10A110 Bah, Humbug! by Jim Davies, 12/23/2010    

On December 15th David Holmes died, and so the cause of freedom lost a champion. He was not well known, being modest and retiring, but he authored a seminal book, A Capitalist Carol.

Charles Dickens wonderfully transports his readers to mid-Victorian England and its slums and poverty, offering profound portraits of characters he saw. He was less perceptive regarding the process that was under way. When he saw squalor, he failed to grasp that it was transitory; that the poor of the cities were better off than they had been in the countryside (otherwise they would have stayed in it) and would increase their affluence further as the century progressed. The Industrial Revolution brought an increase in prosperity for the poor (and everyone else) unprecedented in human history; yet Dickens, if he saw that, never said so.

He did see meanness, and portrayed it brilliantly in "Ebenezer Scrooge" in his Christmas Carol. The character was a caricature, but no doubt echoed someone in real life; he made money, but despised his neighbors and used none of it to help them when in need. So did Dickens challenge the conscience of the emerging middle class. His work was hijacked by the socialist movement, which claimed to champion and help the poor by taxing the rich, but which is actually just another government scam to impoverish everybody, while empowering the political class. Dickens called for generosity; socialists imposed forced charity. The two differ as chalk from cheese.

What Dickens also lacked was a grasp of economics. The transformed Scrooge leaves us in a bonanza of gift giving, which is wonderful, but says nothing about what he does next. That is where David Holmes' Capitalist Carol kicks in. He takes us to see the new and generous Scrooge in a religious fervor, scattering goodwill and wealth to all he sees in need. He immersed himself in religion and good works but neglected his business and pretty soon became destitute. This is an outcome of Dickens' story that is entirely feasible. One component of the Christian religion is still "go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21) and Scrooge followed that literally. Not many do. Soon enough, he had nothing left to give. Surprise, surprise.

So A Capitalist Carol takes us (yes, with more vivid dreams about the future, greatly enhanced by the author's knowledge of actual history) through a second agony and crisis in the mind of Ebenezer, in which he questions his own motives again, and is forced to re-evaluate the religion he has adopted and figure out what to make of life. Happily, this time he gets it right, and David Holmes leaves him still benevolent but now making good money again as a businessman. He takes the reader to Aristotle and Rand and leads him to accept the supremacy of reason over religion, but corrects the error that both made: that man is not a political but an economic animal. David's Ebenezer winds up buying, selling and profiting and so, thanks to the subjective nature of value, bringing benefit to all he encounters.

David Holmes therefore does what Charles Dickens ought to have done, to round out his story - but never did, because he was culpably ignorant of economics. What a different world we would live in today, if Dickens had not only aroused consciences but also informed minds, as David has done. A Capitalist Carol ought to be in every Christmas stocking, though at this writing in the sad aftermath of David's death there is a delay in making it available. Readers who would like to be reminded when that is all straightened out (without obligation, of course) are invited to click here so as to join the waiting list.

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Have you browsed the bookstore yet? There are about forty titles that every serious student of liberty should have as the nucleus of his library.