Capitalism is a system of free exchange, but it would be wrong to suppose that the only reason why people would try to exchange things in open markets is because of how greedy they are. Conversely, if people have things they wish to keep for themselves they may have valid reasons for doing so: it is not proof of greed. The vices of selfishness and greed, and the virtues of kindness and generosity, are not the monopoly of any particular economic strata. This is purely a matter of personal integrity, not wealth status. Many capitalists have achieved notoriety in our time for supposedly being 'greedy' but as Christmas approaches and we enter the season of goodwill to all men our focus turns to how we should understand the tale of Mr Scrooge and his modern-day successors who turn themselves around and do the right thing in the end by giving lots of money to help the less fortunate.
Sir Phil 'Shifty' Green is a good candidate for examination. He joins a long line of entrepreneurs who have been hailed by Society, and indeed knighted by Her Majesty for their contribution to industry, only later to fall spectacularly from grace when something goes wrong. Remember, markets can go up as well as down.
We all love capitalists on the up because they run successful companies and create lots of jobs, but when the downward ride comes along it’s time for the guillotine and not all them survive the chop. Remember Fred Goodwin, aka Sir Fred the Shred, who was knighted for services to banking while on the rise, but when things went belly up he was stripped of his knighthood and barely escaped with his pared-down pension, fleeing to obscurity with the hounds still baying for his blood?
In telling the Christmas story and the role of Scrooge in that narrative, the most important thing to say about Sir Phil is that he avoided Sir Fred’s fate by redeeming himself in an almost Scrooge-like manner.
This is the outcome we all hoped to see at an early stage of A Christmas Carol when those unfortunate chuggers turned up to Mr Scrooge’s office to shake him down on behalf of the Victorian Poor, only for him to send them packing without a penny. Scrooge thought the poor ought to be sent to the workhouse to earn their own keep like everybody else and since this was before the age of pc he felt able to voice that opinion and stick to it. It took a bunch of ghosts taking Mr Scrooge on an unwholesome tour of his life past and future and threatening his mortal soul with eternal damnation before he coughed up.
This was precisely the role replayed for modern times by the press using threats of constant and merciless excoriation in the tabloids (a relentless spread of pictures of Sir Phil on his yacht with his wife and daughter sipping champagne and dripping with diamonds) and the House of Commons Select Committee taking the higher road by reminding him of his moral obligations:
Sir Phil’s story has a happy ending as he did the right thing in the end (albeit under duress). Just like Scrooge - no matter how greedy you are, you’d have to review the situation and reconsider your priorities if you were visited by three Dickensian ghosts.
This is the message I expose my daughter to every year at this time. We are filled with good cheer and indeed glad tidings of great joy as we watch Patrick Stewart as Scrooge committing many illegal acts: menacingly waving a lethal weapon in the face of the cutest little boy caroller imaginable (attempted assault with a deadly weapon plus endangering a minor) and forcing his hapless servant, played by Richard E. Grant, to work endless hours for pittance wages in a freezing cold office attempting futilely to warm his hands with a candle (worker exploitation, modern slavery, plus a clear breach of health and safety regulations). Then follows the cheerful bit with all the nice ghosts (though my daughter usually misses that bit as she’s hiding behind the sofa in terror), and finally the happy ending when Scrooge promises to stop being so greedy and is duly welcomed into the warmth of the family bosom. He is no longer a social pariah, hooray, and from this cautionary tale children everywhere will learn what happens to people who fail to embrace the season and give up their money to chuggers upon request.
Merry Christmas everyone, and remember, the only judge of what you give or keep should be your own conscience!
Scholar, Writer, and Friend