It was a cold and dreary New York that Ebenezer Scrooge V looked at from the window of his Upper East Side office. The sun was setting, but his long day was not over yet. His secretary, Mrs. Cratchit buzzed to ask if he was ready for his appointment with the representatives of UNESCO’s International Program for the Development of Communication. They were undoubtedly looking for a grant from the Scrooge Foundation for International Poverty Relief. Why does it always have to be on Christmas Eve, he wondered? Oh well, “Show them in Mrs. Cratchit, show them in.”
The sleek and smiling bureaucrats—one Arab and one Indian by the look of them—entered Scrooge’s palatial office. The Indian gentleman, with an ingratiating air, inquired:
“Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Marley or Mr. Scrooge?”
“Mr. Marley died 174 years ago today, but for some reason I have never fully understood, the family has always revered his memory, though from the way the first Scrooge wrote about him in his diary, it seems more like fear.”
“”We have no doubt the liberality of those partners is well represented by the present generation,” said the Arab gentleman, presenting his card. At the ominous word “liberality,” Scrooge froze.
“There is nothing liberal about this firm, these days. We have been Tories for generation. As Maggie Thatcher’s father told her, the real liberals are now the conservatives. They understand these things even better, here in America. We believe in free markets, individual initiative, and the bottom line. In the natural order, it is survival of the fittest, and in today’s global economy, the fittest are the richest and the biggest. That is why we decided to take over Goldman Sachs last year, and that is why at the Scrooge Foundation, we spend billions of dollars every year, helping people help themselves. It’s good for the global economy and even better for our global reputation. ”
“During the holiday season, Mr. Scrooge,” said the Indian gentleman, twiddling the screen of his IPhone, “It is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the underprivileged people of the developing world, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no sweatshops?”
“Plenty of sweatshops.
“I am glad to hear it, almost as glad as my Chinese partners. And the great Christian missions and foundations?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that Christian charities scarcely furnish cheer of mind to the Muslim, Hindu, and animist multitudes of the world,” returned the Arab gentleman, “a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy out the so-called Christian foundations and turn them over to a multi-faith task force democratically elected by the exploited non-Christian peoples of the world. But that is only one part of our plan. There is another branch of UNESCO, working in tandem with the European Union and the American Civil Liberties Union, and their great purpose is the elimination of all public evidence of this false religion that has justified the subjugation of the dispossessed native peoples of the globe. This is a project on which we all agree, Jews as much as Hindus as Muslims. What shall I put you down for?”
“Put me down for nothing.”
“You wish to remain anonymous.”
“I wish to be left alone. Let me explain to you fine gentlemen a thing or two my great ancestor, the first Scrooge, failed at first to understand. When he complained that Christmas was just an excuse for picking a man’s pocket, he could not have been more right in his analysis but could not have been more wrong in his attitude. And the real story of his conversion is rather different from the morality play written by that sentimental fool, Charles Dickens.”
“Are you suggesting,” asked the Indian gentleman, “that the distinguished author about whom we read so assiduously and heard so much great praise from our esteemed teachers in school was some kind of fraud or liar? O my dear my dear.”
“That is exactly the case. Dickens was one of those fools who thinks he knows the value of everything when he knows the price of nothing. He was not even intelligent enough to see that he should have set aside his anti-Christian bias and introduced a few Christian references into his book. It might have stimulated better sales in Catholic countries or in the American South, but in the long run it has turned out all right. The churches themselves were mostly bamboozled by his fraudulent piety, and, besides, they have by now almost entirely banished Christianity from their creeds. Scrooge and Marley, meanwhile, have come out quite nicely.”
“In what way?” asked the Hindu.
“Being on the inside, we naturally saw the potential from the beginning, and we bought the copyright cheap. Long before the copyright ran out, we controlled a huge share of the global publishing market.”
“But surely not both liberal and conservative publishers?” asked the naïve Arab.
“What cant to say there is such a distinction! Nothing could be easier than to control the imaginary right and the corrupt left (or is it vice versa?). After all, what is the real difference between the two “parties”? Conservatives know how to make money, while the liberals are only interested in spending it, but without people like me, there would be nothing to spend, and for people like me, Christmas is a bonanza.”
“It’s a good word these Americans used to have. It means something like a gold strike or windfall. It never seems to have occurred to my otherwise sagacious ancestor, that there is more money to be made in Christmas than in every other occupation known to man—with the obvious exception of arms manufacturing. Perhaps I should explain to you a litte of how the world works outside of cheap novels and UN propaganda pamphlets.”
“My most esteemed Mr. Scrooge,” wheedled the Indian gentleman, “If you are not interested in our great work, “perhaps we should not trespass on your invaluable time.”
“Nonsense,” said Scrooge, “I am through for the day and have nothing planned except dinner at Per Se . I need not remind you know how many millions my foundation has already squandered on UNESCO and other UN boondoggles (and don’t tell me that you of all people don’t know what a boondoggle is). The least you can do is to hear the truth on Christmas Eve.”
“Of course we’d be delighted,” lied the Arab gentleman.
“Yes, absolutely thrilled to the very marrow of our bones,” enthused the Indian.
“Well, then, you must know as well as the next sycophantic parasite, that it is not love the makes the world go round, it is money. The stuff that dreams are made of, as Humphrey Bogart says in the film. “ Scrooge was more fond of old movies than he was of Shakespeare.
“This is not something new much less anything to regret. Money is clean and rational. Anything in our world can be reduced to a Euro or a pound or even the poor dollar. Naturally, we cannot talk this way at any time of the year. It used to be said that animals could talk on Christmas Even, and therefore I take the liberty of being brutal, not to say bestial in my honest. Everything and everyone has its price, and a rational person, uninfected with sentimentality, would sell his wife into prostitution and his children into slavery—if the price were right. Ordinarily, no one can pay a high enough price for such a sacrifice of sentimentality, though I can and indeed have paid such a price and more than once.
“So long as the hand that counts the money rules the world, mankind gets along perfectly well. It is only when lunatics come along, who claim to be above money—Robespierre “the incorruptible, for example, or Lenin—that all Hell breaks loose. The Rothschilds were on the brink of actually controlling France, when that foul Revolution broke out. And what was the result? Chaos, bloodshed, misery. The Russian Revolution was even worse. This sort of thing is so unnatural it only lasts a decade or so, and then some clever fellow comes along—Napoleon or Stalin—who know that if money is power, then they must control the money. It is the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules, but even the tyrants don’t last very long. In the end it is the bankers who resume control, the way Mr. Bernanke has taken over the United States.”
“But surely,” protested the Arab who had read a little history, “this is a bit simplistic. I would point to our own Mohammed as a man who rose above squalid greed and pursued justice, but since you would say that he was an agent of the divine will—or even that as a Muslim I am prejudiced—what would you say of Pericles, the creator of democracy?”
“Funny thing about Pericles. As a schoolboy I was forced to read Thucydides at Eton. Thucydides says something like, they called Periclean Athens a democracy, but everyone knew it was really the rule of one man. But Pericles makes my case exactly, in two different senses. First off, how did he tke power? He did not have the money that his rival Cimon had to squander on free dinners for the poor, but his mentor Damon explained to him how to confiscate the people’s money and the loot they took from the allies and how to bribe the people with it. Secondly, when Pericles died and the true-believing democrats were in the saddle, Athens ruined herself. No, no, pretend that money is not the only reality, and all that is left is chaos and dictatorship until the bankers step in and put things right.
“This is reality, but few philosophers have been willing to state the truth. One of the few was Ludwig von Mises. Even today some of Mises’ followers do not shrink from defending the indefensible, though most take refuge in some callow platitudes about subjective value and the ultimately high value they place upon their own families. Pure humbug, as the first Scrooge was fond of saying.
“My great ancestor was what was then called a liberal and would now be a libertarian. He followed the line of thought that was then identified as the “Manchester School.” The only ideals they had were money and the individual freedom that comes through wealth. Family, religion, social class, national loyalty were all humbug to them. Even charity was bad because it encouraged idleness and dependency.
“Now, we know that all this is true, but few people want to hear these natural truths. They prefer to talk about love and charity and benevolence. Scrooge’s partner Jacob Marley understood the need for hypocrisy. He went to church regularly–if anything in the Church of England can be said to be regular. He always made a good donation to the church, and when philanthropists came, rattling their begging bowls, Marley always gave a little and hinted he might give more. He laughed at Christians, but he recognized the need to deceive them.
“The one true thing in Dickens’ ridiculous tale is the fact that Scrooge actually believed he had seen Marley’s ghost. Late in life, after his conversion, he made the mistake of telling the novelist his tale, but like most writers Dickens could not stomach the truth. Let me tell you the real story of what went on that fateful Christmas Eve.
Scrooge always claimed he saw Marley’s ghost, and if such things as ghosts can exist, I believe he did. Scrooge and Marley, although they were both excellent men of business, were quite opposite characters. Marley believed in nothing, not even the liberal philosophy of dog-eat-dog and man-cheat-man that Scrooge had received as gospel truth. Marley used to tell him,
“Ebeneezer, ideas are for fools who do not know how to make money. Suppose a bunch of French socialists staged a revolution in England. You would wring your withered hands in despair. Not me. Socialists don’t know how to manage anything, and if they wanted the factories to produce and the trains run, they would have to turn to people like us. Naturally they’d kill a lot of capitalists in the beginning, but I would come out all right. I’ve been slipping money to this young fellow Marx, you know, pay for his mistresses’ abortions and that kind of thing. Of course his ideas are complete nonsense, except for this: If Marx and his friends ever did take over, they would build up so much power over everyone else that it would be a grand opportunity for someone who knows how to extract money from the unwary public. You know what I always say, it’s just as easy for a stockjobber to fleece investors, whether the market goes up or the market goes down.”
Marley was right of course. Look at my new partners at Goldman Sachs. They have always made money by manipulating the US government, whether it was Sidney Weinberg gobbling up Roosevelt’s alphabet soup of boards and commissions or the master coup of putting good old Hank Paulson in at Treasury. The bigger the government, the greater the opportunity. Marley only had one weakness. He loved luxury and ceremony . We Scrooges, by contrast, have never cared what we ate or drank, where how lived or what we put on our backs. Yes, I dress well and live in an excellent building, which I own, and I dine at the most expensive restaurants, but that is part of doing business in America these days. You have to hobnob with the rich and famous. But Marley liked beautiful things for themselves, which is why, as he grew older, he became more and more “high church,” a regular Puseyite. [Editor’s note: The scribe miswrote in saying that Marley was a Methodist]
Like many a Puseyite, including Newman, Marley was strongly attracted to the Roman Church, with all its pomp and pride. The more sensible part of him also admired the wealth and power of the Church and the Machiavellian cunning of its princes. Who could not admire such great plutocrats as Leo X, Julius II, and–the greatest of them all–Alexander VI, the best of the Borgias. As you may or may not know, one of the Romanists’ greatest superstitious terrors is Purgatory. Marley loved the idea of Purgatory, because he knew what the only possible alternative for him would be. On his deathbed, he called in a priest, said the Pope was a king above all kings of the world, and made as honest a confession as he was capable of.
You would think, then, if Marley’s ghost came to visit Ebeneezer, it would tell him to repent. But that is not quite what happened. It’s a bit of a puzzle, but I think I can offer a solution or two. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that some bit of Marley’s imagination did survive death. Apparently his five minutes as a Catholic could not change his 70+ years of skepticism and hypocrisy. Or, if you want to play the Catholic game, Marley made an insincere confession and went straight to Hell from which he was let out on condition that he would drag his former partner down to Hell. Perhaps their devils give time off for bad behavior. It is probably more rational to think that Scrooge dreamed the whole thing and that in his dream Marley told him exactly the sort of things that Marley would say. In any event, I can see you gentlemen are fiddling again and want to escape this little moment of truth, but I will trouble you just long enough to hear the revelation made by Marley’s ghost.
Since you gentlemen are in such a hurry, and since I am beginning to weary of my own story and to repent of my rashness, I won’t bother to refute, point by point, Mr. Dickens’ fabrications or even to give you the true account handed down in our family “Bible,” known as the Black Book of the Scrooges. You have all read how Marley’s ghost accosted Scrooge in his room. Marley was wearing a bizarre set of fetters but they were not made of cash-boxes, ledgers, and account books but with empty money sacks, foreclosure notices, bankruptcy signs, and handcuffs. My ancestor was naturally terrified by the apparition and by the omens of financial failure and imprisonment.
“What do you want of me?” Scrooge cried at the ghost.
“Much, Ebeneezer, much. On you depends the future of our firm and the perpetuation of my name, for if you fail, then Scrooge & Marley fails, and since I had no children, it will be as if Jacob Marley never existed. You may not know this, Ebeneezer. Perhaps only the dead know it, but after we die our first death, there is a second death. I am not referring now to Christian theology, but to what happens when the last person who cared about you or even knew you is gone. This is a greater shock than the first death, and your ghost shrinks down to almost nothing. You can see through me now, can you not? That is because my brothers and sisters are dead, and their children hardly think of me at all. Perhaps I should have left them more money. When they are gone, I shall be a peeping wisp of a bat, and when their children throw their great-uncle’s picture into the fire with the wrapping paper, not knowing who he is, I shall disappear. That, at least, is what they tell me, the spirits in charge of where I am now. It’s a funny sort of heaven or purgatory where we are all so miserable, but at least we can continue to exist on the memories of other people. Promise me, Ebeneezer, promise me on your very life and soul that you will never take my name off the firm and that you will bind your heirs never to take it off. So long as my name survives, old Marley will not wholly die.
“I promise, Jacob, and now that you have extracted from me this promise, you may go back to wherever it is you came from. Good-bye, Jacob,” said Scrooge, wishing him a silent, “and good riddance.”
“There is one thing more, Ebeneezer,” intoned Marley, rattling his fetters. ”You are headed for a terrible ruin, a ruin that will destroy my name forever.”
“But, Jacob, the firm has never made so much money as it is is making these days.”
“You do not understand, Ebeneezer. You have never understood. You are a man of the last century, a rational man of logic and numbers. You never understood why young people were going off to the lake country to moon over flowers and sheep or why they read Keats–that Cockney fellow that Byron (the only poet you ever quoted to me) called ‘Piss-a-bed Johnny.’ Ever since Victoria came to the throne-that was the year after my departure from the firm–this sentimentality has spread into politics. There is that revolting young man Gladstone, pandering to Catholics and prating about their rights, trying to lift up the fallen women–into his bed, for all I know. I hear he even has some nonsensical idea about supporting Eastern Christians against our great ally the Turk. It is going to get worse and worse, Ebeneezer. That fellow Marx I used to send money to–remember, fellow looked like a rabbi?–his boys are up to no good in Europe these days. I can hear them cranking up the guillotine again, but this time it won’t be for the aristos–which wouldn’t be a bad thing–but for us businessmen.”
“That won’t happen in England, Jacob.”
“No it won’t. We English are much too sensible for violent revolution, but we’ll be ruined just the same, by taxes on our businesses and private incomes, taxes on the estates we pass on to our heirs, harassed and persecuted by the press and by the turn-coat clergy who are half-socialist as it is. If these people have their way, the only capitalists left will be impoverished slaves of a socialist government.”
“Good heavens! What a nightmare. Is there nothing we can do. Save us. Jacob, you were always a good man of business.”
“I was–and still am, but what you fail to understand, my dear late partner, is that mankind is your business.”
“What twaddle, Jacob, especially coming from you.”
“You still don’t understand. When I say that mankind is your business, I mean that you have the opportunity to make a business out of mankind. Don’t you see? If you are going to live in a world of sentimentalists, you need to learn how to make a profit from sentiment. You also need, at the same time, to protect yourself from the angry “proletariat” (as young Marx calls them) who will some day get the vote and take away everything you have.”
“It’s easy to say, Jacob, but how do I set about working this miracle.”
“Why do you think I came on this night of all nights, Ebeneezer?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps you intended to frighten me more thoroughly if you came at a time when nearly everyone falls prey to superstition and sentiment.”
“No, Ebeneezer, that is not why, but you are on the right track. Christmas is a time when people do lose their senses, it is true, and they prepare dinners they cannot afford and spend money on trinkets when they barely have enough for coal. The strange thing is that none of us has learned how to make the most of this opportunity. I foresee a time when there will be Christmas toys and Christmas music for sale, when families will buy thousands of pounds worth of presents–at inflated prices–on the pretense that in bankrupting their families they prove they really love each other. I know what you are thinking. If stores stock up for the orgy of buying, what will they do with the unsold merchandise. It is simple: They’ll cut back the price to normal and call it an after-Christmas sale. My mind reels at the immensity of the operation–Christmas cards, holiday clothes, expensive wines and brandies, fancy decorations, and gaudy religious ornaments. Think of it, Ebeneezer, we can sell Christ and his Christmas for a great deal more money than poor old misunderstood Judas ever made.He’s not a bad fellow really, though he talks a lot like Marx.”
“I imagine the Archbishop will have something to say about this, not to mention the psalm-singing Methodists and Baptists. They’ll avoid our businesses like the plague and see that we are damned in the Times. They’ll call it sacrilege and make it hotter for us than anything you have imagined.”
“No, they won’t, and I’ll tell you why not. First off, we’ll take out full-page Christmas ads in the Times. Have you ever heard of a newspaper that could not be bribed by a large advertising contract? As for the churchmen, we shall make huge donations to the churches and their charities, and we shall claim to be promoting Christmas, even among non-Christians, and spreading the spirit of Christmas around the world. Naturally, we won’t be explaining that it is a rather different kind of Christmas than they used to celebrate.
“Since I didn’t think you would take my word for it, Ebeneezer, I arranged for a spirit to visit you–a funny chap, calls himself the Ghost of Christmas Future. He’s the clever devil–I mean that only in the colloquial sense–or rather angel who’ll be in charge of the operation. 150 years from now, as he will reveal to you, there will be a vast army of manufacturers and merchants all over the world whose fortunes will depend entirely on the Christmas Season. The fact that almost none of them is a Christian makes it even more delicious. Then there are the bankers and moneylenders who will get just as rich by lending money to imprudent shoppers who simply have to buy things they do not need and cannot afford.”
“I can see you are still the master, observed Scrooge in a mixed tone of admiration and skepticism, ”and with these new friends of yours–whoever they are–clever merchants and bankers should be able to make more money than we ever dreamed of, but it’s too late for me. I’m known as tight-fisted old Scrooge, the man who is proverbial for hating Christmas. No one would believe me if, after all these years, I played St, Nicholas and showed up at Bob Cratchit’s house with a turkey and a sack of presents.”
“I’ve thought of that, too, Ebeneezer. Among my many useful charities, I used to support a number of journals and helped out a few impoverished scribblers. It is always good business to have a few paid hacks on your side. That’s a another thing the Ghost will show you–how to set up fronts where you can pay the “intellectuals.” (He think he says they will be called “foundations” and “think tanks.”) Before I left London, I had been quite generous to one Charles Dickens. At that point he had written only his Pickwick Papers. They’re –good fun, Ebeneezer–and if you read them, you will find out how to have a merry Christmas–or, in your case, seem to. All you need to do is to have this Dickens put you into a Christmas novel celebrating your change-of-heart, and you’ll become the Ghost of Christmas Present.”
“But Dickens is a success these days. He’s no longer a poor scribbler. I doubt he would take on such a job even for a good deal of money.”
“Again, I have foreseen everything. I always knew young Charles was a conceited ass and a hypocritical sentimentalist. So I had him watched to find out what sort of fellow he was. I’ll tell you my agent’s name. Just hint at a few things that he knows, and Dickens will write the book for free. Let him take the profits in his lifetime, but keep the copyright for the firm. In any event, you must go into the publishing business. With the obvious decline in taste and the rise of mass literacy, there is good money to be made from bad writing. I have a feeling it is going to make many people very rich. What do you say to that, Ebbie, you old atheist?”
“I say, ‘G-d Bless Us, Everyone.’”
As Scrooge finished his tale, he was lost in a revery approaching bliss. Hearing him hum the tune to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the Hindu and the Muslim left quietly, arm-in-arm, looking to find a United Church of Christ where they could worship their new god Mammon under any name they liked.