And now a word in favor of capitalism …

Is Scrooge (from "Disney's A Christmas Carol") a typical capitalist?

Is Scrooge (from “Disney’s A Christmas Carol”) a typical capitalist?

By Jim Tortolano, E Pluribus Unum

‘Tis a rough time of the year to be a capitalist.  First the Pope takes a broad swipe at the practice of free enterprise in the world today, and now, of course, the constant repetition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which paints a successful businessman as the embodiment of the callous heart.

As a man who started a business 30 years ago and sold it just three months ago, I have to say that those who invest money to start or purchase commercial enterprises are not all the Scrooges that some would make them (us?) out to be.  But it is also true that capitalists live in different world (and mind-set) from the rest of society.

The typical American spends most of his or her life as an employee. Although there are bound to be periods of unemployment or thin paychecks, a worker bee relies heavily on the employer. If you’re lucky, the boss provides more or less lifetime employment, medical coverage, paid vacations and some kind of retirement plan.

Basically, you are trading independence for security.

The capitalist, on the other hand, trades security for independence.

Many people start business because they thought their former employers were blockheads; that was my motivation. And like the teenager who knew everything until he moved out of mom and dad’s house, the reality of actually operating a going economic concern is a real education.

A capitalist has to deal with many issues that an employee does not.  There are hoops to jump through at City Hall, and the county, state and federal governments pile on their own red tape and costs. An employer pays more than just wages; he (or she) also contributes to disability insurance, unemployment insurance, Medicare, etc.  Even the most bare-bones benefits amount to a 10 percent bump to the employer’s own wallet; in some businesses the cost of “fringe” benefits can approach 50 percent added on to personnel costs.

Every week (or month) the capitalist has to meet the payroll, pay the rent, buy the equipment, etc., come financial rain or shine. If he (or she) borrowed money to start the business, there’s also the cost of paying back the loan. If he (or she) took in partners, there’s the additional  emotional cost of fielding their inquiries and complaints.

This capitalist is also responsible often for the misconduct of employees or even the mendacity of predatory customers with clever lawyers. It’s life in the fast lane without a stop sign.

Now, of course, none of this turns Mr. or Ms. Entrepreneur into plaster saints. The pressures of operating a business are handled differently by different personalities. Some see the only way to survive is to take a cutthroat approach, paying chump change wages and benefits, cheating on quality and fudging the books come tax time.

On the other hand, there are many capitalists who should be lauded for having the courage to strike out on their own, and take the big scary chance without turning into white collar hoodlums.  Despite having no safety net, the start-up person commits heart and body into an enterprise with lots of stuff (including a 90 percent failure rate) against it.

So, yes, let’s remember that Scrooge needed to learn the lesson that “mankind should have been my business.”  But let’s also recognize that without Scrooge, Bob Crachit wouldn’t even have a job.

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  1. Malcolm Windsor says:

    The trouble with communism is communism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists. William F. Buckley

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