My Own Pie

Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

Ebenezer Scrooge and Charity

with one comment

     Everyone knows that Ebenezer Scrooge was the meanest and most miserly man in the world.  For those who don’t know, I’m speaking of the main character in the novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

     Scrooge says in the early part of the book that he pays enough in taxes to support the debtors’ prisons and the workhouses.  He has no obligation to take care of the poor or pay his clerk a good wage or even give a coin or two to a Christmas caroler, so he says.  The men who are collecting a fund for the poor point out that those institutions are not very pleasant.  In fact, many poor people, they claim, would rather die than go there.  So much for government provision for the poor!

     What’s interesting to me is that at the end of the story, after his reformation, Scrooge gives the charity collectors a large sum, raises his clerk’s salary, and promises to pay wahtever it takes to get Tiny Tim, the clerk’s crippled son, cured of his illness.  He even visits his nephew, who is the first person in the novel to hear Scrooge say, “Bah!  Humbug!”

     Notice that he doesn’t insist that everybody pay more taxes or that money be distributed thoughtlessly to whomever is thought to need it.  He supports private charity and takes care of his own circle of people.   I think that Dickens was absolutely correct in portraying voluntary charitable giving as the right way to live.  It’s not Scrooge’s business to make other people kind and generous. It is only his business to be so himself.  He does not expect the government to take care of the needy, as he did before. He takes it upon himself to use his wealth to help others.  I think that he is right.

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Written by ambrosianideas

December 22, 2009 at 12:12 am

One Response

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  1. Hey, I mention Scrooge in my post today too! In general I agree that voluntary charity is better than taxation. But even in Dickens’ day it wasn’t enough to prevent massive human misery, which dickens chronicles in many of his works. The problem I believe is that capitalism as a system subverts cultures and creates Scrooge-like mindsets. I believe a false dichotomy between ‘totally free markets’ and ‘government planning and regulation’ (both of which I think would fail in the extreme) hides a deeper cultural and even spiritual problem. That’s also why social welfare policies often fail to achieve their goals — they are treating the symptoms rather than the core problem.

    Scott Erb

    December 22, 2009 at 3:16 pm


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