My hometown of London, Ontario is currently reliving its own version of A Christmas Carol. The announcement last week of the shutting down of the Kellogg's plant in London, and the increasing pressure from modern capitalism to reduce wages and break unions, has left us as a city reeling and hoping to find better times. We are just like many other communities in this country, as we watch wealth inevitably pull away from us.
Charles Dickens made his name situating the character of the struggling individual against the powerful forces of the moneyed elite. In A Christmas Carol, we find Bob Cratchit working away in a "dismal little cell," deficient of heat. He dons a tattered white comforter to keep him warm, since he can't afford a coat. The wage provided him by Ebinezer Scrooge in insufficient for Cratchit to provide a proper Christmas dinner for his family.
And then Scrooge gets spooked -- literally. Both the ghost of Christmas present and the ghost of Christmas yet to come reveal to the miser not only the effects of his paltry human spirit, but the true nature of the person he hired and just what a good man he is. Cratchit had always been there for his family, especially with his sick son Tiny Tim. But he had also endured a brutal boss who loved the bottom line and only saw his employee as a means of getting there.
We are left with the impression that two ghosts won the day and that Scrooge experienced a change of heart. But the apparitions were just vehicles to show him the true state of his spirit. Yet his great awakening came the moment he silently witnessed the true character of his employee, his circumstances, and how Cratchit had somehow managed to maintain his belief in the nobility of the human spirit despite the constant threat of job loss and an insufficient wage.
The world is quickly spinning towards a titanic showdown between modern capitalism and democracy and the results are not yet clear. Income inequality is on its way to becoming the true litmus test of not only our communities, but of the free market itself. It can maintain its present course and not only witness the hollowing out of our communities, and also be one of the primary causes. The drive for profits has slowly replaced the desire for place, for communities where hard work is rewarded and where employees are valued participants in the larger economy.
We are rapidly working our way towards a future of wealth for the few without work for the many. Our cities are increasingly witnessing vagabond workers, moving for job to job, often for minimum wage, toiling without benefits and with little future for advancement. Despite fabulous wealth being generated globally, it moves ever upwards, out of reach of average families, and hoarded by protections against spreading it more equitably.
A modern state cannot exist merely made up of politics and private enterprise. Any good society must offer citizens a vast array of ways to get involved in developing various levels of co-existence, solidarity, and participation. Politics and capitalism will dominate any space where a robust civil society is struggling. Worse still, political ideologies and the free market will become increasingly dysfunctional the more humanity is stripped from their workings. In a democracy, this element of civil society, and the ability to determine collective well-being, must be predominant or else we will enter the stage we are presently enduring -- power without accountability, wealth without responsibility, and citizenship without community.
We believed the days of Dickens were behind us, but we now see their resurgence. We must press for change, for the great trimming down of economic inequality, and for the reform of capitalism into a place of usefulness and empowerment to our respective communities.
Bob Cratchit comes out as the true hero of Dicken's novel -- a worker, a family man, a believer in the goodness of people, and a man capable of rising above his circumstances.
London, Ontario just witnessed a similar example yesterday, as Kellogg's employees, despite the devastating news of the impending shutdown, raised $10,000 and purchased quality foodstuffs for the local food bank. If we are ever to find a reason for believing in Christmas, this is it. Those employees have caused me personally to raise my game, to be a better citizen, and to struggle against capitalist and political forces that have lost touch.
I wish for more ghosts this Christmas, to reveal to us the inner strength resident in citizens and to persuade corporate leaders that the true spirit of humanity is not to be found in the bottom line but in the better angels of our nature. Invest in that and we will discover new hope, potential and wealth.
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