Why the world needs more Scrooges

Today we have the luxury of criticizing the Industrial Revolution as "a dirty era" in our neo-paganism of anti-growth environmentalism, but this article is not about that regressive agenda – not the pipeline protesters, the anti-frackers or insistent warmers.  Instead, it is about one man who lived precisely during the time of the nascent revolution of industry and all her various attendant, unprecedented advancements.

Charles Dickens, author of the familiar classics Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol, lived in England during the emergence of the factory.  Factories of all kinds were popping up all over the country.  Plants and mills and mines, as well as the locomotive engine to and from these new centers of explosive productivity, generated new household wealth.  There were detractors, of course; the old life was much simpler.  What use were riches when you couldn't enjoy them as an iron roller or hunched over a spinning silk loom for 12 hours a day?  At least farm life was less mundane.  (This was before Ford discovered assembly line rotations.)

Last week I was again watching A Christmas Carol, as I do every other year or so, and it occurred to me how characteristically false and cheap the story was.  This hasn't been the first time I have felt this way about Dickens's classic.  I always admired Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-hallucination, before he softened up into a maudlin piker, and before the story devolved into a thoughtless after-school special.

He was hard, exacting, frugal, productive.  Aren't these good things?  The Scrooge character was not a hypocrite; what he measured out to others, he measured out equally to himself.  In one scene Scrooge can be seen wearing numerous overcoats inside his own house while rubbing his hands together, refusing to add more coal to his furnace, allowing himself to just one small square of black miner's gold per evening.  Bravo!  He refused to live large at another's expense.  He was self-regulating and disciplined.

Nobody wants to evict a mortgage holder, but someone has to if he wants to keep the bank solvent.  Perhaps, as a banker, Ebenezer exhibited a bit too much glee here, if we could fault him, but thank God for his execution, because it saved the jobs of others in the lending institution  yes, even Bob Cratchit himself.  A society needs its Scrooges in order to function properly.  It's pre-conversion, hard-nosed Scrooges who hold to sound and consistent principles.

I can't help but slightly recoil at Dickens's syrupy ending of Ebenezer tossing money at strangers' feet as if that contributes to a productive society.  And I lose respect for the ease with which Charles Dickens seems to cast aside constructive reason in a clichéd assertion of redemptive reflection.

Interesting enough, the etymological roots of "ebenezer" derive from the Hebrew ebhen hā-ʽezer, or the "stone of help."  Samuel the prophet gave the name to the stone he commemorated to God for helping to overthrow the Philistines at Mizpah in 1 Samuel 7:12.  We could use a stone of hope right now, an ebenezer, even as the outgoing first lady today said hope is now leaving the United States.

Let's make her statement one of laughable irony.  Let's bring back real hope to America.  Let's bring back our fiscal Scrooge by eviscerating our national debt, condemning a broken U.S. tax policy, reducing redundant overlapping bureaucracies, admiring competitive free markets, and ending political redistribution of our wealth as transfer payments in exchange for votes.  Even today, I could hear the Scrooge in Trump's announcement to the Pentagon that he is going to lower the cost of jet fighters and AFO.  A small first step in the right direction.  Perhaps he can reduce useless spending in more entrenched programs.  I doubt another infrastructure stimulus is advisable, however.  But let's raise up our glasses this holiday season, a toast, hopeful that the spirit of Ebenezer finds itself centered within our next president of the United States.

Today we have the luxury of criticizing the Industrial Revolution as "a dirty era" in our neo-paganism of anti-growth environmentalism, but this article is not about that regressive agenda – not the pipeline protesters, the anti-frackers or insistent warmers.  Instead, it is about one man who lived precisely during the time of the nascent revolution of industry and all her various attendant, unprecedented advancements.

Charles Dickens, author of the familiar classics Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol, lived in England during the emergence of the factory.  Factories of all kinds were popping up all over the country.  Plants and mills and mines, as well as the locomotive engine to and from these new centers of explosive productivity, generated new household wealth.  There were detractors, of course; the old life was much simpler.  What use were riches when you couldn't enjoy them as an iron roller or hunched over a spinning silk loom for 12 hours a day?  At least farm life was less mundane.  (This was before Ford discovered assembly line rotations.)

Last week I was again watching A Christmas Carol, as I do every other year or so, and it occurred to me how characteristically false and cheap the story was.  This hasn't been the first time I have felt this way about Dickens's classic.  I always admired Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-hallucination, before he softened up into a maudlin piker, and before the story devolved into a thoughtless after-school special.

He was hard, exacting, frugal, productive.  Aren't these good things?  The Scrooge character was not a hypocrite; what he measured out to others, he measured out equally to himself.  In one scene Scrooge can be seen wearing numerous overcoats inside his own house while rubbing his hands together, refusing to add more coal to his furnace, allowing himself to just one small square of black miner's gold per evening.  Bravo!  He refused to live large at another's expense.  He was self-regulating and disciplined.

Nobody wants to evict a mortgage holder, but someone has to if he wants to keep the bank solvent.  Perhaps, as a banker, Ebenezer exhibited a bit too much glee here, if we could fault him, but thank God for his execution, because it saved the jobs of others in the lending institution  yes, even Bob Cratchit himself.  A society needs its Scrooges in order to function properly.  It's pre-conversion, hard-nosed Scrooges who hold to sound and consistent principles.

I can't help but slightly recoil at Dickens's syrupy ending of Ebenezer tossing money at strangers' feet as if that contributes to a productive society.  And I lose respect for the ease with which Charles Dickens seems to cast aside constructive reason in a clichéd assertion of redemptive reflection.

Interesting enough, the etymological roots of "ebenezer" derive from the Hebrew ebhen hā-ʽezer, or the "stone of help."  Samuel the prophet gave the name to the stone he commemorated to God for helping to overthrow the Philistines at Mizpah in 1 Samuel 7:12.  We could use a stone of hope right now, an ebenezer, even as the outgoing first lady today said hope is now leaving the United States.

Let's make her statement one of laughable irony.  Let's bring back real hope to America.  Let's bring back our fiscal Scrooge by eviscerating our national debt, condemning a broken U.S. tax policy, reducing redundant overlapping bureaucracies, admiring competitive free markets, and ending political redistribution of our wealth as transfer payments in exchange for votes.  Even today, I could hear the Scrooge in Trump's announcement to the Pentagon that he is going to lower the cost of jet fighters and AFO.  A small first step in the right direction.  Perhaps he can reduce useless spending in more entrenched programs.  I doubt another infrastructure stimulus is advisable, however.  But let's raise up our glasses this holiday season, a toast, hopeful that the spirit of Ebenezer finds itself centered within our next president of the United States.