David R. Henderson  

The Lesson of Ebenezer Scrooge

Respect Me... Selective Memory...
When Scrooge wakes up, he realizes that indeed he can change. In my favorite scene in the movie, Scrooge dances around in his nightshirt like a kid in a candy store, celebrating his power to change. And what is the change? Does he say, "Oh, boy, now I'll support a politician who will tax me, as well as other people less rich than me, to help poor people?" Of course not. An author or a movie producer who tried to set up such a scene would have produced a much less compelling novel or movie. Scrooge is excited because now he can change, now he can get pleasure from helping others who are worse off. In other words, the lesson of A Christmas Carol is the importance of being generous, not the importance of supporting higher taxes on oneself and others.

This is from "The Lesson of Ebenezer Scrooge."

I continue:

Indeed, the modern Scrooge, instead of asking, "Are there no prisons?" would ask, "Is there no Medicaid? Are there no food stamps?" The modern Scrooges, in short, are those who advocate government programs for the poor rather than charity for the poor.

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Billy writes:

There is a book about that is written by a minister who spends an entire year living like Jesus (or how he thinks Jesus would have lived). In the end he is inspired to vote for Barack Obama. Shouldn't the teachings of Jesus inspire him to vote libertarian and then allow people to make up their own minds about how to care for the poor?

david writes:

No reason why you can't have food stamps to provide certainty while charity provides, well, charity. The provision of charity is hardly stable otherwise, and falls through the floor during recessions when it is most needed.

David R. Henderson writes:

[D]avid (not me) writes:
The provision of charity is hardly stable otherwise, and falls through the floor during recessions when it is most needed.

Actually, david, that's not true, at least during the worst recession we had, the Great Depression. Check the data in Russell Roberts's article in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:


Check Table 1, which shows charity growing from 1929 to 1933, as the Depression worsens. Then, when government comes in massively from about 1933 or so on, it crowds out charity.

David R. Henderson writes:

I forgot to comment. Is it something in our DNA that causes us to comment with much higher probability when we disagree? But I do agree with your bottom line. Thanks.
Do you remember the name of the book? Sounds interesting.

david writes:

capital-D David,

The book Billy refers to is "The Year of Living like Jesus", by Edward G. Dobson.

I was under the impression that the charity crowding-out hypothesis had been discredited in the 70s but apparently it has still proponents! Time to do some reading.

Dan writes:

Sign me up! I'd like not being REQUIRED to do the right thing! Next time, if I'm late for a meeting, I might not stop at the scene of an accident. To paraphrase Mr. Henderson, "Making people stop at the scene of an accident is not compassion; it’s coercion."

"WWDHD - What would David Henderson Do" is my new motto. Sorry, Jesus, but doing the right thing because you're required to is for chumps!

David R. Henderson writes:

Are you saying that the only reason you would stop at the scene of an accident is that you're legally compelled to? In other words, if there were no compulsion (which, by the way, there typically isn't) you would not stop at the scene of an accident?

Josh W. writes:


There's hardly ever a "right thing to do" that can be determined by some universal arbitrator. That's one of the reasons it works the best when everyone decides on their own which causes to donate their time or money to.

- Josh

Kevin writes:

Dickens actually makes this point himself. One of Scrooge's early justifications for his lack of voluntary generosity is that he pays his taxes.

Joe Marier writes:

Of course, there's another line that may have even more resonance in the age of health care reform...

-"If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Boonton writes:

Actually I believe Scrooge says "are there no workhouses" which were the primitive social safety net of the time.

Kevin writes:

I'm pretty sure he speaks of his existing "support" of the Poor Law, which was funded through involuntary taxation.

Douglass Holmes writes:

Call me simple-minded if you wish. But to me, it is simple. The more economic freedom, the less absolute poverty.

I don't really care about relative poverty.

I want more economic freedom for everyone.

Tony writes:

David -- you are so right celebrate Mammon -- while conveniently ignoring Matthew 19:23-30 and the Golden Rule -- remember many are called but few chose.

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