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A Christmas Carol, The Andy Griffith Show, And Libertarianism

One of the things I love about libertarians is their willingness to barbecue sacred cows. I can think of no better example than Butler Shafer's skewering of A Christmas Carol in a column at mises.org. He has an interesting approach; he plays the role of a defense attorney defending Ebenezer Scrooge.

As much as I enjoy Shafer's audacity and eloquence, I'm not in complete agreement with him. He makes some strong points in Scrooge's favor (such as his providing employment for Bob Cratchit), but  Scrooge is not without his faults. Scrooge could have been a little more generous than he was  and still been a good capitalist. (I don't blame him for not going to Christmas dinner at his nephew's house though...the guy seems to be an annoying early version of a limousine liberal.)

Shafer makes a good enough case to make me not want to be Scrooge's prosecutor. On the other hand, if Scrooge filed a counter-action,  I wouldn't mind being Dicken's defense attorney. True, Dickens is not very  fair to Scrooge. But he's a novelist, not a journalist. And if he attempted to inject balance into his works they would have lost a lot of their charm and probably would not be read today. Also, in other works Dickens shows he's willing to go after the opposite type of villain. For instance, Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House is the perfect example of the kind of myopic liberal do-gooder that libertarians love to hate. (The novel isn't very kind to lawyers either.)

Fortunately, there is a Christmas tale that avoids much of what Shafer complains about, but is every bit as heartwarming as a Christmas Carol. I refer to episode 11 of the  Andy Griffith Show, aka The Christmas Story.


The heartless capitalist in this episode is Ben Weaver, the owner of the local department store. He has a lot of superficial similarities to Ebenezer Scrooge, but  as we'll see, there are some important differences.

At the beginning of the episode, Weaver goes to Sheriff  Andy Taylor and demands that he lock up another local, Sam Wiggins, for operating a still. Although he ultimately  complies,Andy narrows his eyes and suggests that Weaver is really concerned  that Wiggins illegal whiskey is providing competition to Weaver, who sells spirits in his department store. (OK, I'll admit it seems odd that someone would run a still in a town where you can buy liquor in a department store...but it's Christmas, be charitable.)

So not only is Weaver a drug warrior, he is also a crony capitalist who uses the government to hurt any potential competitors. Crony capitalists are despised by libertarians as much as true capitalists, who don't seek government favors, are admired. This sets him apart from Ebenezer Scrooge, who appears to have built his fortune through his twin obsessions with making money and with keeping it.

Even worse, when Andy tries to make  Sam's stay in jail as pleasant as possible, Ben Weaver tries to interfere with that. Ebenezer Scrooge wouldn't have done that. True, he didn't care about the plight of his poor, but he was too busy making money to go out of his way to make them unhappy. If the local businessmen who asked Scrooge for donations had just left him alone, he probably wouldn't have cared that they were being nice to poor people. That was their business.

Deep down, Ben Weaver is a lot more like The Fountainhead's Gail Wynand than he is like Ebenezer Scrooge. He is not content to amass a fortune...he also wants to use his wealth and power to push other people around.

Ben Weaver's heart, like Ebenezer Scrooge's, is softened by the end of the episode. But the means are nowhere near as harsh as they are in the Christmas Carol. In fact, he very indirectly asks for help in connecting with people. An unusually pristine libertarian might complain that there was government coercion involved. But, to paraphrase Ayn Rand, if there was government coercion, it was government coercion by engraved invitation.

The entire episode is available on youtube (at least for now.) Embedding is disabled, but I am including links to the three parts of the episode below.

The Christmas Story part 1
The Christmas Story part 2
The Christmas Story part 3



Ah, I've read the Shaffer article (although not the original Dickens novel). I thought it was quite well done...although I agree totally that you can be a generous philanthropist AND a money-amassing capitalist, and Scrooge has some serious trouble in his soul to ONLY care about money like that.

That article about Mrs. Jellyby and other people in causes was so darned INTERESTING. I read the whole thing. And can't help but agree that there's probably some hidden anger in those really devoted to (insert cause here). Sometimes not so hidden. 100 points to the author for pointing out how ideology confines one's compassion.