Sunday, December 14, 2008

PhilanthroScrooge?

"The thing that needs explaining about human beings is not their frequent vice, but their occasional virtue."

Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation

(This is a good reminder as we feel dumbfounded by the Blagojevich spectacle.)

Last weekend I saw A Christmas Carol adapted for the stage at the Landsburg/Ford Theatres. Near the end, after Ebenezer Scrooge had seen the light about "giving," I thought I heard a couple of lines that referred explicitly to philanthropy.

I decided to examine the text and see if this was the case. Had Scrooge become a philanthropcapitalist in front of my eyes? (See multiple postings on philanthrocapitalism). I struck out with textual detective work but did find a relevant interchange where Scrooge commits to some charitable giving that he had refused the day before.

"If you please." said Scrooge."Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. "Will you do me that favour?"
"My dear sir," said the other, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say to such munifi--"

Now, munificence is "lavish" giving or generosity. Philanthropy is an "active effort to improve human welfare." Scrooge certainly engaged in the former, but probably not in the latter, at least from what we see of him. Philanthrocapitalist? Scrooge ups Bob Cratchit's wages and cancels the debts of several microenterprises. He doesn't use business means to make social change.

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