Our economic education was somewhat unorthodox. Much of it took place in the basement of a library with moveable stacks, located not far the center of campus but very far, intellectually speaking, from the lecture halls where famous economists taught throngs of undergraduates to ignore what they know in favor of what could be depicted in graphs and equations.
We were helped along by a newsletter published by the Ludwig Von Mises institute, the foremost center for Austrian economics in these United States. Each year around this time our favorite edition of the newsletter was printed, the Christmas issue. It usually presented some contrarian take on a famous Christmas story. One year it might be the economics of Santa’s workshop. Another year the feature story was about the entrepreneurialism of shiny red noses. Another year about Scrooge’s generosity.
The folks who put together the newsletter now run both the Mises.org website and LewRockwell.com. We decided today to take a look at those sites. Sure enough, there was plenty of contrarian Christmas stories that we thought we would pass along.
We’ll start with Butler Shaffer’s “The Case for Ebeneezer.” He makes the case that Mr. Scrooge, who seems to have been a money lender of some sort, may not be quite the villain he is made out to be for much of Charles Dickens’ carol. In the first place, if Mr. Scrooge were not in the business he was in–lender money on the expectation of being repaid with interest–the lives of the people of London might have been far poorer. They needed money when they borrowed it, and Mr. Scrooge was willing to part with it for a time. If he was not willing to trust them with his money and if he was not accumulating wealth while practicing this generous art, they would have never had been able to avail themselves of the opportunities that allowed them to start and continue their own businesses and buy and live in their homes.
Lew Rockwell himself explains the economic lessons at the heart of the story of Bethlehem. Remember those wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? To hear the preachers of the gospel of poverty, who remind us always about the eyes of needles and camels, you might think that the holy family would have rejected these gifts as too extravagant. But that’s not the way it happened. “Far from rejecting them as extravagant, the Holy Family accepted them as gifts worthy of the Divine Messiah,” Rockwell writes. “Neither is there a record that suggests that the Holy Family paid any capital gains tax on them, though such gifts vastly increased their net wealth. Hence, another lesson: there is nothing immoral about wealth; wealth is something to be valued, owned privately, given and exchanged.”
And if Rockwell’s take strikes you as a bit too anti-Roman, we suggest you read Tom Fleming’s very different appreciation of Rome’s accomplishments. It reminds us of an oath we once took when joining a society of like-minded people while we were undergraduates, which included a plea that if we could not be saints (which was beyond the hopes of most of us in that room that night), then at least we could be like the Romans who made the world in which the first Christmas occurred.
You’ll hear a lot about how Christmas is ruined by rampant consumerism. Very few people bother to defend the common practice of buying and giving gifts but the practice continues on. Gary North explains why. “There is great value in satisfying the desires of consumers, a value that goes beyond the prices that consumers pay,” he writes. “Producers understand this. Consumers may not.” And you won’t want to miss North’s take on “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
So why are we back again on Christmas night, writing for the few of you who may still be reading? Well, we’re recovering from our Christmas feast and thinking about some of the most important people in our own lives: our readers, our commenters, our sponsors and our investors. You make it possible for us to do this wonderful work each day, and we’re grateful for that gift you give to us each day. It’s been a happy holiday season for us, and we hope it’s been merry for you. We’ll raise a glass to you tonight.