Dickens of a tale about real charity

Published on Thursday, 19 December 2013 20:30 - Written by

At this time of year, we’re subjected to countless versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The musical version with Albert Finney (“Scrooge,” 1970), is a pretty good retelling. The Bill Murray version (“Scrooged,” 1988) is a little more tongue-in-cheek but still very watchable.

But the countless references to Scrooge himself in policy discussions are simply insufferable. It’s the easy, go-to analogy for the left during the Christmas season, but it’s both lazy and inaccurate.

Juan Williams is the latest liberal columnist to go this route.

“Today Congress is failing to act on a jobs bill while insisting on more cuts to food stamps and other anti-poverty programs, all to protect the rich against tax hikes,” Williams writes. “The ghosts of ‘Christmas Past’ and ‘Christmas Present’ are jangling loud chains. These ghosts speak to disturbingly high poverty rates for today’s ‘Tiny Tim’ population — America’s children.”

There’s much that’s inaccurate in William’s claim; Republicans in Congress object to the “jobs bill” because like other “jobs bills” before it, the legislation would do little to encourage job creation. The GOP does support food stamps and many anti-poverty programs — the question is whether they’re working well, or actually working against their stated purposes.

And yes, there are high poverty rates for America’s children. But whose policies will truly help them? The left’s policies, which have been generously funded and ruthlessly enforced since President Lyndon Johnson’s day? Or is it time to try something new?

But the real point here is that Williams misreads Dickens.

Ebenezer Scrooge is a rotten employer. He was the villain of the piece (who was reformed, not vanquished). But he was on the side of the angels — at least, in the view of the left.

How? Scrooge was a proponent of government assistance for the poor, and critical of private charity. He paid his taxes (and throughout the story, the miserly Scrooge objects not once to his tax rate).

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time,” one character tells Scrooge. “Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

Scrooge responds, “Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses … Are they still in operation?”

Like the left of today, Scrooge would rather rely on public institutions, rather than private philanthropy.

But this view is wrong, notes John Davidson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Publically-funded welfare robs individual citizens of their responsibility to care for the poor and personally invest in the betterment of society on the local level,” Davidson says. “Worse, it prevents the poor from receiving all the immaterial benefits of human compassion, reducing them to the status of a client in a centralized bureaucracy.”

The ending of Charles Dickens’ story is a redemptive one, precisely because Scrooge takes personal responsibility and a personal stake in the life of the Cratchit family.