The harsh spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge lives on
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – James Moore, the Conservative minister for Industry, is ably filling the pinched shoes of Ebenezer Scrooge this holiday season.
Dec 20 2013. By: John Cruickshank, Publisher
The spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge lives on.
James Moore, the Conservative minister for Industry and minister responsible for British Columbia, is ably filling the pinched shoes of the miserable miser in this 2013 holiday season.
Musing last week on the fate of hungry schoolchildren he asked whether it “is always government’s job to be there to serve people their breakfast?”
Granted, this sounds more like Margaret Thatcher than Scrooge. But then, Minister Moore added to his remarks: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.”
Now this is full Scrooge in all the harsh Victorian indifference to despair and innocence Charles Dickens invested in his character.
Scrooge, you will remember, was willing to see his nephew Fred starve in the streets alongside his neighbours.
Conservative icon Thatcher campaigned to eliminate nanny-state coddling of weaklings by society. But on the day she famously told Britons to stand on their own feet because there was no such thing as “society” to help them out, she also declared: “It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.”
She, along with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, limited the helping role of government and focused economic policy on deregulation and inflation-fighting instead of job creation.
Taxes were slashed and money that had been spent on the poor was redistributed to the affluent — especially the top 1 per cent.
Among the very mixed results of this strategy has been very rapid growth in the gap between rich and poor and an abrupt deceleration of social mobility in the United States and Britain.
Under Canadian Conservatives this country has followed a similar, although less extreme course, and so far avoided some of the human cost seen elsewhere.
But Thatcher and Reagan at least saw the need for voluntary organizations to take up the role government was abandoning.
Their ideology told them that governments made some social problems worse or offered solutions less efficiently than the private or voluntary sectors.
They didn’t pretend there were no genuine social problems to address — or no moral imperative for families, neighbours and communities to engage. Reagan’s successor, George Bush Sr., called for a renaissance of volunteerism and charity and termed his version of the new approach “compassionate conservatism.”
Minister Moore’s words were neither compassionate nor particularly conservative.
They sound more like what we hear from the large and growing number of Americans and Canadians who have drifted from right-wing conservatism into radical individualism and anti-government populism.
Theirs is a world in which we don’t live our lives as caring neighbours and united citizens but as isolated, self-motivated, economic actors. Relationships are transactional in this world — not based on trust or tradition.
Security and pleasure are bought and sold. Want and distress can be ignored or sneered at.
It’s a world in which the only obligations acknowledged are economic ones. And, as there can be no rights without obligations, the only rights are economic rights — to buy and sell, to grow rich and thrive, to grow poor and starve.
This is the world of A Christmas Carol, published by Charles Dickens as a satiric attack on the economic attitudes and morality of his day 170 years ago this week.
When Minister Moore was criticized for his remarks, he first blamed the reporter. Some days later, under continuing attack, he acknowledged that his words were insensitive and apologized for them.
Merry Christmas, Minister Moore. We wish you the gift of three spirits to open your heart to your neighbours, your conscience to your community and your soul to the fleetingness of this mortality we all share.
John Cruickshank is publisher of the Star.
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