David R. Henderson  

The Essence of Scrooge

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We often hear the word "Scrooge" used to refer to people who oppose government programs for the poor. Yet a close reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol shows that this usage is in appropriate. In fact, early in the story, when Ebenezer Scrooge was such an unhappy man, he advocated government programs for the poor. After waking from his nightmare and realizing that he could change, he became a generous man who started to give his own money to poor people. He never became an advocate of government programs.

For more, see my "The Pursuit of Happiness ~ The Lesson of Ebenezer Scrooge."

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (14 to date)
jsalvati writes:

I have to say, I find most of your posts rather obnoxious, and that's even though I mostly agree with you! Your posts seem to have a lot of ideology and not very much content, which makes for uninteresting reading and thus dilutes Arnold and Bryan's high quality posts.

Jacob Oost writes:

Take THAT countless op-ed writers!

BTW, Henderson's posts are just fine. Why isn't HIS pic up there with Bryan and Arnolds' on the main page?

Also, studies show that politically "conservative" people contribute way more money to charity than politically "liberal" people do.

David R. Henderson writes:

Dear jsalvati,
I've got a Pareto improvement to suggest to you: don't read the items I write.

David R. Henderson writes:

Oh, and thanks, Jacob. Liberty Fund has a picture of me but, unfortunately, it launched 1,000 ships and they're working on a less-good picture. :-)

Seriously, though, I just came on as a permanent blogger last week and they need to do some technical stuff to get my picture in with Bryan's and Arnold's.



Jacob Oost writes:

Get a fourth permanent blogger and you can have a Mt. Rushmore of Dork! Hahahaha.

I kid because I love. Please don't ban me.

BTW, on my family's cross-country trip earlier this year, one of the highlights of the trip was supposed to be Mt. Rushmore. Why "supposed to be"? Because it was so covered with fog you couldn't see ten feet in front of you! Same with the Crazy Horse Memorial (a more interesting work, if you ask me).

To bring this to economics, the guy who started the Crazy Horse memorial was an ardent believer in the free market and did it FOR FREE on the request of some Amerindian chiefs. He refused government offers of money and only accepted private donations to keep the work going. And it still operates that way to this day (the work is unfinished). There's a great museum there though, so even if a giant work in progress ain't your can of beans, you can enjoy that.

Babinich writes:


From 'A Christmas Carol' Scrooge: "I help support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there."

Damned the torpedoes! Keep writing; this blog is indispensable!

Snark writes:

Jsalvati's comment above reminds me of someone I read about many seasons ago, but I can't seem to recall just who...

"The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice."

John Fembup writes:

David, your interesting post is also reminiscent of the continual slur of Robin Hood - the guy everyone assumes "stole from the rich and gave to the poor". The slur is calling him a thief.

In fact, Robin's property had been stolen from him while he was away on one of the crusades. Upon his return to the sceptered isle, he fought to recover his own property.

He is a folk hero because he stood up to authority for a just cause, and because he was a man of the people. But it was his wealth, after all, in the first place.

El Presidente writes:

Jacob Oost,

Also, studies show that politically "conservative" people contribute way more money to charity than politically "liberal" people do.

What studies? The ones I've seen show that the marginal propensity to give is a function of income, not necessarily political ideology. Total charitable giving goes up with income, but not as fast as income itself. That is, for a 1% increase in income, you'll see less than 1% increase in charitable giving. The poorer have a higher marginal propensity to give. I'd be interested in seeing your studies, and in seeing if they claim any causal relationship or if it's merely correlative.

Francis writes:

Dickens, in general and contrary to popular opinion, was not so much against the capitalism of his time. Many quotes from his work could be offered showing that he was highly skeptical of government programs for the poor, because he thought the government employed the same kind of people that ignored the poor in the first place.

One ought to re-read Oliver Twist for the highly comical visit of the government official to the subsidized orphanage where Oliver was kept.

Dickens was not a "political" or "social" commenter of his time; rather, he was just trying to call forth the kindness in every individual.

Tim writes:


I really enjoyed your post on A Christmas Carol. It was better than mine at
but much along the same lines.

Keep up the good work.

Boonton writes:

Sorry to burst your bubbles but the passage can be read in a different way:

"I help support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there."

Scrooge doesn't seem to be articulating support for gov't spending on the poor but rather saying something along the lines of "I pay for this already in taxes and that's too much!"

If you read the actual passage the 'establishments' he is talking about are prisons and workhouses. Of those only workhouses, at best, could be considered a form of gov't support for the poor.

Jacob Oost writes:

el presidente, funny you should ask because I was reading today in the paper about the very study I mentioned. I don't have the paper on me, but it caused quite a stir. And it was written by a "liberal" who didn't believe his own research at first.

Gah....what was it? "Who Gives More" or something. One of the NYT columnists today wrote about it, Kristof or somebody.

John Fembup writes:

Jacob Oost,

I think you mean "Who Really Cares" written by Arthur C. Brooks. Brooks is a professor at Syracuse University who earned his PhD at the Rand graduate school. James Q Wilson wrote the introduction to the book and in it states that this is the best study of charity that he has read. It would be my assumption that both Brooks and Wilson are better informed than most on the subject of charity.

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