Poor Ebenezer Scrooge!

And now we take a break from following the Civil War to present an article about a book written by a Civil War-era author. Thanks to A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has become the quintessential Christmas villain. But at the risk of spoiling an all-time classic, I argue that Scrooge is the only true victim in the story!

Alastair Sim from A Christmas Carol (1951)

In Charles Dickens’s classic tale, Scrooge is the one who’s constantly harassed by people and spirits seeking to either change him or extort money from him. But why? Because he’s mean? Because he’s miserly? Because he’s selfish? If they don’t like Scrooge as he is, they are free to avoid him. But instead, the story boils down to a simple premise: spread your wealth around and we’ll stop harassing you. It sounds like they’re more interested in his money than in truly reforming him. In fact, it sounds like blackmail to me!

Scrooge Benefits the Community

As Jacob Marley says, “Mankind should have been my business.” But Marley didn’t realize that it was. Marley and Scrooge would have gone bankrupt if their business wasn’t benefiting mankind in some way. After Marley dies, customers aren’t being forced to patronize Scrooge’s business. And if enough people grew tired of Scrooge’s nasty disposition, they’d stop doing business with him, which would force him to change his ways. The free market can fix things just as easily as blackmail.

The people of the community should thank their lucky stars that there’s a man like Scrooge who is willing to use his wealth to offer loans so they can help their families. Maybe they should aspire to be as wealthy as Scrooge, and then they could go into the loan business and offer lower rates that would undercut Scrooge and force him to lower his. Everyone would benefit from such a competitive market.

Perhaps the story would have been better if Scrooge was a struggling businessman rather than a successful one. That way he could learn that in order to turn his business around, he must stop being so mean and selfish. An improved business would provide better goods and services, which would attract more customers, generate more profit, and enable Scrooge to create more jobs. Wouldn’t that be more sensible than terrorizing an old man with ghosts?

The Sloth of Bob Cratchett

Dickens portrays Bob Cratchett as a pathetic soul who can’t provide for his family on the pittance that Scrooge pays him. But was Scrooge responsible for the Cratchetts having so many children without having the means to support them? If the Cratchetts are struggling to support their family, then why aren’t they busying themselves with finding more ways to generate income?

Cratchett shows no ambition to look for more work. He’d rather earn his meager salary and wait for charity rather than work harder to cover the shortfall. He isn’t even good at waiting for charity, after all, why didn’t he contact the businessmen who were trying to extort charity from Scrooge and explain why they should help him and his sick child?

Moreover, Cratchett isn’t even a good employee. If he was, then he should be able to market himself either to Scrooge’s competitors to see if they’d pay him a better salary or to Scrooge himself to see if he’d be willing to train him to improve his skill set. Cratchett’s lack of ambition and his mediocre performance indicates that he has minimal value in the workforce, which means that he’s probably being paid exactly what he’s worth!

Actually, Scrooge is doing Cratchett a favor by paying him a lower salary. If word got out that Cratchett’s salary was raised, ambitious applicants with better skills than Cratchett would petition Scrooge to hire them. Cratchett wouldn’t be able to compete with those who were better qualified, and he’d end up unemployed. So Scrooge is helping Cratchett simply by keeping him on and paying him the going salary rather than replacing him with someone who could do a better job!

Three Misguided Spirits

The worst villains of Dickens’s story are the spirits that torture Scrooge, who only asks to be left alone! If these spirits have the power to transcend time and space, then they should have the power to help Tiny Tim without involving Scrooge. Why is it Scrooge’s responsibility to care for the poor child when his parents don’t even have enough ambition to do it? How sadistic are these spirits to attack Scrooge while doing nothing for Tiny Tim?

Perhaps the story would have been better had the spirits visited Bob Cratchett instead:

  • The Ghost of Christmas Past could show Cratchett examples of how he became so passive, lazy, and incompetent
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present could show Cratchett the current consequences of his bad behavior
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future could show Cratchett what will happen if he doesn’t man up!

An Economics Lesson for Dickens

The only character in A Christmas Carol who produces anything of value is Scrooge, and Dickens rewards him by making him the villain. According to Dickens, Scrooge has sinned by earning money and then daring to keep it for himself. Instead of celebrating Scrooge as a successful businessman who provides goods and services that help the community, Scrooge is harassed and terrorized into giving even more to the community, including giving lazy Bob Cratchett a raise! Cratchett is portrayed as the innocent victim, even though he could market his skills elsewhere, learn new skills, or find supplemental employment if he truly wanted to provide for his family.

Dickens appeals to sympathies rather than common sense economic principles. Just because Cratchett would rather sit and hope for help than make himself more marketable doesn’t make Scrooge responsible for his misery. And just because Scrooge is wealthy doesn’t mean he earned it by exploiting the poor. Scrooge is certainly mean, selfish, and miserly, but he has the right to retain his private property without being terrorized. A Christmas Carol may be an inspirational tale of a man who finds redemption, but the only true victim of Dickens’s tale is Ebenezer Scrooge.

Leave a Reply