It's probably a safe bet that Ebenezer Scrooge, before his spiritual transformation, would have balked at recent proposals in the U.S. to tax the wealthy, even to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff.
The ultimate Christmas curmudgeon, who most famously asked if the workhouses were still in operation, already thought he paid more than his fair share of taxes.
Nearly all are familiar with the Charles Dickens' character, a miserable and miserly boss, who, many believe, exploited his poor hapless worker Bob Cratchit, ignored the plight of the poor and the spirit of Christmas until, of course, he is set on a righteous path following a visit from three wise ghosts.
While that may be most people's view of Scrooge, some have rushed to his defence, saying the general interpretation of the old miser has been a lot of humbug.
"I think Scrooge is clearly misunderstood and used to vilify business," said Yaron Brook , president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, an organization named after the author whose books promoted individual rights and made the moral case for rational self-interest.
'Scrooge is really a hero'
David N. Mayer, professor of law and history at Capital University Law School in Ohio, made a similar argument in his own essay, saying that the "unredeemed Scrooge is really a hero. He's the most real character in the story — the one character in the book who acts responsible and who treats his fellow men justly."
In a column for the National Review last year entitled "Scrooge: The First 1 Percenter," Jim Lacey, author and analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses, made the case that Scrooge, before his ghostly visitors, "was already doing more to help his fellow man than any of the other main characters we meet," and that at the end of the tale, by giving away some of his fortune, he "drastically reduced his ability to do even more good in the world."
The argument in Scrooge's defence is that while Scrooge may not be the most pleasant fellow, he did a lot of good, despite his nephew Fred's remarks that his uncle had no use for wealth since he "doesn't do any good with it."
While the book is scant on detail about Scrooge's actual career, Lacey deduces that he was some kind of lender. This means Scrooge lent money to individuals and businesses, made investments through the London Exchange, helped create jobs, all of which grew the economy, helped finance the Industrial Revolution and needed infrastructure and lifted up the condition of the poor and middle class.
But much of that is ignored, in part because of his lack of altruism for society as a whole, critics argue.
Mayer said the passage in the book he found most objectionable is when Scrooge tells the ghostly Jacob Marley that Marley, was a good man of business, to which Marley replies: 'Mankind was my business!'
But Mayer, in an interview with CBC News, said that through Scrooge's dealing of his trade "everybody prospers."
Arguably, the scene intended to cast Scrooge at his worst is when he ignores the pleas for charity, instead asking if the "union workhouses" are in operation.
Mayer, who also teaches English legal history, defended the Poor Law of 1834, which brought in those workhouses and required able-bodied welfare recipients to work.
Scrooge is "justly indignant at the thought that in addition to having part of his earnings taken away through taxes to support government welfare programs, he's being asked to give away even more of his earnings to "make idle people merry" when he himself doesn't feel merry," Mayer wrote.
But surely Scrooge could be a little more generous to Cratchit, whose financial hardships have taken a toll on his family, most specifically on the health and welfare of his son, poor Tiny Tim?
Cratchit paid what he's worth
Well, no, says Brook, who defended Scrooge's treatment of his beleaguered clerk. Brook said Cratchit was getting paid the market wage and that his boss had no moral obligation to help him out.
"I assume if somebody else was willing to pay him more, that he would move jobs and no one would feel sorry for Scrooge if [Cratchit] just walked up and left because he got more money somewhere else," Brook said.
"If he's making very little, it's probably because he adds very little productive value to the economy, to business," Brook said. "That's the reality of the market place and there's nothing unjust about that." (Lacey said Cratchit was paid 15 shillings a week, about average for a clerk and double what a general labourer earned).
In fact, Scrooge's decision at the end of the story to boost Cratchit's salary would be a "disastrous course of action in real life," Brook said, adding that Scrooge's clients would suffer because he has less money to reinvest into lending them money.
Lacey bemoaned Scrooge's turn to altruism, saying it was unfortunate for the "many thousands whose jobs Scrooge's investments had underwritten" as his "transfer of funds to less productive causes undoubtedly cost them dearly."
As for Brook, his criticism of A Christmas Carol isn't some arbitrary shot at British literature as he also has choice words for the American Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life.
"That is another version of the same story," he said.
Brook said like Scrooge, the successful banker in It's a Wonderful Life is portrayed as ugly, old, unhappy, crotchety, and evil.
"And why is he evil? He's evil because he forecloses on people who don't pay him back. What's the contract for? And of course the good guy is the guy who goes bankrupt. He gets bailed out at the end just because people are nice. But he's a bad banker, he's an awful businessman, he doesn't protect his bank or his wealth."
Brook admitted that criticizing that movie does come with some peril.
"Whenever I bring that movie up, people think I'm killing a sacred cow," he said.
The U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate roughly <a href="http://www.parade.com/news/2009/03/why-we-must-fix-our-prisons.html" target="_hplink">five times higher than the global average</a>. We have about 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, according to The Economist,. This status quo costs our local, state and federal governments a combined $68 billion a year -- all of which becomes a federal problem during recessions, when states look to Washington for fiscal relief. Over the standard 10-year budget window used in Congress, that's a $680 billion hit to the deficit. Solving longstanding prison problems -- releasing elderly convicts unlikely to commit crimes, offering treatment or counseling as an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders, slightly shortening the sentences of well-behaved inmates, and substituting probation for more jail-time -- would do wonders for government spending.
End Of The Drug War
The federal government spends more than <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-20072096.html" target="_hplink">$15 billion a year</a> investigating and prosecuting the War on Drugs. That's $150 billion in Washington budget-speak, and it doesn't include the far higher costs of incarcerating millions of people for doing drugs. This money isn't getting the government the results it wants. As drug war budgets balloon, drug use escalates. Ending the Drug War offers the government two separate budget boons. In addition to saving all the money spending investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders, Uncle Sam could actually regulate and tax drugs like marijuana, generating new revenue. Studies by pot legalization advocates indicate that fully legalizing weed in California would yield <a href="http://canorml.org/background/CA_legalization2.html" target="_hplink">up to $18 billion annually</a> for that state's government alone. For the feds, the benefits are even sweeter.
Let Medicare Negotiate With Big Pharma
The U.S. has <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/06/01/us-healthcare-costs-sb-idUSTRE5504Z320090601" target="_hplink">higher health care costs than any other country</a>. We spend over 15 percent of our total economic output each year on health care -- roughly 50 percent more than Canada, and double what the U.K. spends. Why? The American private health care system is inefficient, and the intellectual property rules involving medication in the U.S. can make prescription drugs much more expensive than in other countries. Medicare currently spends about $50 billion a year on prescription drugs. According to economist Dean Baker, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/intellectual_property_2004_09.pdf" target="_hplink">Americans spend roughly 10 times more than they need to</a> on prescription drugs as a result of our unique intellectual property standards. These savings for the government, of course, would come from the pockets of major pharmaceutical companies, currently among the most profitable corporations the world has ever known. They also exercise tremendous clout inside the Beltway. President Barack Obama even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/02/barack-obama-politics_n_1847947.html" target="_hplink">guaranteed drug companies more restrictive -- and lucrative -- intellectual property standards</a> in order to garner their support for the Affordable Care Act.
Offshore Tax Havens
The U.S. Treasury Department estimates that it loses about <a href="http://www.ctj.org/pdf/stopact.pdf" target="_hplink">$100 billion a year</a> in revenue due to offshore tax haven abuses. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has been pushing legislation for years to rein in this absurd tax maneuvering, but corporate lobbying on Capitol Hill has prevented the bill from becoming law.
Deprivatize Government Contract Work
In recent years, the federal government has privatized an enormous portion of public projects to government contractors. Over the past decade, the federal government's staffing has held steady, while the number of federal contractors has <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">increased by millions</a>. This outsourcing has resulted in much higher costs for the government than would be incurred by simply doing the work in-house. On average, contractors are paid <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">nearly double</a> what a comparable federal employee would receive for the same job, according to the Project On Government Oversight.
Print More Money
There's an old saying in economics: You have to print money to make money. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/underwear-sales-growth-economy_n_1952214.html" target="_hplink">Okay, there's no such saying</a>. Nevertheless, the great boogeyman of many conservative economic doctrines -- inflation -- isn't such a bad idea during periods where much of the citizenry is drowning in debt. Inflation is by no means a perfect remedy: it's a stealth cut to workers' wages. But it also has many benefits that are often unacknowledged by the Washington intelligentsia. Inflation makes housing debt, student loan debt and any other private-sector debt more manageable. Today, when <a href="http://www.corelogic.com/about-us/researchtrends/asset_upload_file448_16434.pdf" target="_hplink">10.8 million</a> homes are underwater -- meaning borrowers owe banks than their houses are worth, moderate inflation could ease that debt burden. By effectively reducing monthly bills, moderate inflation could actually put more money in the pockets of these homeowners to spend elsewhere, thus stimulating the economy. Moderate inflation -- 5 percent or so -- could also help alleviate the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57555780/student-loan-debt-nears-$1-trillion-is-it-the-new-subprime/" target="_hplink">$1 trillion</a> in student debt currently plaguing America's graduates. Make no mistake -- hyperinflation of 20 percent, 30 percent or more -- is bad. But the U.S. has ways to crush inflation when it gets out of hand, as proven by the Federal Reserve under then-Chairman Paul Volcker in the early-1980s.
Print Less Money
The government prints a <em>lot</em> of $1 bills. But it turns out that minting $1 coins is much, much cheaper. Over the course of 30 years, the government could save $4.4 billion by switching from dollar bills to dollar coins. Here's looking at you, <a href="http://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/nativeamerican/" target="_hplink">Sacagawea</a>.
Immigration: Less Detention, More Ankle Bracelets
The government spends <a href="http://newamericamedia.org/2012/04/ice-slow-to-embrace-alternatives-to-immigrant-detention.php" target="_hplink"> $122 per person, per day</a> detaining immigrants who are considered safe and unlikely to commit crimes. The government has plenty of other options available to monitor such people, at a cost of as little as $15 per person. For the first 205 years of America's existence, there was no federal system for detaining immigrants. The process began in 1981.
Financial Speculation Tax
Wall Street loves to gamble. In good times, financial speculation is the source of tremendous profits in America's banking system, but when the bets go bad, the government picks up the tab, as evidenced by the epic bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, this speculation is difficult to define in legalistic terminology and even more difficult to police. One solution? By taxing every financial trade at the ultra-low rate of 0.25 percent, the U.S. government can impose a modest incentive against gambling for the sheer sake of gambling. If there's an immediate cost to placing a bet, a lot of traders will choose not to bet. What's more, this tax could raise about <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/media/why_a_financial_transaction_tax" target="_hplink">$150 billion a year</a> for the federal government.
Taxing greenhouse gases would generate $80 billion a year right now, and up to $310 billion a year by 2050, <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/07/carbon-tax-mckibbin-morris-wilcoxen" target="_hplink">according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution</a>. It would also help avert catastrophic ecological and economic damage from climate change.