of his club, he’d probably do some NLP and forget the ghosts.

            Christmas Future did him a favor by showing him the other plutocrats of the Exchange laughing about his death. Otherwise he might have tried to remain in class solidarity.

            Any elite caught in the ‘one of us’ trap is going to take more than education for a change of heart. Just too many connections that support the status quo.

    2. jrs

      Yea that one is full Fed policy though it seems. The future is to be turned into renters to plutocrats (there is nothing wrong with renting, but with the monopoly of the housing market there is), and the whole thing sells because baby boomer housing prices get propped up in the meantime. Sell out the future.

  6. Ep3

    Wonderful post yves. I believe we have turned you into a socialist hippy!

    I do want to rant here for a few minutes about my thoughts on the “thin the herd” comments by Scrooge, & restated by you. What concerns me is that we have this planet, with a very sensitive ecosystem, and it has limited amounts of resources. We are already suffering from a decline in oil resources. I feel we are not prepared for the consequences of running out of that resource, nor will we be prepared when it happens. We already have wars for oil, when it’s still in fairly plentiful supply. Imagine when the wars happen between neighbors.
    And to speak a little about this neoliberal belief in consuming. I don’t see it as driving the economy to grow their pockets. I see it as another form of wealth transfer. Pay a person $10 an hour & charge him $8 an hour for heat & lights. I say $8 because the wealthy believe in sharing their wealth extraction. They transfer the frustration to the govt as the entity that takes more than you make. If 12 entities take $11 from your $10 an hour wage, you cannot point one finger to the enemy. Anyway, the baby boomers have this tremendous amount of equity built up from their working lives. It is said when they die, it will be the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the planet. The key is to take that money back.

  7. Michelle LaRowe

    As a parent involved in protecting public schooling from the privatization of education that you mentioned in this article I just want to say, “Thank you”. Great article, as usual. Keep up your work. Our society needs you. No, it actually needs even more like you.

  8. tongorad

    After 20 years of Neoliberal “school choice” reforms, Sweden is finding out that competition isn’t the answer – unless you’re aiming for looting, inequality and poor educational outcomes:

    Vouchers ‘widen quality gap’ in Sweden’s schools
    The introduction of school vouchers in Sweden, allowing pupils to shop around for their school, could explain the widening gap in quality between different schools, a new report has claimed.

    Vouchers in Sweden: Scores Fall, Inequality Grows
    …a fairly precipitous decline in Swedish performance on international tests. Results in reading, science, and mathematics had fallen at all grade levels from 1995 to the present in the international studies.

    In addition there was evidence of increased stratification and segregation of students by socio-economic status and ethnicity over the same period. Finally, there were concerns about the reportedly substantial profits being amassed by the independent schools from public funds.”

    1. jrs

      Yea it can always get worse I guess. But the problem is we already have all those problems in American public schools in spades. The gap between schools in “good school districts” and those in “bad school districts” might as well be the grand canyon. What determines what school district you go to, well but of course, where your parents can afford to buy housing. The stratification of students by socio-economic status and to a lesser degree but they correlate! by ethnicity is baked in the cake in the U.S. school system. By the school districts mentioned above, but also by “tracking” that starts early on in kids education – some kids in gifted classes some in remedial (it’s possible the tracking may actually be a net benefit through as otherwise the breakdown would be pure 100% class based via school district rather than mostly class based due to “merit” but allowing the ocassional poor smart person through).

      If schools are privatized how much blame will go to those who just keep pretending public schools are wonderful as is, when in fact they are horrible? I mean at least the privitizers promise improvement, which is more than the head in the sanders singing “la la la public schools are wonderful, I can’t hear you” promise. Though that’s the U.S.

  9. JGordon

    From Yves’ post:

    “However, Scrooge 1.0 hates consumption, while in theory neoliberals regard it as a driver of commerce, and love to drive activities into markets because neoliberals attribute virtuous, even magical, attributes to them. Yet both views come to the same end. Capitals should have the untrammeled right to call the shots, the consequences to human welfare be damned. And we see that ultimately this leads to austerian policies and a belief that most people have to accept, indeed deserve, lower standards of living.”

    And later:

    “Make no mistake about it, the program is to thin the surplus population. And ordinary citizens can’t afford to rely on supernatural intervention to get their oppressors on their side.”

    There is something fundamentally wrong with the standard world-view being espoused here (not anyone’s fault; the fish can’t see the water it swims in so they say), and I have been blessed to be able to see outside of it, since about 2010/11. From when I first started hearing about the Fascist Obamacare mandate (I had previously voted straight Democratic tickets up to that point) right up until the Supreme Court ruled the mandate Constitutional–when my journey towards a new way of looking at the world ended and I realized that this society was completely worthless and hopeless.

    Primarily, consumption is a disease. Lower consumption will lead to a healthier, higher standard of living, if you know how to do it right. It’s not austerian policies that cause misery, but ignorance and an unwillingness to be adaptable. As an example, next to my crappy, broken-down trailer in Florida, on a spot of land that takes up less room than the average suburban swimming pool, I’m growing a crop of moringa trees and raising chickens, both of which are providing a large portion of my calorie/nutrient needs. Additionally, I’ve been encouraging my neighbors to grow them and have been handing out seedlings every chance I get (it’s also a nice tactic for starting conversations with nice looking women!). Now, do I give a crap if the Republicans and Democrats decide to gut food stamps in their drive for austerity? Now not particularly, though admittedly I used to.

    Anyway, you all at NC have been cross posting a lot of articles from Nicole Foss’ site lately and are to be commended for that. Here is an interview with her that I was just listening to with extraenvironmentalist, and is well worth listening to for anyone who is interested in becoming less dependent on the financial system and corrupt/incompetent elites for survival:


  10. allcoppedout

    Lovely Yves. I have to say when I try to teach like this I find even references like Xmas Carol are not well-known enough to make points against. Secrecy strikes me as a major component of neo-liberalism, so the ghosts and associated smoke-and-mirrors of Scrooge fit nicely. Merry Xmas all and thanks for helping keep me sane (well marginally) and informed not everyone has had it as badly wrong as the creeps on the Hill or in the square mile.

  11. susan the other

    The plan of the oligarchs is to thin the herd. Whoa. So ironic in a sense – because the oligarchs are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. And after pumping up a population of many billions in order to propagate capitalism itself they suddenly decide population ponzi is over. (But, but… capitalism was totally based on population ponzi.) They are going to be opportunistic traders now and do laissez faire arbitrage around the world for profit. So why are they doing secret trading pacts which are monopolistic in nature? Well – it’s the twilight of capitalism. They think if they secretly appropriate the sovereign right to tax with an investor class tribunal then they can survive. That’s as silly as thinking they can just jet off on a rocket and colonize another planet. I don’t think they can do either. So austerity and all other anti-surplus measures will serve to create a reaction of more humanism, not less. Merry Christmas Mr. Scrooge.

  12. Dan The Man

    It appears that ethics and law (see TBTF or the mortgage crisis solution to property law) are just speed bumps for this Capitalist meme, it makes you wonder when it will decide we are expendable. Images of the colonizing of the Congo come to mind.

  13. Dan Kervick

    As others have already mentioned, it appears Scrooge is a Malthusian and Benthamite. He believes we live in a harsh world of scarcity and overpopulation where charity is a fond attitude, and a dangerous and counterproductive policy that supports the indolence and over-breeding of the lower orders. And his reference to the prisons, unions and workhouses associate him with the Benthamite reforms of the previous decade.

    The people of of Dickens’s time who would have been the philosophical ancestors of today’s neoliberals would probably have been a more optimistic and less regulation-minded sort: Smithian and Ricardian liberals defending free trade, free markets and free enterprise as the path to prosperity, but probably having no objections at all to the charitable relief of the poor.

    The plutocratic class warfare of our time goes beyond neoliberalism. Neoliberals in the 80’s and 90’s believed that deregulation and capitalism were forces for progress and prosperity, but that implemented correctly, they also allow for equality of opportunity, meritocracy, freedom and social mobility, despite permitting large inequalities of outcome. That has been the philosophy of center-left liberals like Obama and the Clintons (and of Obama’s here Ronald Reagan.) But in the post-financial crisis world, we see a lot of efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to protect the privileges, wealth and class prerogatives of entrenched economic power, and neoliberalism has morphed into a kind of neo-feudalism.

    The failure of neoliberals – even those who were well-meaning – was the failure to recognize that wealth and power always go together, and that there is no way to have a society in which there is equality of opportunity but gross inequality in wealth. Any society in which there is great inequality of wealth will be one in which there is great inequality in power, and the powerful will always use their power to transform their temporary advantage into a permanent and well-fortified social structure. Neoliberals also err in failing to recognize that, even if equality of opportunity could be guaranteed, human life is not all about individuals pursuing opportunities for rewards that come to them on the basis of some purely individual personal merit, but that human thriving depends on social health, and that good societies must constantly attend to the pursuit and preservation of positive social values and bonds of soildarity.

    1. F. Beard

      there is equality of opportunity but gross inequality in wealth. Dan K

      Actually neither, since a government-backed credit cartel allows one with good collateral to borrow new purchasing power into existence. But think about it. How does being probably able to repay a loan of new purchasing power plus interest or lose the collateral justify diluting, at least temporarily but more likely PERMANENTLY with regard to land and other assets, the purchasing power of people without good collateral?

      Of course, we can’t stop purely private banks from creating SOME new purchasing power but there is no excuse for the least bit of government privilege for the banks.

      1. F. Beard

        In other words, even if we started with equal opportunity for all including equal property ownership for all, the government-backed banking cartel would allow the unscrupulous to do a leveraged buyout of everyone else with the banks being the ultimate winners since by ceasing to lend they could create deflation that made their borrowers default and thus lose their collateral.

    2. Abe, NYC

      He believes we live in a harsh world of scarcity and overpopulation where charity is a fond attitude, and a dangerous and counterproductive policy that supports the indolence and over-breeding of the lower orders.

      Yes, but it was also long before Social Darwinism, Nietzsche, or Ayn Rand, and at a time when Christian faith was predominant and, I suppose, moderated the elites’ predation at least to some extent. Ayn Rand, of course, rejects Christianity and explicitly paints Scrooge’s attitude as the only virtuous one. Now, Koch-financed libertarian crowd is pulling the strings, Christianity is in decline, and its strongest adherents manage to combine their faith with anti-Christian libertarianism. So it seems to me modern-day scrooges have a lot more cover for their attitude than the original did 140 years ago.

    3. F. Beard

      Neoliberals also err in failing to recognize that, even if equality of opportunity could be guaranteed, human life is not all about individuals pursuing opportunities for rewards that come to them on the basis of some purely individual personal merit, but that human thriving depends on social health, and that good societies must constantly attend to the pursuit and preservation of positive social values and bonds of soildarity. Dan K

      I have my own religious beliefs and though they command me to render to Caesar what is his, they also command me to render to God what is His. Therefor:

      Hint to Progressives: Be content with being Caesar alone or you are only asking for a fight because, you know, one should not be greedy.

    4. MikeNY

      Dan K says: “there is no way to have a society in which there is equality of opportunity but gross inequality in wealth.”

      Precisely. This is valid argument for why gross inequality is, in itself, immoral.

      1. F. Beard

        Precisely. This is valid argument for why gross inequality is, in itself, immoral. MikeNY

        Not quite. Our money system is brilliant at creating wealth too, as well at stealing it. We could keep the former but eliminate the latter by removing all government privileges for the banks and by encouraging the use of shares in Equity (common stock) as private money.

  14. craazyman

    Scrooge was a small-time speculator trying to hang on to his capital. But if he’d scored the Big 10-bagger his office would’ve been a townhouse and he’d have had a fireplace and 3 secretaries.

    Then he would have been happy, handing out gold coins in a Santa Suit on the corner to Oliver Twist because he can without denting his capital. Oliver’s a nice young lad, maybe he needs a summer job. Even his demons would have gotten with the program. “Well, he’s not such a bad guy after all”, they’d have said, looking at his net worth, “he doesn’t deserve to have his conscience tortured. Let him hand out the coins already. That was a good call he made, the 10-bagger, Not everybody has that analytical skill.”

    Then, let’s say somehow he got unlucky, let’s say the govermint did a bear raid and he went the wrong way on margin. Well. The demons would see that and they’d think, “We were wrong about him, weren’t we. He’s a scumbag. He’s greedy, avaricious, lacking in character and sadistic — and a failure to boot. Why did we ever delude ourselves that he deserved a break!”

    That’s the difference between a small-time speculator and a dude who scores a 10-bagger. Even the demons get with the program. Then you’re a neoliberal, when you’ve got your demons on your payroll and they’re rooting for you. Scrooge was just a small-time speculator, but he might have made it up to neoliberal big-time with a lucky trade or two. You never know until it happens.

  15. skippy

    Scrooge was a man that gave up life’s treasures, devoting every cell in his brain to a quasi religious economic belief, that his humanity was almost completely stripped of him, over the course of many decades is fait accompli. It took a power as strong as his beliefs to avail himself, the tattered shreds of his humanity, visions of that what could not be and administered by those which have no form save on the back of his eyelids. The miniscule shreds of his humanity screamed in in chorus with the last vestige of life they had… let us live before our time is done[!!!]…. that’s the romantic Dickinson version… the actual version is much more frightening and horrifying…. William S. Volker

    The breakthrough came in 1944, when Volker’s nephew, Harold Luhnow, took over, first the business and then the Fund. In the same year, Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom was published. The book was a product of the “Austrian School” of economists, originating at the University of Vienna and first coming to modest prominence at the end of the 19th century in its attacks on Marxist and Socialist economics. Hayek’s book was an almost mystical (and hysterical) defense of laissez-faire capitalism and the “free market”. According to Hayek, market prices created a “spontaneous order, or what is referred to as ‘that which is the result of human action but not of human design’. Thus, Hayek put the price mechanism on the same level as, for example, language.” In turn, any attempt at regulation would inevitably lead to “totalitarianism” and in this, both Marxist and New Deal “socialism” were essentially similar. The theory was perfect . Volker and Luhnow had found their ideology. The cash began to flow.

    In short order, the Volker Fund and its larger network arranged for the re-publication of Hayek’s book by the University of Chicago (a recurring and important connection) despite the fact that it had been almost universally rejected by the Economics establishment. A year later, the book was published in serial form by the ultra-reactionary Readers Digest not withstanding the fact that it was supposed to be a “scholarly text”, ordinarily inappropriate for the readership of the Digest, and despite the fact that it had also had been panned by literary critics. In 1950, the Fund arranged for Hayek to secure a position at the University of Chicago and when the University only granted an unpaid position, they arranged for the Earhart Foundation to pay him a salary. Hayek was only the first of a veritable flood of émigré, “scholars”.

    Recruiting the Homeless

    Hayek’s teacher in Vienna had been one Ludwig von Mises who, in turn, had been the student of Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk (who had gained fame for his attack on Marxist Economics) and who, in his turn, had been the student of Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian school. Each of these had published several books that were virulent attacks on Socialism and defended “pure capitalism”. It was all very good. Von Mises book was called Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis and it too had been received with yawns when it was published in English in 1936.

    While von Mises really had “taught” at the University of Vienna, his was an unpaid position. The University had turned him down on four separate occasions for a paid position. Not surprisingly, in 1940 the nearly destitute von Mises had emigrated to the United States. In 1945, an unpaid “visiting professorship” was obtained for him at NYU while his salary was paid by “businessmen such as Lawrence Fertig”. Fertig was an associate of the Volker Fund and a friend of Henry Hazlitt, the Fund’s friendliest journalist. In all, they would fund von Mises for 25 years and von Mises never would need a “real job”.

    In fact, this was typical of the Fund’s “bait and switch” tactic for developing resumes. In the United States, von Mises was the “famed economics professor from the University of Vienna”. In Europe, he would become the “famous American economist from NYU”. – snip


    skippy… punching the fog… with more fog… is a fools errand… sunlight is the only tool that works…

  16. NotTimothyGeithner

    Scrooge is the low info voter who possesses real power when they wake up but largely pays buy the perceived rules and functions in the system. There is no justification for his behavior .Scrooge does what he does.

    When Scrooge is viewing his future, he sees a few guys who he had known as fellow businessmen and was shocked they didn’t hold him in respect. Scrooge was doing what he was supposed to do and not asking questions having come from a dysfunctional home. Fred his nephew was a different having been raised by Scrooge’s sister.

    When Scrooge was at Fezziwig’s, Scrooge complained about the cost of the party to the bottom line and their business pursuits, and Fezziwig said, “hey fuck it, have fun.”…wait I mean…”oh fuck it, ye merry gentlemen, have merry time.”

    Scrooge was motivated not by greed but by ignorance and dwelt in what brought him security which was focusing on school work which led to an apprenticeship at Fezziwig’s* where Scrooge spent his days. Dickens spells this out when Scrooge sees what is underneath the third spirits cloak. Dickens said we need to be wary of the boy because ignorance is quietly seductive as we aren’t actively sinning. During the story, we see Scrooge was immediately taken by the plight of Tiny Tim and seemed shocked by the meager lifestyle of Bob Cratchit.

    Scrooge lacks the ideological coherence to be a neo-liberal. He is closer to an Obot with the personality flaws, but I think the focus of the Scrooge character is that society becomes static and doesn’t nurture great thoughts and pretends the world is the way it always was and can’t be changed. In the end, Scrooge went forth knowing he would laughed at for his change of behavior no matter how wonderful he was, but he didn’t care. Scrooge is afraid to think beyond the walls of his original pursuit (school and numbers) where he found safety. “A Tale of Two Cities” sums up the Dickensian world of this fantastic time, and Scrooge had no interests in what is a changing world, just his office.

    Certainly, there is almost a “god is dead” element with the three ghosts (the young/old hybrid angel which almost springs out of what would be forbidden papist nonsense; the very Zeus like figure found feasting and drinking in an unbelievable scene; and most notably the demonic figure of the future). On one hand, these certainly violate Anglican (Christian) dogma, but like the story of Jesus and his Apostles/disciples in the field on the Sabbath, morality wasn’t served by adherence to traditional rules. The spirits themselves broke their own rules by returning to Scrooge back.

    Scrooge isn’t a villain or an adherent to any particular philosophy. Scrooge is us. In some ways, Scrooge is everyone Salvation Army Bell ringer who complains about Theocrats in the GOP. They are out there collecting for that non-sense, but it was once a good thing to do.

    Jacob Marley wasn’t given the opportunity that Scrooge had because Marley unlike Scrooge was a prick who knew damn well he was stealing and was motivated by greed. Marley is sent to watch the wretched while never enjoying life. Scrooge lived in Marley’s house which had once been luxurious, under Marley. Scrooge just moved in because he had it and couldn’t move it, letting the house fall into disrepair.

    *I just watched A Muppets Christmas Carol.

  17. NaluGirl

    “Thinning the herd”. Does the oligarch class remember the last time this happened, in the 14th century? The plague killed 1/3 to3/4 of Europe’s population, resulting in a chronic labor shortage that essentially ended the serf economy, especially in England. Labor gained political and economic power during this period, end result: the renaissance. Be careful what you wish for….

  18. Noni Mausa

    Yesterday I watched the one and only Christmas Carol (1951 with Alistair Sim, of course) and was startled to see, (about forty minutes in) Scrooge and Marley demonstrating Too Big To Fail. “What would you gain to prosecute me? All you’d get would be about eleven pounds odd. And to pack me off to Botany Bay would be poor compensation for the panic that would arise among the shareholders,” says Jorkin, an embezzler/ owner of a company which Scrooge and Marley then buy for the price of its debts.

    This little transaction isn’t in the novel, but it’s well worth spending a few minutes watching Marley and Scrooge, two cream filled cats, seeing their trap spring shut on the juicy morsel, while Jorkin revels in his delight at getting to keep his embezzled cash and yet face no chance of prison or even scandal.


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