• 25 Dec 2007 at 4:27 PM
  • Holidays

Jingle Bells: A Very Different Kind of Opening Bell

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.

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Comments (16)

  1. Posted by NotNasser | December 25, 2007 at 9:14 PM

    Mr. Potter was kind of a happenin’ dude, too.

  2. Posted by Original BSD | December 25, 2007 at 10:11 PM

    Get back to work, peon!

  3. Posted by an economic lesson | December 26, 2007 at 3:44 AM

    Silly Lew… the gifts of the magi were not reported as capital gains because, if anything, they are ordinary income. It looks like someone could use an economic lesson for himself.
    In all likelihood the gifts would not be taxed, as most gifts can be excluded (under Internal Revenue Code section 102) from the gross income of the recipient. In that case it is possible that the wise men would have been liable for the federal gift tax, however.

  4. Posted by Smarmot | December 26, 2007 at 6:47 AM

    OMG, I knew there was a reason I come to this site apart from having worked on the bonds and interest rate swaps desks of 2 bulge-bracket banks.
    It seems you are a believer in von Mises and (gasp) the Austrian school of econ! With the references to Lew Rockwell (who I’ve followed for many years), Ron Paul surely can’t be far behind.
    So when are our Wall St. com-padres gonna stand up for fiscal conservatism and finally abolish the Fed and “Helicopter” Ben’s strategy to dodge stagflation? After the sausage factory of credit derivs implodes completely and people finally see how they’re made and who holds the unsavory bits, or when IBO locks up completely (as it almost has), and all our banks are belong to Singapore?

  5. Posted by Anonymous | December 26, 2007 at 8:36 AM

    Merry christmas all.

  6. Posted by Drano | December 26, 2007 at 9:14 AM

    For some reason I always had the impression that Scrooge was some sort of commodities dealer. Maybe I dreamed that, I’ll hafta go back and check.

  7. Posted by Anal_yst | December 26, 2007 at 10:00 AM

    @ Drano – for some reason I always associate Scrooge with the Duke’s, more Randolph than Mortimer though, not sure why

  8. Posted by HAM'05 | December 26, 2007 at 10:29 AM

    the dukes def did eachother in the butt.
    hypothetical skins game – would your money be on louis or ty?

  9. Posted by Ron Paul Anti Defamation League | December 26, 2007 at 11:24 AM

    Vote Ron Paul 2008.

  10. Posted by Bernard Guerrero | December 26, 2007 at 12:09 PM

    “For some reason I always had the impression that Scrooge was some sort of commodities dealer.”
    Ayuh. Early on he makes a point of quoting a high price on a load of grain that some charitable group wants to purchase from him in time for the Holidays, reckoning that they’re more afraid of not having it in time than he is of being stuck with it after the high-demand season is over.
    He does also note how he made money by lending judiciously, though

  11. Posted by John Carney | December 26, 2007 at 1:57 PM

    We were debating what Scrooge’s occupation was over dinner last night. No one is quite sure. Commodities trading, money lending and lots and lots of bookkeeping seem to occupy his time but it’s never exactly clear what “Scrooge & Marley” does, whether it has clients or customers or whether it is all some sort of prop trading outfit.

  12. Posted by Anonymous | December 26, 2007 at 3:08 PM

    I always assumed Scrooge used fancy bookkeeping to hide the massive losses of victorian corporations from their shareholders.

  13. Posted by Novice | December 26, 2007 at 3:13 PM

    3:08
    The Way We Live Now?

  14. Posted by Finn | December 27, 2007 at 1:27 AM

    3:08/3:13
    Scrooge as Trollope’s Melmotte?
    Scrooge, like Mr.Potter, was more legal than that. Melmotte was shady, Scrooge was just very bottom line.

  15. Posted by Ron Paul Supporter | December 27, 2007 at 7:50 PM

    Merry Christmas Carney!
    You guys are consistent with posting amusing items mixed with serious stuff that makes for a great website.
    Hope you guys continue on through 2008!

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