Monday, December 26, 2011

London, Christmas, 1843

From what work does the following come:

The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers" benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

The Grocers'! oh the Grocers'! Nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses. It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, clashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.
This unapologetic celebration of the market is from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. An odd thing, for those who believe this work to be an anti-capitalist diatribe. The problem with Scrooge isn't that he's a capitalist, but that he doesn't enjoy his life, that he's not generous, and that he has replaces all human affection with mere accumulation. The market is life; accumulation for the sake of accumulation is death, as Scrooge learns.

Take a look at some of the things listed above. It is Christmastime and, thus, winter, yet in the market are pears, apples, and grapes, oranges and lemons -- all out of season for winter London. From whence did they come, then? Through trade with distant lands in which they were in season. Free trade allowed winter London to have summer fruits. There are also "French plums" and cinnamon -- from the Far East -- and sugar, from the West Indies, no doubt, and figs from the Middle East. All of these things are in London exclusively due to free trade. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge just how wonderful and joyous the market economy can be.

Of particular note is when Scrooge accuses the Ghost of Christmas Present of depriving people of the market on Sundays:

"Spirit," said Scrooge, after a moment's thought, "I wonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp these people's opportunities of innocent enjoyment."

"I!" cried the Spirit.

"You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all," said Scrooge. "Wouldn't you?"

"I!" cried the Spirit.

"You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day," said Scrooge. "And it comes to the same thing."

"I seek!" exclaimed the Spirit.

"Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your family," said Scrooge.

"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."
The Ghost points out that those who would shut down the economy on Sundays are of the same mindset as Scrooge. Note that those who shut down the free market economy on Sundays and, as a rule, oppose the market itself, are described as having "pride, will-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness." I agree with the Ghost that this is a perfect description of anti-market people in general.

The bottom lines is that Scrooge is not targeted because he is a capitalist -- he is targeted because he is a misanthrope. The grocers are celebrated in no small part because, having to deal with the public directly, there is no way they can be misanthropic. If Scrooge ran a grocery store, he would have gone out of business long ago. Fortunately for him, he went into a business where he did not have to deal with people to make money. Or, perhaps more accurately, he was attracted to that business for that reason. No doubt Scrooge will nonetheless discover that his newfound love for humanity will nevertheless be quite profitable. The market, after all, is a social network, and the more pro-social you are in it, the wealthier -- in every way -- you will become.

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