A Capitalist Carol, Stave 4


The story so far: The high-spending, big-government enthusiast Ed Splurge has been visited by the Ghost of Freedom Past…  

Although they had but that moment left Splurge’s apartment behind them, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city. The noise was tumultuous, for there were adults, and more children there than Splurge in his agitated state of mind could count, all talking, singing, dancing, and generally enjoying what was obviously Christmas Day.

They continued, the ghost and Splurge, to a large house. They went across the hall, to a door at the back. In a melancholy room, lined with books sat an old man with a long white beard, quill in hand, writing earnestly, obviously unaware or unmoved by the joy and bustle going on outside.

“Why, it’s Charles Dickens!” cried Splurge. “I did my dissertation on him, and how he exposed the evils of the factory system!”

“Your eyes, and his,” said the spirit, “were clouded by bile and ignorance. “Before the Industrial Revolution, most people were condemned to life in abject poverty, destitute and starving, toiling outdoors in all weathers for an uncertain harvest. They thronged, willingly, to the factories exactly because of the security, income and opportunity that the towns afforded.”

“But the work was still harsh,” objected Splurge, “and the upper classes lived far, far better.”

“Bah!” replied the spirit. “The upper classes prospered by extracting favours and monopolies from the political authorities. Have you not heard that power corrupts?"

“The hours for those without political cronies,” it continued, “were long because this was yet a poor country – until production, exchange and investment made ordinary people rich.”

“Oh, spirit!” cried Splurge. “You mean the capitalist system I decried was the very salvation of these poor wretches?”

“Yes; and what gave them opportunity for self-improvement. Come!”

Suddenly they were at the door of a grand building, proudly declaiming itself “Institute of Education”. People – ordinary mill workers, Splurge surmised – crowded past them, each heading for rooms in which different activities were going on. In this, it was a concert in which they played string or brass instruments. In that, a lecture on Mr Darwin’s new theories. In another, a class teaching reading and writing to adults and children alike.

“Factory owners were fully aware of the benefits of a fulfilled and educated workforce,” explained the ghost, “and made these facilities available. And the workers themselves combined into friendly societies, to make provision for their own welfare needs, without needing the powerful – and corrupt – state that you deem so essential.”

“But you,” it scowled, “would have denied them that every opportunity, and condemned them to starvation on the land.”

“Oh spirit!” begged Splurge. “Take me from here. I can no longer bear these memories!”

He was conscious of being exhausted, and of being back in his own bedroom; and had barely time to reel into bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.