Press "Enter" to skip to content

Scrooge McDuck is fictional, you know

The fictional Scrooge McDuck, as depicted by Carl BarksFree market advocates often hear the charge that they don’t care about the poor. That their belief in the power of markets driven by self-interest and the profit motive implies they’re selfish and egotistical. That the rich exploit the poor. That without government help, the poor would starve.

“Bah!” says the research data, “Humbug!”

Those who place themselves on the right of the political spectrum, according to the General Social Survey in the United States, “are happier, more generous to charities, less likely to commit suicide — and even hug their children more than those on the Left.”

The article in the UK’s Daily Mail is written by Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. It begins light-heartedly, but makes a few telling observations.

It would seem that those who believe in the altruistic power of government merely shift their own feelings of responsibility (or guilt) onto others. They feel they have the right to force their own notions of what is good, and what needs doing, on their fellow citizens, so they don’t have to bear the cost themselves.

By contrast, capitalists recognise that poverty is good for neither the poor nor the rich. You can’t get rich selling stuff to people with no money. They also can, and do, organise well-targeted charity intervention, promoting voluntarily the things they believe will help other people. Nobody has to accept the charity, and nobody is forced to pay for it against their will. If it doesn’t work, they pull the plug, and the freed capital is allocated to where it might do more good. Just like in the real world. That’s why it works.

What, then, explains the apparent leftward tilt of so many non-governmental organisations and charities? Perhaps they recognise that it is far easier just to get money from government, than to have to answer to private donors who actively manage their charity funding. Perhaps they seek to profit themselves from the “generosity” they enforce on others, and fail to recognise that the funding they draw a salary from has to be created by someone in the first place. Perhaps they just feel the selfish need for self-validation. “Look how unbearably good I am!”

Meanwhile, they apologise for having babies (truly, a friend of mine did so the other day!) and alarm those who share their pessimistic world-view with stories of population explosions and running out of resources. Who was it that said, “If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population”? Oh yes, that was Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ rendition of the fictional character.

The survey data quoted by Schweizer puts larges holes in the popular notion that free-market capitalists are simply greedy, or define their self-interest narrowly, or have a “stuff the poor” attitude towards the world. On the contrary: Those on the left who (incorrectly) call themselves “progressive” or “liberal” are more likely to fit the generalisation of self-absorbed misanthropy.

Private charity, whether inspired by religion, personal morals or economic interests, predated the modern welfare state by centuries. It now has formidable competition, however, from monopoly services funded by the taxes of the rich. Let’s hope the private charity of generous capitalists doesn’t bleed to death, as the welfare state cuts away at the tastier bits of the goose that lays the golden eggs.

(First published on my own blog.)