All Commentary
Monday, December 1, 1986

Perspective: The Christmas Spirit

We get much more out of life than we pay for, because many people give much more than the services for which they are paid. This is the essence of the Christmas spirit, as portrayed by Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol.”

The well-known French author, Bertrand de Jouvenel, noted that we enjoy “warm hospitality, leisured and far ranging conversation, friendly advice, voluntary and unrewarded services. Culture and civilization, indeed the very existence of society, depend upon such voluntary, unrewarded activities.” But such activities very often depend on having time, money, and property. It is the freedom to use private property that enables people to give of what they own.

Dickens contrasted the Christmas spirit of giving, generosity, sociability, and cheer, with the stinginess of dour, greedy, grasping Ebenezer Scrooge. In Dickens’ mind, Scrooge was a typical capitalist. But Scrooge was no more a “typical” capitalist than Dickens was a “typical” writer. Moreover, once Scrooge was converted by the Ghosts of Christmas, past, present, and future, it was his private property which enabled him to be generous.

It is ironic that the welfare state, intended to be a system where money doesn’t matter, has become a system where only money matters. Many services which used to be provided by family, friends, and volunteers, with no expectation of monetary reward, now depend on taxes and bureaucratic decisions. In a welfare state, the act of “giving” is reduced to a nine-to-five government job.

The Christmas spirit of giving and sharing persists today because capitalism and private property survive. What Dickens failed to realize is that it is having private property and the freedom to use it that permits Christmas giving.


Efficiency Experts

Are private sector institutions more efficient than government bodies? Yes, by a long shot. At least that is the opinion in most American households, according to a recent survey publicized in Newsweek. Respondents gave “high or very high” efficiency ratings in greatest proportion to competitive enterprises such as supermarkets, banks, department stores, and credit card companies. By contrast, government-provided services such as public schools, the space agency, local transport, and commuter rail generally had the lowest efficiency ratings, with Congress itself holding the dubious honor of last place.

It is no surprise to students of liberty that market enterprises are more efficient than political ones. But it is encouraging that so many Americans recognize the difference.

Logic suggests that schooling, space development, local transportation, and other socialized activities would also be more efficient if turned over to the private sector. Does this survey presage public support for such a move? Let us hope.


Old Dutch Burying Ground

The Old Dutch Burying Ground in North Tarrytown, New York, dates from the time of the American Revolution. The tombstones of common fieldstone, granite, and slate, tilt at various angles. But many of the inscriptions are sharp and clear.

The dates on the tombstones reveal the ages of the departed. Many lived to ripe old ages, especially the men. Quite a few women died in their prime. But sprinkled among the adults are a substantial number of very young children and infants.

One stone marking the grave of a young woman reads:

      Tho the Mother is Dead

            And the babe left behind

            May it truly be said

            That the father proved kind.

But kindness was not enough. Next to this young mother’s grave stands a small stone marking the grave of the baby, who died a mere seven months later.

The folks who lie buried in the Old Dutch Burying Ground lived and died before the capitalist “industrial revolution” and also before the “medical revolution” that followed in its wake. In the face of infectious disease, the people of that time were practically helpless; many succumbed before an epidemic ran its course. Operations, often fatal due to shock or infection, were seldom performed, but if they were, the principal method of deadening the accompanying pain was liquor.

A woman’s life was especially difficult, not only because of the harsh conditions of daily living but also because of the hazards of childbirth. Men often survived several wives, sired numerous offspring, only to see many die in childhood.

It was the capitalist “industrial revolution” that wrought the difference between those times and now. With capitalist tools and machines, one worker could produce considerably more food, clothing, and shelter than before. As production increased, more people were freed for study and research. In time, their studies and experiments led to the inoculation for smallpox, safe anesthetics, and recognition of the importance of antisepsis, launching what might be called the “medical revolution.”

The advancement of medical science lengthened life expectancy, and sharply reduced deaths among young people. In the more recent Sleepy Hollow Cemetery next to the Old Dutch Burying Ground, the tombstones are mostly of adults, and serve as a reminder of the lengthened life spans wrought by capitalism.


Freedom Essay Contest: Last Call for Entries!

Deadline for our student essay contest is January 15, 1987. All high school and college students are invited to enter the competition. Cash prizes, as well as seminar fellowships, will be awarded to winners and runnersup. Call or write The Foundation for complete details.