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Author Topic: This is what we call missing the point...
Alcon
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In Defense of Scrooge:

quote:
It's Christmas again, time to celebrate the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the ritual: boo the curmudgeon initially encountered in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, then cheer the sweetie pie he becomes in the end. It's too bad no one notices that the curmudgeon had a point—quite a few points, in fact.
He misses the point of Dicken's fable completely. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

And the real irony is that Scrooge could be plenty generous and still loan his money and add to the public good the way the author claims he must be.

And the author's reasoning that if Bob Cratchit was underpaid then he could find employment elsewhere - or that Scrooge's lack of generosity with the poor was reasonable - assumes that there is enough work to go around. Or the opportunity in the first place to acquire valuable skills.

*sigh* This kind of simplistic, narrow-minded thinking is rather frustrating. It's selfish and only sees an individual in society, not the whole of society.

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Rakeesh
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Well, according to that reasoning, everyone, everywhere, throughout history except for actual, factual slaves are paid a fair, reasonable wage.

What a schmuck.

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Belle
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I'm actually teaching this novel right now. If I had older students, or (dare I say it?) more thoughtful students I would have them read this article and discuss it.

As it is, I count myself a success if some of them even remember Scrooge's name when they finish reading it. (assuming any actually read it!)

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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
Well, according to that reasoning, everyone, everywhere, throughout history except for actual, factual slaves are paid a fair, reasonable wage.

Without making this claim, I think it's possible to believe that people have generally been paid what the market will bear; and that the unfairness is inherent in pre-1930 economies being really dang poor, not in the exploitativeness of the capitalists. Which is not to say that the cappies didn't have some nasty attitudes; when you are rich and others are poor, it's human nature to say that they deserve it somehow. But I think the causality goes from wealth to attitude, not the other way around.

That said, people who think that getting an Xbox for Christmas is more important than saving roughly 100 lives in Africa have absolutely no room to sneer at anyone else's lack of charity. We are all of us Scrooge.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
Without making this claim, I think it's possible to believe that people have generally been paid what the market will bear...
That doesn't have much to do with the claim: "...allegedly underpaid clerk"
"...Cratchit must be worth exactly his present wages."
"...and the reader can hardly complain about what Cratchit evidently finds satisfactory."
"Not necessarily. As Scrooge observes, he supports those institutions with his taxes. Already forced to help those who can't or won't help themselves, it is not unreasonable for him to balk at volunteering additional funds for their extra comfort."

And so on and so forth. The guy goes quite a few steps further than simply claiming Crachit is paid what the market will bear, he justifies that condition as unobjectionable.

If he had said, "Look, Scrooge was simply a man of his time, greedier and more miserly than some, but not in his actual deeds outrageous for the period," that'd be one thing. But he doesn't say that.

Scrooge wasn't a miserable man because he was a ruthless businessman, he was a ruthless businessman because he was a miserable man. The story doesn't claim the former, it claims the latter. And if you don't want to be a miserable man, it's a wise idea not to make being a ruthless businessman the guiding light in your life, the 'idol' as his old flame said.

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scifibum
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quote:
That said, people who think that getting an Xbox for Christmas is more important than saving roughly 100 lives in Africa have absolutely no room to sneer at anyone else's lack of charity. We are all of us Scrooge.
Well, now, not really. Taking steps to improve community welfare is something that Scrooge wasn't doing and then did, and he found some happiness in doing so (to his surprise). Any of us who are doing so to some extent can't fairly be compared to the miserable Scrooge prior to his redemption.
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natural_mystic
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Without making this claim, I think it's possible to believe that people have generally been paid what the market will bear; and that the unfairness is inherent in pre-1930 economies being really dang poor, not in the exploitativeness of the capitalists.

By unfairness, do you mean inequality? If so, are you suggesting there is a causal link between poverty and inequality?
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King of Men
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I want to distinguish between two aspects of Scrooge. One is that he is miserable: He's lonely, unloved, has no joy in his life. This is repaired when he connects to others by giving them gifts. Nu, I do think there's a point to make here about buying happiness; are we to conclude that the same Scrooge, if he happened to be poor, would and should die miserable and unloved? But at any rate this is a question of how individuals can be happy, not of ethics.

The second point is that he is evil. Is Cratchit's wage fair? Well, as Scrooge points out, are there no workhouses? It's clear that Cratchit is doing less labour than he would in a workhouse, which were deliberately designed for unpleasantness, and getting paid better too. (And he gets to see his wife in the evenings; that would not be so in a workhouse.) If Cratchit insists on having umpteen children and then cannot feed them on his wages, that may be sad, but it's hard to see how Scrooge is at fault. If Scrooge is not paying the going rate, then presumably Cratchit is free to seek other employment; if he does pay the going rate, are we to believe that the entire business class of London is colluding in underpaying their clerks, out of sheer evil?

quote:
The guy goes quite a few steps further than simply claiming Crachit is paid what the market will bear, he justifies that condition as unobjectionable.
I must say I did not get this impression from the article. But again, if Cratchit's wages are too low to support a family of ten, or whatever it is, why did he have such a family in the first place? (And yes, I know that contraceptives were not so readily available then. People managed to plan their families anyway.) Further, there is a distinction to be made between the wages being objectionable, and being Scrooge's fault. If the going rate of wages will only pay for miserable living conditions, that is a sad fact about life in near-preindustrial times. But it does not follow that it is caused by evil men, or can be repaired through individual reform.

I find myself repeating points here which Orwell made much better in his review of Dickens; I'd have a look at it were I you, it's quite good.

Edit: That sort of advice is all the better for a link.

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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by natural_mystic:
quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Without making this claim, I think it's possible to believe that people have generally been paid what the market will bear; and that the unfairness is inherent in pre-1930 economies being really dang poor, not in the exploitativeness of the capitalists.

By unfairness, do you mean inequality? If so, are you suggesting there is a causal link between poverty and inequality?
What I'm saying is that, if you're born into poverty, that's seriously unfair; but it's not necessarily caused by the actions of those who are now rich. Unfairness is built into the universe; the human tendency to look for a villain is a weakness to be resisted.
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Shmuel
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quote:
Originally posted by Alcon:
He misses the point of Dicken's fable completely.

He doesn't miss the point; he just disagrees with it.

I'm a fan of the original story, but this article was a delight as well. Excellently done.

One might note that this is less a matter of the author having a different perspective about the way Scrooge behaved, and more a matter of the author (correctly, I think) asserting that Dickens's depiction is wildly implausible. A Christmas Carol is a lovely fable, but it doesn't actually stand up to scrutiny.

...and now I want to quote entire paragraphs from that Orwell essay. Thanks for the link, KoM! Loved it.

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Rakeesh
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quote:

One might note that this is less a matter of the author having a different perspective about the way Scrooge behaved, and more a matter of the author (correctly, I think) asserting that Dickens's depiction is wildly implausible. A Christmas Carol is a lovely fable, but it doesn't actually stand up to scrutiny.

This would be more accurate if Scrooge himself were just a 'victim', so to speak, or maybe a better word for it would be 'product' of his times. But he wasn't. The lesson of a Christmas Carol was never that the pursuit of wealth was bad, it was that such a pursuit to the exclusion of all else, up to and including the welfare of those around you, is not only foolish (like the 'meddling' nephew observed, who does Scrooge's outlook on life hurt except him? And who does it gain? Not Scrooge, or at least not very much), but can be in some cases downright loathsome-are there no prisons, no workhouses, etc., indeed.

Even now, in the 21st century so-called 'developed world', such a sentiment would at best be disturbing. But then? The only way that sentiment - I pay for prisons and workhouses, and that's my only obligation - washes is if those outlets actually serve the common good effectively. Back then, I don't think anyone is arguing they did.

And remember, the story isn't about government coming in and taking from Scrooge. He's dealing with, answering to, and learning from a higher law in that story. The arguments against stopping other human beings from adopting the same lecturing tone as the various spirits of Christmas don't necessarily apply.

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Occasional
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"And remember, the story isn't about government coming in and taking from Scrooge."

Please repeat this. Repeat this time and again. Keep this in your mind for the rest of your life. Its the one lesson that today's entitlement thugs just don't get.

"It's selfish and only sees an individual in society, not the whole of society."

I owe nothing to society and society owes nothing to me. I will gladly give of my own heart and free will to individuals in need; even private organizations. However, my freedom is dependent on the idea that society is only as good as the freedom of the individuals to decide for themselves.

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Alcon
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quote:

I owe nothing to society and society owes nothing to me. I will gladly give of my own heart and free will to individuals in need; even private organizations. However, my freedom is dependent on the idea that society is only as good as the freedom of the individuals to decide for themselves.

However, there are certain things that society simply cannot accomplish unless we all work together. There are some things that are quite simply out of the reach of pure capitalism.

Education for instance. We are all better off when we are all given the opportunity to become well educated. Pure capitalism, the most "free" society would not offer that opportunity.

And even aside from that, the idea that society owes you nothing and you owe society nothing is, quite frankly, delusional.

Society owes you your safety. And you owe society what it requires to maintain that safety. You owe society the money required to maintain the police, the fire department, the military and you owe society your observance of its laws. Laws that enforce a for respect other people's lives, livelihoods and freedoms. The very things that grant you your individual freedoms also mean you owe these things to society.

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King of Men
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quote:
Back then, I don't think anyone is arguing they did.
Effectively? Perhaps not. As best they could given the limits on their resources? It might be difficult to argue otherwise. Any time you deal with charity and living conditions prior to 1950 or so, you must remember that the wealthiest nations then had per-capita GDPs which today would disgrace a dictatorial African hellhole. People who spend half or more of their income on food - in the middle class - just cannot afford a lot of charity; this does not reflect on their benevolence, it's a fact of life.

And as for those few who were actually wealthy: First, would their money, spread out as charity instead of invested to make better factories and eventually a much wealthier nation, really have made much of a difference? What looks like impressive wealth for a few men can be quite tiny spread out over a nation. And second, think again of those Xboxes. Children are dying right now who might have been saved by the money you spent on a Christmas present. Nobody today who has an Internet connection has any sort of room to criticise the magnates of the nineteenth century for lacking charity.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Effectively? Perhaps not. As best they could given the limits on their resources? It might be difficult to argue otherwise. Any time you deal with charity and living conditions prior to 1950 or so, you must remember that the wealthiest nations then had per-capita GDPs which today would disgrace a dictatorial African hellhole. People who spend half or more of their income on food - in the middle class - just cannot afford a lot of charity; this does not reflect on their benevolence, it's a fact of life.
That just B.S. The per capita GDP in the US in 1900 was over $4000 without adjustment for inflation. The per capita GDP in Ethiopia in 2007 was $700.
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Mucus
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Reminds me a bit about this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuznets_curve

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Blayne Bradley
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quote:
Originally posted by Occasional:
"And remember, the story isn't about government coming in and taking from Scrooge."

Please repeat this. Repeat this time and again. Keep this in your mind for the rest of your life. Its the one lesson that today's entitlement thugs just don't get.

"It's selfish and only sees an individual in society, not the whole of society."

I owe nothing to society and society owes nothing to me. I will gladly give of my own heart and free will to individuals in need; even private organizations. However, my freedom is dependent on the idea that society is only as good as the freedom of the individuals to decide for themselves.

Riiiight considering if it wasn't for taxes allowing for me to have a college education for only 200$ a semester and a University education for only 2000$ per semester I am gonna disagree with you.
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Sterling
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The myth of the self-made man: the gift that keeps on taking.
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King of Men
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quote:
That just B.S. The per capita GDP in the US in 1900 was over $4000 without adjustment for inflation. The per capita GDP in Ethiopia in 2007 was $700.
Ok, ok, I allowed myself a touch of hyperbole there. Still, $4000 per cap takes you down to the Republic of the Congo, absent gods help us; and then what happens when you go back to 1840, 1850 where Dickens's books are mainly set?
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The Rabbit
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Look KOM, the statistics we currently used as economic indicators have a dubious relationship to human well being even today. Go back 150 years to a time when a large amount of production was for "own use" and the numbers are utterly meaningless.

So lets break this down. My grandmother was born in 1900 to a lower middle class farming family in the US. I have seen the home where she was born. I have talked to here about the foods they had to eat, the types of amenities they had, and so forth. There is absolutely no comparison to the living conditions she experienced as a child and the living conditions of the poor in the world today. Her conditions were infinitely superior.

The claim that England in 1850 was somehow equivalent to the Congo today is just ridiculous. To further use that as a claim to justify lack of charitable giving is ludicrous in the extreme.

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Tatiana
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I've noticed that people have all kinds of "rational" reasons for not helping others, and those same people will explain to you why you're wasting your money helping others, and they'll even say bad things about Mother Theresa and others who dedicate their lives to helping others, but really the reason is just that they're greedy, and they build up elaborate justifications for that. So it requires them to see evil where there's only good, or else they might have to give something too. That's quite common.
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theamazeeaz
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
Look KOM, the statistics we currently used as economic indicators have a dubious relationship to human well being even today. Go back 150 years to a time when a large amount of production was for "own use" and the numbers are utterly meaningless.

So lets break this down. My grandmother was born in 1900 to a lower middle class farming family in the US. I have seen the home where she was born. I have talked to here about the foods they had to eat, the types of amenities they had, and so forth. There is absolutely no comparison to the living conditions she experienced as a child and the living conditions of the poor in the world today. Her conditions were infinitely superior.

The claim that England in 1850 was somehow equivalent to the Congo today is just ridiculous. To further use that as a claim to justify lack of charitable giving is ludicrous in the extreme.

Living conditions were still pretty nasty and smelly in London as sanitation was awful. Reading The Ghost Map about the cholera epidemic gives a good idea of what the living conditions were like. I'm quite glad I didn't live in Europe then.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
Please repeat this. Repeat this time and again. Keep this in your mind for the rest of your life. Its the one lesson that today's entitlement thugs just don't get.
Ha, 'entitlement thugs'. That sort of rhetoric is only truthful if you believe there should be no entitlements, ever, for anyone under any circumstances, and that taxes should pay only for what an individual himself uses. Sales tax funds everything, for example.

The truth is, though, that the number of people who actually believe that is much, much lower than the number of people who use terms like 'entitlement thugs'. How do I know? Because I hear that sort of talk a helluva lot more than I do from people who believe in things like a flat tax or sales-tax only government.

quote:

I owe nothing to society and society owes nothing to me. I will gladly give of my own heart and free will to individuals in need; even private organizations. However, my freedom is dependent on the idea that society is only as good as the freedom of the individuals to decide for themselves.

Except historically, people don't actually give gladly of their own heart and free will to individuals in need. Or rather, maybe some few of them, the ones they encounter in their daily lives. And that just goes for the really, really good people who help those in need across the board. Most folks are less inclined to help those who are less like themselves on any one of a number of criteria, though.

Here's the thing: none of us, anywhere, have signed up for absolute freedom of the individual. We all of us, every single American alive and ever born in the past, signs up for by our continued presence a government where we do owe at least some things to society, and where it owes at least some things to us.

The only real argument is just how much is owed in either direction, not whether anything is owed at all. That argument was settled by humanity when we gathered together to start building canals and irrigating stuff.

----

quote:
Riiiight considering if it wasn't for taxes allowing for me to have a college education for only 200$ a semester and a University education for only 2000$ per semester I am gonna disagree with you.
Man, that's a crappy argument, Blayne. "I'm going to disagree with you because you're arguing against a stance that puts money in my pocket." Well, actually that's a good argument-but probably not for the reasons you think.
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Blayne Bradley
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What does it matter? If its a good argument then its a good argument regardless of what reasons I have or you might have for as long as we both agree that the the argument is good in the end result.
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Alcon
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quote:
What does it matter? If its a good argument then its a good argument regardless of what reasons I have or you might have for as long as we both agree that the the argument is good in the end result.
Not the sound bite you put forth. That actually very much hurts your case.
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Rakeesh
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C'mon Blayne, that doesn't follow at all.

Just because it's a good argument for you to support something does not at all make it necessarily a good argument for someone else to support that thing.

Your argument is, "I support it because it puts money in my pocket." In what possible way is that persuasive to the people actually putting that money into your pocket?

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Blayne Bradley
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Because they are also the ones getting a next to free education as well. In Quebec anyways.
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fugu13
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If everyone who was contributing was getting a next to free education, then it isn't next to free; it is just a disguised loan.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
Because they are also the ones getting a next to free education as well. In Quebec anyways.
No, it's still a poor argument for everyone else. Because not only do most people in Quebec no longer need a next-to-free college education - most of its population, I'm assuming, not being poor college students - but it doesn't address those who have more of their money taken to fund your next-to-free education.

Your argument is, "I get money, and people like me get money, therefore it's good." You need to do better to persuade the people actually giving the money.

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Blayne Bradley
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Its also an investment, their children will also get this next-to free education, but in a way to ensure everyone gets said education and make more money. They and myself pay money via taxes to ensure that everyone and their children get an education which increases our wages allowing everyone to make relatively more money.
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fugu13
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And that isn't any different from many situations where people take out loans for education. Just calculate the money the educational institution receives vs the payouts people make, and you will find pretty strong equivalences. It really doesn't matter what the transfer mechanism is (at this level of argument).

Also, while having a college degree is an indicator for higher lifetime earnings if no other information is available, there's plenty of evidence that this is not true for certain categories of people attending college. If your argument is the reason we send people to college more cheaply, then some categories of people should be turned away, as it will increase their lifetime earnings.

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Blayne Bradley
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the higher the life time earnings are for certain professions the more likely they are competitive program and people ARE turned away.
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Teshi
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The story of Scrooge isn't just about Charity. It's also about using your money, both for good and for beauty/happiness.
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Juxtapose
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You guys realize Blayne doesn't really care about his own argument right? He was simply returning Occasional's middle finger.
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