Not getting the new giving: A Christmas Carol revisited
Finance Minister Ebenezer Scrooge VI stared from his office window at the unpopulated square below. The building was empty, silent.
It had been a long road for the Scrooges from the once-considerable 19th-century firm of Scrooge & Marley. Scrooge’s uncle several times removed, the first Ebenezer – so the family oral story went – had some ghostly hallucinations on Christmas Eve. The British Society for Psychical Research investigated and found no conclusive evidence. The certainty was that overnight Scrooge was transformed. A hard businessman, he abruptly began distributing his fortune among the needy. He died broke but smiling.
In succeeding generations, continuing with Scrooge’s nephew, this became a family tradition – almost obsession. Its enterprises, including a prosthetics company, flourished, only to dwindle through helping the suffering, and then somehow picked up and repeated the cycle.
Ebenezer VI’s father, who emigrated to Vancouver and lived on the streets, his only companion his dog, literally gave away the shirt on his back. Again family fortunes miraculously revived, thanks to the dog, who learned fantastic tricks and become a Las Vegas headliner.
Ebenezer VI’s reverie was broken by a deferential tap on his door. It was his deputy minister of finance, Jones.
“Ha, Jones, I welcome you,” cried Ebenezer. “I’m new, of course, and doubtless was chosen finance minister for the family’s gift for amassing fortunes – not for its genius in losing them. Can we talk, away from daily pressures? I’d like your advice.”
Jones had a deserved ministry reputation for both ability and cynicism. He drily replied: “Not enough in, too much out. Had a chance to go over the books?”
“Enough to confirm that we’re in serious straits. The deficit is staggering. The debt is worse.”
“All we have to do is to generate more national wealth and tax it,” Jones smiled.
“Good joke. Merely compete in trade with aggressive and creative people in 190-odd countries.”
“We have great natural resources, Minister. And, if some have their way, best left in the ground and not disturb the wildlife and the trees.”
“As for taxes, can your people dream up any more? Or make business and individuals enjoy paying them, out of sheer public spirit?” Ebenezer asked.
“Answer to the first question, no. The second, also no. People insist they’re taxed to the max.”
“I disagree,” Ebenezer said ruefully. “I get sincere advice every day from groups demanding higher taxes. For other people.”
“I’ve noticed that it’s easier spending other people’s money than my own,” Jones mused. “That’s one category that’s expanding – the country’s Gross National Advice. Not just from the Opposition.”
“Yes. Think-tanks, columnists, academics, hot-line listeners, social media fans, all convinced they can run government better than the government,” Ebenezer said. “Some might even be right.”
“Now, your reputation preceded you,” Jones said. “Since your great-uncle saw the light, or whatever he saw, the Scrooges have been famous philanthropists.”
“First, though, we earned the money. Then we helped,” said Ebenezer. “I’m uneasy here, spending money we don’t have. Passing on the debt to future generations.”
“Future generations have this special characteristic,” Jones said sardonically. “They aren’t here.”
“And the hungry are, including innocent children, and monetary theory doesn’t feed them,” Ebenezer replied.
The sun was setting. The two men walked to the silent hallway. “You asked my advice, Minister,” Jones said. “My opinion is: we’ll muddle through. The race always has. I suggest you go home, have some supper, relax, and maybe some brilliant solution will occur in the night. Merry Christmas.”
“Ah,” said Ebenezer Scrooge VI, “it is Christmas Eve, isn’t it?” •