For those who have always suspected that Republican economic policies are inspired by Ebenezer Scrooge before he let Christmas into his heart, former Sen. Phil Gramm would like to confirm it for you. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed that he co-authored recently, the Texas Republican makes the case that Charles Dickens’ miserly villain from “A Christmas Carol” is unfairly maligned for his greed, and that Scrooge’s brand of hard-nosed wealth accumulation is actually good for society.
“It should be understood there is nothing unethical about Ebenezer Scrooge,” Gramm and co-author Mike Solon write in the December piece, unironically headlined: “In Defense of Scrooge, Whose Thrift Blessed the World.”
Their argument is basically trickle-down economics — the proposition that if the rich get richer, everyone benefits. This may well be the most discredited economic theory since communism, but establishment Republicans from the Reagan era onward have clung to it like religion. As Gramm and Solon put it: “Scrooge’s wealth accumulation would have benefited far more people than anything he gave to charity after his reclamation, and many times more than government would have helped had they taken his wealth and spent it.”
Take that, Tiny Tim!
Their praise of the unprecedented employment provided by England’s Industrial Revolution, driven by monied men like Scrooge, leaves out a lot of the story — including urban living conditions for children that were, well, Dickensian. Applied to modern America, their supply-side ethos doesn’t confront inconvenient data like the fact that average workers’ pay has risen by about 12% since the late 1970s, while average CEO compensation has risen by almost 1,000%.
Still, with their intriguing thesis in mind, let’s consider some other fictional villains who should perhaps get a re-hearing from today’s conservative thinkers:
Mr. Potter. He’s the antagonist from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but what’s so antagonistic about running a big, profitable bank? Is it better to have shaky financial institutions like George Bailey’s shabby little Building & Loan? And think about who the real “villains” are here. Who is actually threatening George with prison time? It’s none other than … banking regulators! Everyone thinks the moral of the movie is that one life can make a big difference to those around us, but the real moral should be clear: We need to deregulate the financial sector.
Darth Vader. In terms of strong management style, no one compares to the heavy breather with the industrial mask. The threat of a write-up in your file is nothing compared to the neck-breaking incentives that spurred Mr. Vader’s underlings in “Star Wars.” You weren’t going to see any pesky union organizing there. And notice how effective he was: Before the rebels destroyed it, the Death Star was the greatest construction project in the galaxy, providing thousands of good-paying jobs.
The Wicked Witch of the West. No one likes to say it, because Dorothy was so cute and all, but by the standards of Oz, she was an illegal immigrant. Show us where flying houses get an exception to ICE regulations. The allegedly “wicked” witch (we would argue she was more of a misunderstood witch) was a native-born Oz-ian who ran an admirably efficient operation. Winged monkeys, what an innovation! After what happened to the witch in the end, we’re surprised the loony left didn’t try to require background checks for water purchases.
The Sheriff of Nottingham. The good sheriff was merely upholding the law by persecuting that tights-wearing socialist, Robin Hood. We conservatives are always in favor of law and order (except when we’re not; see, Donald Trump’s pardoned cronies). Maybe if the poor had gotten off their tuchuses and worked, for once, instead of relying on Robin to steal from the rich, he could have lived in an actual house instead of slumming it in Sherwood Forest. And don’t even get us started on those “merry” men of his.
Cruella De Vil. She is the ultimate supply-sider — the supply in this case consisting of “101 Dalmatians,” from which she yearns to make coats. PETA can whine all they want, but the fact is, market forces should dictate manufacturing decisions. And spotted fashion is “in” this year.
Lord Voldemort. Harry Potter’s nemesis understood what too many other wizards don’t: When the Muggles send their people to Hogwarts, they’re not sending their best. If you know what we mean.
Gordon Gekko. He made fortunes buying and selling companies, and he did it in the flashy suspenders and slicked-back hair that defined the cherished Reagan ’80s. Yes, the hero — er, villain — of the film “Wall Street” threw a lot of people out of work and violated insider-trading laws, blah blah blah, but no one can deny that he did it with style.
The GOP in the Trump era is criticized for having no core principles, but that’s not really true. The party’s central economic philosophy is still there, personified by Gekko and his mantra: Greed is good. Scrooge would approve.