The story of a man whose last name is synonymous with miserly and his dealings with three Christmas specters is iconic. The best-known work of Charles Dickens must be A Christmas Carol — immortalized in Felt by the Muppets, with homages in seemingly every sitcom ever on TV. All who know the story, see the moral, Ebenezer Scrooge is a bad guy, who lost any shred of decency and goodness. And we should all try to behave like Tiny Tim or Bob Cratchit; living lives full of joy despite prosperity far from that of Scrooge.
A Christmas Carol offers a moral, so clear no child could misunderstand. Another less obvious lesson, flowing as an undercurrent, surely and subliminally; The poor should stay merry in their poverty. The propaganda message is so integral to the novel that no variation in the plays, movies, and TV retellings, spanning nearly 180 years can depart from the core message. Keep the poor content and working, buying books as distractions.
A young Scrooge apprenticed under Mr. Fezziwig, a lovable kind man who treated his employees well. Fezziwig was not without monetary success. Mr. Fezziwig ran his businesses as privately-held enterprises, during an age when much larger public corporations eclipsed businessmen like him. In a modern adaptation, Mr. Fezziwig could be a shopkeeper in a small town standing in the shadow of a Walmart.
During the original Dickens story, Mr. Fezziwig quickly passes from memory. More thought extends to Scrooge’s lost fiancée, who ended their engagement due to Scrooge’s true love shifting to money. She says to him, “Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor, and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.”
Poverty is often overcome by “patient industry” and not by Cardi B type “money moves.” The book The Millionaire Next Door, details a large scale study of American millionaire households. Of those examined, around 80% were first-generation affluent; many came from poverty to wealth. Chiefly among the traits common to these self-made millionaires: frugality. The millionaires surveyed in the book seldom owned luxury cars or showed any grand displays of wealth. Most had 30% of their money in the stock market, and cash saved in a ‘go to hell fund’. Scrooge, while changed as a person, was displaying the traits that take people from rags to riches.
Some adaptations of A Christmas Carol bring the undertones that poverty is virtuous, and the wealthy are predators to the forefront of the story. In the Noel Langley screenplay, Mr. Fezziwig refuses to sell his business. In that version, Fezziwig, when advised to sell his company, says, “It’s not just for money alone that one spends a lifetime building up a business… It’s to preserve a way of life that one knew and loved. No, I can’t see my way to selling out to the new vested interests, Mr. Jorkin. I’ll have to be loyal to the old ways and die out with them if needs must.”
In the Langley version, Scrooge and Marley ultimately force Fezziwig into closure and buy his business. An incredible shame, as in Dickens’ telling, Mr. Fezziwig stands alone as a sort of ethical capitalist. Fezziwig values his workers, treating them well, and gaining financial success, for a time.
In a Jungian sense, art is a window into the mind of the artist, and adaptations of art reflect ideas from both the original and new artists. When Dickens wrote the novel, he was undergoing a financial struggle, owing money to his publisher.
His words paint a grim portrait of a wealthy boogeyman, who is despised by all but the kindest hearted. Scrooge would rather have the poor die than to donate his wealth, and wanted workers always near the brink of that impoverished demise, forcing them to continue working for him.
Scrooge stands a villain with the power to solve the problems of every living person in the novel, but with no desire to help anyone. A sharp contrast to the weak and powerless Tiny Tim, whose childish innocence wants to see only the good in people. As a percentage of income, the poor give far more money to charity than the wealthy, and seemingly always have. In The Millionaire Next Door, only 18% of those surveyed disagreed with the statement, “Charity begins at home.” – Also, most millionaires donated far less to charities than others in the same income bracket.
A charity begins at home, invest in your future drumbeat is part of why so many millionaires, who often start very poor become millionaires. While most of the high accumulators of wealth aren’t making huge (as a percentage of net worth) donations to charity, many have tangible positive impacts on the lives of others. To use the words of Dickens speaking as Scrooge, “He [Fezziwig] has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. […] The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
Possibly Mr. Fezziwig was the embodiment of a perfect boss because he was the embodiment of an ideal man. But few people hold Henry Ford up as a person who’s guiding printable was kindness. Yet it was Ford who doubled the pay of his workers and instituted the 5-day, 40-hour workweek. It seems to treat people well was good for Ford’s bottom line.
In the film The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin shows his thoughts in a Jungian moment. Chaplin explains death as a force protecting humanity. “The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”
Death is inevitable and not just for the living. Currently, the business world seems full of more Scrooges than Fezziwigs or Fords. But subprime loan grouping and leveraged buyouts proceeding bankruptcy, cannot continue forever.