Jacob Marley: An Economic Personalist
In a scene of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the ghost or spirit of Jacob Marley teaches Ebeneezer Scrooge, a wealthy businessman, a principle of personalism in economics, namely, that the accruing of wealth is not the most important aspect of business. Rather, the primary object of business, the ultimate goal of a company or corporation, its raison d’ tre or “reason for existence,” is the good of human persons. It is, in other words, directed toward the general welfare of human beings.
Ebeneezer Scrooge: A Radical, Economic Individualist
Before Ebeneezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, he was a radical, economic individualist, caring about making money for himself alone. He had no concern for increasing the income of his own employee (Bob Cratchit); nor did he care about the plight of the poor or underprivileged. He wanted, in his words, “to be left alone,” because he desired to keep his wealth all to himself. He sacrificed everything, including human relationships, for the sake of money and wealth.
The Moral Lessons of “Charity, Mercy, Forbearance, and Benevolence”
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”
Business, then, is directed toward the common good of human beings. After making a profit, a business is meant to give back to the community in the good works of “Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence.” Therefore, a business exists to serve people and if it does not do that, then it is not a good business, regardless of how high its profits are.
Meeting the Needs of Others
Of course, having lots of money is not wrong. However, after men and women become wealthy and take good care of themselves and their families, then the next concern should be: What about meeting the needs of others? Radical, economic individualists would not ask that question. In the words of Scrooge,
“It’s not my business … It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”
Radical, economic individualists are concerned about accruing wealth for themselves and for those who don’t have it, “tough luck.” In an economy governed by self-centeredness and greed, the poor are, as it were, “thrown by the wayside.” If they die, to quote Scrooge, they will “decrease the surplus population.” That, of course, was what he believed until he was visited by three ghosts and had a “conversion,” a change heart and mind, resulting in a change of life, realizing that he must use his wealth to help those in need. As he said,
“I am not the man I was … I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
Thus, Scrooge prayed, thanking God and the moral lessons of Christmas (e.g., caring for others; showing concern for those in need and helping them; rejecting indifference, the love of money, greed and self-centeredness) for changing his life, saying,
“Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”
The conversion that Scrooge had is sorely needed today – perhaps more than ever – by people throughout the world, not only the wealthy.