If you’ve read my book, An Anti-State Christmas, you’re familiar with my critiques of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. If you haven’t, you can download a free copy at antistatechristmas.com.
One may have walked away thinking the writers of both stories were merely misguided, lacking understanding of elementary economic concepts. That’s true, but their stories aren’t just stupid. They’re evil. They instill in people, at a deep, emotional level, an idea that has led to more human suffering in the world than any other.
This is the perennial belief that a person acting in his or her own self interest not only doesn’t benefit others but harms them. This really is the basis for every slander hurled at Potter and Scrooge, respectively.
It contradicts one of the very first economic principles, which Adam Smith famously called, “the invisible hand.” He observed that in an environment where property rights are protected and exchanges of property are voluntary, people pursuing their own self-interest through peaceful market transactions will do more good for others than people supposedly sacrificing their self-interest.
The truth of this maxim has been proven so many times it’s astounding the lesson remains unlearned. As just one example, it is commonly known extreme poverty fell by 90 percent in the thirty years between 1990-2020. What’s less commonly acknowledged is that 100 percent of the progress occurred in countries that “reformed” their economies.
Let me translate “reformed” so you understand what the academics prefer you didn’t: they became less socialist and more capitalist.
China is the largest example, but the trend is consistent in economies large and small. Wherever a country privatized government-owned industries and allowed market forces to operate, poverty fell dramatically.
Yet another way to say this is poverty fell in countries where people were no longer forced to sacrifice their self-interest for some mythical “common good,” but were instead allowed to pursue their self interest in the only peaceful economic system yet discovered: the market economy.
The communists who wrote It’s a Wonderful Life take great pains to make the hero someone who does not pursue his self-interest. In addition to unsuccessful, this also makes George Bailey very unhappy.
We are supposed to admire him because he is selflessly miserable, which begs several questions:
Is the only “moral” system one in which everyone is miserable?
Or are some people morally required to be miserable so others may be happy?
How can the latter be true if “all men are created equal?”
The claptrap pedaled by these writers is absurd but effective because it appeals to people’s emotions – and not noble ones. When Potter tries to recruit George Bailey to work for him, the truth is told, although most viewers believe the truth is false, and falsehood is the truth.
“Now, take during the Depression for instance,” says Potter. “You and I were the only ones that kept our heads. You saved the Building and Loan and I saved all the rest.”
“Yes, well, most people say you stole all the rest,” answers George
“The envious ones say that, George, the suckers,” replies Potter.
Potter is telling the truth in this exchange and George Bailey is lying. Potter did not steal anything during the Depression. He acquired assets in voluntary exchanges with their owners, the very opposite of stealing.
Potter didn’t make those he bought the assets from worse off. He made them better off. If that weren’t true, the transactions wouldn’t have occurred. That Potter was acting purely in his self-interest doesn’t change that.
As he has all his life, Potter helped others during the Depression. While exchanging much needed cash for hard assets, Potter likely saved lives and certainly preserved the existence of Bedford Falls, all while acting entirely in his own self-interest.
Meanwhile, the “selfless” George Bailey doesn’t help his customers during the crisis. They are forced to help him.
Regardless of how people feel about it, this is the way the world works. And speaking of feelings, this supposed admiration of selflessness and condemnation of selfishness does not proceed from any noble place in the human heart. Rather, Potter speaks the truth when he says the proponents of this nonsense are “the envious.”
The poisonous idea of self-sacrifice to some illusory “common good” led to hundreds of millions of deaths in the 20th century, with starvation alone killing tens of millions in the midst of plenty. It appeals to the basest of human emotions and inspires a disregard of reason and observable reality.
In a society morphing into a pure democracy as constitutional limits designed to prevent that are whittled away, everyone who watches this supposedly heartwarming holiday film or reads any of Charles Dickens’ socialist propaganda and believes it becomes a threat to us all.
It is not a new threat. The central lie of both stories is what led to the revolutions in 1789 France, 1917 Russia, and 1949 China, just to name a few. If you’re wondering how to see it coming, consider a few common characteristics of those disasters: the tearing down of statues and other symbols of the past, the public shaming (and sometimes assault) of “politically incorrect” dissidents, the politicization of science (see “Lysenkoism”), and weaponization of the media by the state.
Surely that can’t happen here.