In our house, to get into the Christmas spirit, we have been reading aloud from A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas (to give the full title to a familiar tale). It’s a story that is so well loved and has so entered our cultural DNA that pretty much everyone has “read” it, even if they haven’t actually read it. Reading books that everyone has read without realising it can be fascinating – you see what’s been forgotten or left out in the popular retellings.
The answer is not much in the case of Dickens’ short story – it’s short and has been picked over many times in many different adaptations after all. (This is our favourite.) But in last night’s reading, Scrooge refers puzzlingly to his holding of American bonds. The puzzle was easily solved, but while Googling I also came across this rather fascinating piece on Scrooge’s economics. Its critique chimes with my current interest in free markets and is worth a read.
But it does rather miss the message. Surely the point of the story is that the high value Scrooge places on money and accumulation is grotesque in a world where he is very well placed to alleviate human suffering – particularly that of his clerk, Bob Cratchit, and Bob’s child, Tiny Tim. Dickens doesn’t so much misunderstand economics, as the Mises’ Institute insists. It’s just that Scrooge’s placing a higher value on accumulation than on alleviating suffering is shown for what it is – inhuman. To put it another way, using words from another tradition than the Christianity Dickens draws on, the story shines a light of awareness on a spiritual truth: that “true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion”, and that realising that we should be “determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair”. Not a bad thing to be reminded of as the year draws to an end.
Happy Christmas, one and all. And God bless us, every one.