Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Judeo-Christian Philosophy and the Founding of America
Michael Marriott

A curious notion has mushroomed lately on programs as “The O’Reilly Factor” and other current event shows. Certain commentators claim that the United States of America owes its existence to what is termed “Judeo-Christian” philosophy. Now I will not dispute that such a philosophy exists or that it has proved influential for the past two millennia. I will further stipulate that many persons subscribe to this philosophy’s doctrines, both now and back in the 1700s. What cannot be accepted, either on a philosophical or historical basis, is that such a philosophy could, or in fact did, lead to the creation of the United States. This is because the political theory underpinning the creation of America is contradictory to every religious philosophy on earth. Thus Judeo-Christian philosophy is incapable of creating a country as the United States. America exists in spite of Judeo-Christian philosophy, not because of it.

Others disagree. Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly argued that America would not exist or have developed as a country save for Judeo-Christian philosophy. On September 10, 2003, O’Reilly discussed this point with failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork:

O'REILLY: Now, I have always based my determination that the Ten Commandments and the Pledge of Allegiance and all this nonsense about the Boy Scouts are definitely wrong by saying that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian philosophy. All right? Philosophy. And that if you strike that philosophy from the public discourse, from the public discourse, you are basically turning your back on how the country was developed. Am I wrong?

BORK: No, you're right. On the other hand if legislatures decided to turn their back on it, and the public approved of it, that would be one thing. But what is quite wrong is to have judges who are not elected, who are not accountable, decide to knock out these traditional values.

A few days earlier on September 3, 2003 O’Reilly argued with a guest, Professor Marcy Hamilton of Cardoza Law School, regarding the same point. Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News analyst, supports O’Reilly’s thesis. The topic under discussion is the removal of a ten commandments display in an Alabama state building being fought by Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore.

O'REILLY: They believe that there was no -- and I believe this as well -- that there was no imposition of religion by having a symbol of the 10 commandments, which is what Judeo-Christian philosophy is based on and vis a vis our laws are based on Judeo-Christian philosophy.

Discussion follows

O'REILLY: He (Judge Moore) says it was a reminder of what our law system is based upon.

HAMILTON: Well, he's -- actually, that's factually wrong.
NAPOLITANO: That's factually correct.


NAPOLITANO: It's historically accurate. Everybody who wrote the constitution believes in the 10 commandments and they stated...

O'REILLY: Hold it. What do you think our criminal justice is based upon? Why don't we have Islamic law here?

HAMILTON: It's based upon the Magna Carta, the common law of England, the code of Hammurabi (ph) and a lot of other sources.

NAPOLITANO: One of which is the 10 commandments.


NAPOLITANO: No, the framers did not intend to impose any particular religion on this country because they...

O'REILLY: But it isn't an imposition of religion to put in a plaque. All right now I don't believe that our law system was based on the magna carta. Okay, I don't believe that for one second. Not one second.

And I think your interpretation of that is crazy...

HAMILTON: Well, and you are...

O'REILLY: And I'll tell you why.

HAMILTON: Well, and you are too.

O'REILLY: We fought a war against those people. No, I'm not. I'm right. We fought a war against those people because the magna carta was instituted in a hierarchical way. Our law is based on all men are created and have inalienable rights, not that the king can impose what he


O'REILLY: So you're wrong on that, professor.

What exactly is Judeo-Christian philosophy? What are its basic tenets and principles and how do they apply to the founding of the United States? O’Reilly never provides a definition. This is a crucial omission as religions contain diverse strains of philosophical thought. For instance, within the Catholic religion one can find differing, even contradictory, philosophical elements. St. Augustine decried reason except when it was used to illuminate the word of God. St. Thomas Aquinas recognized the majesty of human reason to the point of again establishing philosophy as the proper tool for human study of the natural world. Outside of Catholicism one finds the teachings of Protestants as Martin Luther and John Calvin. To what version of Judeo-Christian philosophy does O’Reilly refer when he makes his assertions?

O’Reilly often refers to the central characters of the Bible as philosophers. Yet it is a stretch to consider two such characters, Jesus and Moses, as philosophers using any standard definition of the term. The Oxford Dictionary definition for philosopher is “one versed in philosophy or engaged in its study.” Neither Moses or Jesus were philosophers in this sense. Neither worked out (or even attempted) a completely integrated philosophical system. Neither used reason to discover natural, or fundamental, truth. Moses presented the revealed word of God as contained in the ten commandments; Jesus was an itinerant preacher whose primary concerns were the impending end of the world and personal ethics. As Frederick Copleston wrote, “He (Jesus) sent His Apostles to preach, not to occupy professors’ chairs. Christianity was ‘the Way’, a road to God to be trodden in practice, not one more philosophical system added to the systems and schools of antiquity.” The philosophic aspects of both Judaism and Christianity were actually developed hundreds of years after the appearance of the central characters.

The argument that America was founded due to Judeo-Christian philosophy therefore reduces to two primary points. First, many of the founding fathers were nominally Jewish or Christian. This being true, O’Reilly is led to the conclusion that religious philosophy played a central role in their political theory and by implication the creation of the country. Second, the Declaration of Independence contains references to God and a Creator, to wit, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This passage illustrates the founders’ belief that political power flows from God directly to the people. This is offered as further proof that America was the result of Judeo-Christian philosophy.

Let us consider each point in turn. Without question a number of the founding fathers subscribed to either the Jewish or Christian religions. Some of the them were deists, some agnostics, others true believers while still others free thinkers. Then as now a wide range of religious thought existed. Yet even if every signer of the Declaration of Independence was steeped in piety and possessed in-depth knowledge of Judeo-Christian philosophy one cannot then declare the United States founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Thus the first weakness of this argument is that of fallacy of composition. This fallacy occurs when one finds a characteristic true of each member of a group (in this case a particular religious belief) and proceeds to the conclusion that the characteristic is true of the whole (America was founded on the philosophy of that religious belief).

But a more serious flaw exists. To blindly emphasize only the religious alignment of the founders fails to take into account other influences that had a much greater impact on eighteenth century political thought. Of particular import is that all the founding fathers lived in the age of the Enlightenment, a humanist ( or secular) intellectual movement. One source comments, “Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and the celebration of reason, the power by which man understands the universe and improves his own condition. The goals of rational man were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.” This philosophy stands in total contrast to Judeo-Christian thought. Thus secular philosophers exerted more influence in the formation of American than O’Reilly cares to admit. John Locke’s political theory permeates the Declaration of Independence. Montesquieu’s ideas concerning separation of power were a crucial theoretical construct within the Constitution.

The model of ancient Rome’s republic had considerable impact as well. The institution of the Senate, Latin for council of old men, is one example of borrowing from Rome. Indeed, American governmental concepts based on the Roman model are too numerous to be coincidental: the rule of law, representative assemblies, courts, term limits, civilian control of the military, election of government officials and so on. Further, the very words conveying these concepts betray their Latin/Roman origins: constitution, federal, republic, representative, vote, president, magistrate, congress, veto, quorum and statute suffice as examples. Even the architecture of our nation’s capitol reflects Greco-Roman influences and values. Lest we forget, Anglo-Saxons contributed to the future United States with concepts as common law, trial by jury and yes, the Magna Carta.

Clearly more was involved intellectually regarding the formation of the United States than Judeo-Christian philosophy, however one chooses to define it. A fallacy where the speaker asserts a conclusion that seems reasonable but has left out a relevant fact(s) that would change the conclusion if it were known is called the fallacy of neglected aspect. Thus O’Reilly commits this fallacy when he focuses solely on Judeo-Christian philosophy as central to the founding of America.

The second point regarding the use of the words God and creator in the Declaration of Independence may be answered more quickly. Essentially, the use of these words proves absolutely nothing. Taken in context the founders were expressing their belief in the natural rights of man. Their point is valid regardless of who or what created human beings. Man qua nature values liberty so that he may pursue those ends necessary to sustain life. That the founding fathers believed in God as the creator of man is not the point. Man created by God, evolution, Martians or an assembly line still leaves us with man’s nature as it exists in reality.

But there is a overarching issue that O’Reilly, et. al. fail to consider. If Judeo-Christian philosophy was the essential ingredient in creation of the United States one would expect such a country to have arisen hundreds of years before 1776 when religion, specifically the Catholic church, was at the zenith of its power and influence. That such a country did not materialize is because philosophically it could not have; more precisely the Judeo-Christian philosophy prevented it absolutely. Why should this be so? It is instructive to briefly review how religious leaders ruled when they had the opportunity to implement this philosophy to create political states.

For the better part of its history prior to the eighteenth century the Catholic Church functioned in a manner antithetical to all the United States of America represents. The Church is neither democratic nor representative in governance. It was (and is) hierarchical in organization with the pope at the apex ruling in an manner envied by his fellow monarchs. As one who speaks the word of God there were few real checks on the pope’s power. Dictatorial power led to abuses; elements within the church at one time employed torture to prod unbelievers and heretics. Fantastic schemes were devised to sell indulgences to the ignorant so that a soul could get to heaven in a timely manner. Free and independent inquiry was suppressed, as one would expect when inmates run the asylum. Debate was not tolerated, due process unknown.

Church leaders were an elite that could not be tried in secular courts. Priests jealously guarded their privileges, including the secret of literacy and interpretation of the Bible. The Church of the Middle Ages conspired endlessly with governments of the time to suppress human freedom. The idea that church and state should be separate would have provoked howls of laughter from any self-respecting medieval tyrant. Human slavery was neither eradicated nor strenuously condemned by church leaders. While some church philosophers did believe in the metaphysical equality of men (particularly during the Renaissance) the idea was never fully developed or acted upon. The common people were regarded as “sheep” and lived lives of drudgery while top Church leaders lived in palaces, dined exquisitely and enjoyed the company of concubines.

Protestant faiths did little better when given free reign. While power was more diffuse and the organization chart flatter within Protestant sects, torture could still be trotted out for the edification of those pesky heretics. No American founding fathers here, theocracy rather than republic was the preferred government when Protestant leaders had the chance to nation build. John Calvin’s Geneva experiment was marked by tyranny, intolerance, strict conformity and terror. One source comments, “In addition it (Calvin’s Church) set up a consistory of pastors and elders to make all aspects of Genevan life conform to God's law. It undertook a wide range of disciplinary actions covering everything from the abolition of Roman Catholic “superstition” to the enforcement of sexual morality, the regulation of taverns, and measures against dancing, gambling, and swearing.” Puritan Oliver Cromwell grabbed power in England quickly (declaring Providence chose him) at the end of the civil war in the 1640s. Like Calvin, he became a dictator whose rule was characterized by religious conformity and suppression of individual expression. The Puritans sent packing to the New World tolerated individual freedom for as long as it took to light a fire beneath a suspected witch’s feet.

The idea that America owes its existence to Judeo-Christian philosophy is an insult to the intellect. This notion gives religion an achievement it never earned and indeed never wanted. Judeo-Christian philosophy by definition is unconcerned with earthly existence. Its focus is on another world attainable only through death. While men lived under the sway of Judeo-Christian thought in the Dark and Middle Ages, the consistent outcome was misery, poverty, disease, exploitation and starvation within a milieu of deep intellectual stagnation. Only when the power of the Church was broken— first by the Reformation, second by the Renaissance and third by the Enlightenment — did the lot of the common man begin to improve. Only when secular philosophers devised theories concentrating on existence in this world did mankind advance. Only when a group of talented, intelligent, secular humanists saw the possibility of forging these theories into a governmental entity was hope kindled. At that moment in time the United States became possible. The result was a country unknown to history: a government founded on the idea that the proper object of man is furtherance of life on Earth. This is the true meaning of the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. I challenge O’Reilly or anyone else to demonstrate where any religion, at any time or any place, has made this idea a tenet of its philosophy.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Nevada Tax Increase Debate 2003
Michael Marriott

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen:

Tonight we are gathered to discuss methods of organizing ourselves to oppose the proposed state tax increases. My name is Michael Marriott, Executive Vice -President of I. T. Strategies International Corporation, a computer consulting firm headquartered in Las Vegas. I’ll serve as moderator for tonight’s discussion. I would also like to thank my daughter Nicole Marriott. Nicole has been instrumental in helping me organize tonight’s meeting. Her hard work is appreciated.

I would like to start tonight’s meeting by reporting to you my experience with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce in regard to the proposed tax increases. Also, I have received numerous phone calls based on the E-mail we sent out that indicated many businesspersons were unsure of what the governor had proposed. In this regard I have done some research and I will share those results as well.

At the onset let me say that the upcoming tax debates will be sharp and unrelenting. Our opponents know that to obtain our money they will have to argue from a moral viewpoint. In other words, they will have to appeal to arguments based upon the need of others, all the while employing guilt and the archetype of the “uncaring” businessperson. All such arguments are fallacious, i.e., an invalid form of reasoning. As my remarks will demonstrate we must be vigilant against this kind of irrational attack.
As I interpret the comments I have received from you, our purpose is twofold: 1) To determine how best to give voice to those businesses disagreeing with the position taken by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and; 2) To exert pressure on the Nevada state legislature to stop these taxes from being enacted into law.

Let me begin with a brief history of events. The Nevada Legislature created in 2001 a commission called the Governors Task Force on Tax Policy. Its purpose was summarized by a paragraph within the resolution:
RESOLVED That at its initial meeting the Task Force shall identify the specific taxes to be reviewed, with consideration given to the review of such taxes as of those on gross receipts, mining, property, sales or services, business profits, employees of business, slot routes operators and car rental companies.

Hence the Task Force was given a mandate to review Nevada’s tax structure and to devise a mix of taxes to insure a steady revenue stream to the State. Interestingly, no such report regarding Nevada’s spending habits was authorized. The task force was given until November 15th, 2002 to make its recommendations to the Legislature, a date well after the 2002 election.

What were the conclusions of the task force? “Our analysis concludes that, if the state is to continue to afford the levels of services that it provides today, the current revenue mix of the state will not be sufficient to support that level of services.” Please keep in mind the phrase, “levels of services that it provides today” as I will return to that shortly. The six thousand page report was accepted with slight modification by Gov. Guinn.

Throughout the 2002 elections Gov. Guinn said hardly a word regarding the states financial condition or of his intent to drastically raise taxes. In fact his campaign commercials were generally feel good type ads showing the governor hard at work, late into the night, while the crickets chirped. Once safely reelected, the governor decided to act. He wasted no time. Nevada Business magazine reported that on election eve, “… The governor stood eerily alone and un-GOP-like on election night, declaring he had a mandate to raise taxes to cover state spending over the next decade.”

On January 20th, 2003, Guinn delivered his state of the state address to the Legislature. Any doubts one might have had concerning the governor’s position on the tax issue were totally erased. He supported increases in the cigarette tax, alcohol tax, corporate filing fees, slot machine license fees, property taxes, gaming taxes, creation of admission and amusement tax, a 200% business activity tax increase, and institution of a totally new tax, the gross receipts tax. None of these tax increases are good but the gross receipts tax is well named: it is truly gross. It provides for a quarter percent tax on all business revenue above $450,000 annually. It makes no provision for the profitability of a firm. This tax punishes the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the astute businessman with equal ferocity. High volume, low margin businesses are particularly vulnerable as are new businesses that have no immediate profit margin at all. Gov. Guinn’s reasoning for this plethora of new taxes will be discussed shortly.

After Guinn announced his tax program the Chamber of Commerce announced its support of the governor, with the significant exception of the gross receipt tax. Although the Chamber submitted a poll to its members to determine which tax they preferred, no vote was taken by the membership that endorsed the Chamber’s position vis-à-vis their support of the new taxes. On January 15th, 2003 a forum was held for members to discuss the Chamber’s position. Given the seven thousand membership of the Chamber and the controversial nature of its decision, the meeting was sparsely attended. The bulk of attendees were either Chamber employees or Chamber board members. In the main, the Chamber argued that it supported the Governor’s tax increases because the state budget was "cut to the bone". Further, the Chamber believes that outright dismissal of the tax proposals will make it irrelevant in the tax debate. Much was made of the Task Force’s six thousand page report and the work that had gone into its preparation. It was also noted that the education system required financial aid. No proof was offered for any of these assertions.

The subsequent discussion saw members argue how their particular business deserved exemption from the taxes, one member even suggesting that utilities be taxed to help the seniors with their electric bills. It was truly a surreal moment to observe businesspeople argue, not about the necessity of any tax increase at all, but about who should bear the brunt of whatever taxes ultimately were passed. This is no coincidence. Supporters of tax increases know that a divide and conquer strategy generally insures that some new taxes will be passed as those who will have to pay the taxes bicker amongst themselves and form tax coalitions. Attention is diverted from whether a new tax is necessary to what tax is most preferred by the largest coalition. The worst in human nature is inflamed.

In any event, I questioned Chamber CEO Kara Kelly on the mission of the Chamber of Commerce. Was the Chamber an advocacy group for business or was it a think tank? Further, if the Chamber views its mission as a think tank, how does it go about analyzing the policy issues it advocates? For example, do government leaders form the parameters of debate or does the chamber actually put independent thought into their analysis? The school issue is a good example. State government asserts that either taxes must be raised or the schools may not open. Did the Chamber challenge that assertion? Did it look at alternatives such as a voucher system or complete privatization? Finally I asked Ms. Kelly if the Chamber would consider reducing our dues if any of the taxes they advocated became law.

My final question went over like a lead zeppelin. The Chamber would not consider dues reduction and indeed would understand if my company did not want to renew its membership. I was amazed at the latter response as I in no manner suggested I was considering this option. In terms of my other questions I received fuzzy answers, none satisfactory. I did check the Chamber web site after the meeting and learned that one of the top 10 reasons to join the Chamber was that it provides, "Government advocacy to hold the line on taxes and government interference ". Obviously that mandate is open to interpretation.

So where does this leave us? We have a supposedly conservative Republican governor who is advocating every tax under the sun. Even the Wall Street Journal has taken notice of Nevada’s tax predicament. Its February 7th, 2003 edition states, "... The prize for sticking it to taxpayers goes to GOP Gov. Guinn of Nevada...” Further, we have a Chamber of Commerce that has assumed the role of think tank using our dues to advocate policies that weakens the very people it professes to protect. Perhaps there is some overwhelming logic that has driven the governor and the Chamber of Commerce to this point. What exactly are the arguments offered that would convince us to willingly send our money to Carson City? Let's examine a more detailed record of debate.

Governor Guinn’s tax increase rhetoric is based upon the need of the State and its citizens. Consider the following quotes from his State of the State address. I have taken the liberty to parenthetically analyze the logic of these statements:

Full day kindergarten will deliver immediate, as well as long term, academic and social benefits. (Begging the question, where is the proof of this assertion?)

Nevada ranks near the bottom in per pupil spending on education and spends less per capita on Medicaid than any other state. If these two areas don’t concern you, take a look at where Nevada ranks in high school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, and children living in poverty (a non-sequitor, the conclusion does not follow from the premise). Ladies and gentlemen of the Legislature, I refuse to balance this on the backs of our children, senior citizens, and the poor. (Cliché thinking)

During the last two Legislative Sessions, you voted to create and improve the Senior Rx program… I am asking you for $5 million to expand and enhance this wonderful, life saving program. (Begging the question, no proof)

Another major priority of mine is the creation of a new mental health hospital in Southern Nevada. (Simple assertion of need)

Moreover, I will not cut programs as Nevada Check-Up. Cutting a program whose sole purpose is to give health care to 25,000 needy children is wrong. No, it is not wrong; it is heartless (Hearts and flowers fallacy, playing on audience sympathy).

Guinn’s logic is faulty. As evidenced in his speech, he rarely if ever presents a fallacy-free thought. Further, he speaks of increasing expenditures above the current baseline. Contrast this with the statement I quoted earlier from the task force that concluded the current revenue mix will not support “levels of services that it provides today”. As others have noted, it is pure folly to increase expenditures when one cannot meet current obligations. In essence the governor has created a massive circular argument, again fallacious, that says we need tax increases due to the growing needs of the State (as defined by Guinn). Why are the needs of the State increasing? Needs are growing because Guinn has identified social welfare programs that require funding. Hence we need a tax increase. This line of thought goes on ad infinitum.

The Chamber of Commerce arguments are hardly an improvement. As mentioned earlier the chamber agrees with Guinn that state government is “cut to the bone”, a cliché so untrue when applied to government that one hardly knows whether to laugh or cry when it is seriously asserted. Both Guinn and the Chamber appeal to authority. The governor claims the business community supports him; the Chamber claims the tax increases are necessary because the governor requires them. Both arguments are fallacious; the Chamber and the governor mutually feed off of each other’s claims. Finally, the chamber argues that the school system needs more money. No study was presented by the Chamber detailing the efficiency of that system, no facts were presented. Again a fallacy was employed: either the schools get more money or they may close - the fallacy of false alternatives. For the Chamber, need alone is a sufficient reason to raise taxes. Perhaps the Chamber’s muddled position is best summarized by Ms. Kelly’s observation, “I think Nevada still has an opportunity to craft this into a low tax state. I don’t know if it will drive business away. It depends how it is crafted.” God save us from our friends.

Beyond the governor and Chamber, the need theme is pervasive, especially among some in the media. Because I oppose these tax increases I was asked recently by a reporter if I felt an obligation to help others. Government entitlement programs and compassion have become synonymous. Indeed, the moral case receives the most sympathy as people are hesitant to speak against those in need. Don’t we owe it to our fellow citizens to provide them with the basics of life? We are reminded constantly to consider the plight of the poor and elderly. Businesspersons are particularly susceptible to this line of argument as they are made to feel guilty about their success.

Yet this argument is a fallacy too. Every human being has needs. That is unquestioned. The majority of people understand that fulfillment of their needs is a matter of personal responsibility. Unfortunately, there remain some able bodied people that refuse to assume this responsibility. They refuse to take care of their children; they fail to plan for their retirement. Advocates of this type of person are quick to point out it is not really the needy person’s fault (e.g., they had bad luck, or events occurred outside their control). While this may or may not be true one thing is clear: it is not our fault either.

Businesspersons differ from welfare recipients in one significant respect: they have decided to face reality and take care of their own needs. To accomplish this, they have risked all to build a business. They know their business will succeed or fail based upon their skill, tenacity and ability to understand the marketplace. Nothing is guaranteed in business or in life. In no case has any businessperson ever started a business in order to pay taxes so that others who refuse to take personal responsibility can sit at home without working.

The goal of an honest businessperson is to provide a premier product or service to their customers; in return, the businessperson satisfies a customer need, creates jobs, generates wealth and ensures personal security. We have nothing about which to feel guilty; we have every reason to feel proud of our accomplishments. It is immoral to extract by force money that is honestly earned. Further, to borrow from Guinn, it is heartless to take money from my family, my employees, my business and myself and give that money to total strangers, again using the force of the State. Caring is not based on involuntary exactions by government; caring is a most personal human attribute that can only be demonstrated in countless voluntary ways. When one falls asleep unattended on a couch, as I often do, and wakes up under a blanket that was not there that is a sign of caring. No bureaucrat on earth can equal that simple act.

The forces arrayed against us will continue to employ every intellectually dishonest argument they can devise. Indeed, the governor has launched ad hominem attacks, calling his opponents ““irrelevant” and political cowards. Journalist Jon Ralston treats businesspersons with contempt and sarcasm saying, “Even businesses with smaller profit margins could still pay a quarter-percent on their gross. And if they are operating that close to the margin, they can’t last much longer anyhow”. Please review the letter to the editor by Doug French in last week’s issue of Business Las Vegas to see how Ralston’s argument is demolished.

The question remains as to how to proceed. I suggest the following stratagem. Our objective must be to stop these taxes from becoming law. Given that, we must focus our efforts primarily on the state legislature. For instance, a group of us can go to Carson City and provide testimony. I have been informed that the legislature may have open meetings in Las Vegas in the near future. Another group can work the media outlets. A secondary effort must be made to influence the Chamber of Commerce to publicly reverse its pro-tax position in favor of opposition or, at most, neutrality. As things now stand, it appears that all businesspersons as represented by the Chamber support these taxes, a wholly erroneous impression. Thankfully, the Chamber has not endorsed the gross receipts tax. Because of this I do not believe it in our interest to splinter from the Chamber and start our own group. However, I do believe we should form a delegation to meet with Chamber leaders and strongly plead our case. Depending on the outcome of that meeting we will plan accordingly.

On a strategic/tactical level I suggest three areas to keep in mind. First, we must engage our opponents in debate using logic and reason. As seen by those quoted in this presentation, logic is not their strong suit. Their arguments can be easily defeated. Second, we must stress the moral correctness of our position. The main point here is that it is unjust for the State to take our money for the benefit of strangers. We have earned money to satisfy our needs, not those of others. The good we do is that of creating the wealth that benefits all Nevadans. Finally, a strong case must be presented from an economic viewpoint. I have not made that case here but it is powerful. Briefly stated, a tax increase will constrict the economy of the state and exacerbate all the problems identified by the governor. The correct response by the governor in face of budget shortfalls is to cut the budget to fit revenues. Indeed, in a time of economic sluggishness it is advisable to cut existing taxes. Further, we need to remind state lawmakers that government should be restricted to protecting life, liberty and property.

I will close my remarks with a quote from Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. It addresses succinctly the moral question I have discussed tonight.

Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow men? None --- except the obligation I owe myself, to material objects and to all of existence: rationality. I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason. I seek or desire nothing from them except such relations as they care to enter of their own voluntary choice. It is only with their mind that I can deal and only for my own self-interest, when they see that my interest coincides with theirs. When they don’t, I enter no relationship; I let dissenters go their way and I do not swerve from mine. I win by means of nothing but logic and I surrender to nothing but logic. I do not surrender my reason or deal with men who surrender theirs.

February 22, 2003
Michael Marriott
What Value Consultants?
Michael Marriott

Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen:

According to the new Oxford American dictionary, a consultant is a person who provides expert advice professionally. This definition will suffice for our purposes today; however, some have more broadly interpreted who or what may qualify as a consultant. For example, a most famous consultant graced the court of the Roman emperor Caligula. Will Durant notes in his famous history of civilization that Caligula, "... built a marble stall and an ivory manger for the race horse Incitatus, invited it to dinner, and proposed to make it consul." History fails to tell us which end of the horse Caligula consulted. Given more recent history of consulting debacles, this question may not seem as silly as it appears.

In any event the profession of consulting, of which I have been involved for the past 20 years, can be an honorable one. Dr. Edward Deming comes to mind as a consulting success story when almost single-handedly he helped restore and guide the Japanese to an economic renaissance in the late 20th-century. I am here today to discuss a particular type of consulting, that of technical consulting.

Now technical consulting can be broadly divided into two categories. The first is that of the bits and bytes consultant who comes in to augment existing staff. This type of consultant is typically retained on a time and materials basis (i.e., paid by the hour), bringing the client needed technical skills. Another function of the bits and bytes consultant is to provide objective feedback to the client regarding a technical work product such as logical or physical database design.
The second category of consultant may be regarded as the Dr. Deming type, i.e., one who provides a client with new or ground-breaking technical knowledge at an enterprise level. I call this type of person a strategic technical consultant. Such a consultant may assist a client implement a wholly new technology, work with senior client management to develop an information technology strategic plan or aid in creation of a totally new function such as a quality assurance department. It is the strategic technical consultant upon which I will focus the remainder of my speech.

Choosing a knowledgeable strategic technical consultant may present a significant challenge to a client. The reason for this is clear. A strategic consultant possesses knowledge about which the client may have little or no direct experience. Indeed, if a client possessed such experience or knowledge it is problematic if a strategic technical consultant would be sought in the first-place. A client must therefore choose this type of consultant keeping in mind the proverbial quote, “I have been (and am) a stranger in a strange land”.

But I move too fast. Of course I frame the question as if the need for a consultant is self-evident. Why not look up the desired knowledge on the Internet? Why hire a costly consultant when information is floating on your computer monitor waiting to be tapped? This after all is the information age! To fully answer this question we must enter another strange realm, that of philosophy. In particular we must understand what knowledge is, how it is obtained and when it makes good sense to purchase the knowledge we lack. Once we analyze this issue then we can turn to the real fun stuff. The second major question of the afternoon is this: is it possible to retain a knowledgeable consultant in a technical field assuming one possesses only a cursory understanding of the knowledge one hopes to obtain from the consultant? In other words, can we ensure that we hire a consultant who knows his stuff and not a modern descendant of Caligula's famous racehorse?

The Knowledge Gap

Let us first discuss why a strategic technical consultant may be necessary. My starting point is that consultants are purveyors of knowledge. Knowledge, as defined by Ayn Rand is "… is a mental grasp of facts of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation." Thus the stock in trade of consultants is what they have “grasped” conceptually of a particular subject using observation and reason. Accumulated over time the consultant builds a body of reliable knowledge. Conversely, we consider use of consultants, particularly the strategic variety, when we have yet to “grasp” the concepts pertaining to the same subject matter. This “knowledge gap” is where the value of the consultant lies to those desiring his or her services.

Since we do not innately grasp technical concepts (or any others for that matter) we recognize that the acquisition of knowledge has costs attached to it. These costs can be measured in dollars and by time. All of you in the audience find yourselves today in pre-eminent positions within your companies because you, or your parents or perhaps the public invested heavily in your education. Moreover, the length of time involved to acquire your formal education stretched from age 5 to your 20s or beyond. This is an example of time and money to gain knowledge in spades.

Moreover, outside a formal setting of a classroom, each of us constantly acquires knowledge through sense perception and concept formation. We evaluate such knowledge using inductive/deductive reasoning processes. Unless you are Forrest Gumpian in temperament, this process is ongoing and never-ending until we breathe our last breath. Yet another method of acquiring knowledge is through trial and error and empirical observation, forms of inductive reasoning. These methods involve things like taking our first steps, learning to ride a bicycle or noting a diurnal cycle. Education, sense perception/concept formation and trial and error/observation all serve a vital function as we strive to understand the world around us. Yet these methods of acquiring knowledge are costly in terms of time. And time is a most precious commodity in the world of business.

Given unlimited time anyone could understand anything eschewing the necessity of engaging a costly consultant. In this sense, time, as Seneca noted, discovers truth. Of course one readily sees the impracticality of such a proposition. The marketplace does not treat the laggard kindly. Business persons constantly face crucial time sensitive choices. The ability to make good choices depends upon knowledge. Indeed, it is impossible to engage in a volitional act without presupposing some degree of knowledge. When the knowledge in question involves a technical discipline such as information technology, where technological advances occur every 18 months or less, the question of knowledge acquisition becomes crucial. Thus the decision to retain a consultant hinges upon the value of obtaining knowledge today versus the money/time cost of obtaining it by methods discussed earlier. Viewed in this context the decision to retain the services of a strategic consultant becomes easier to make. It's a cost benefit calculation pure and simple. If the knowledge in question can wait and has little competitive implications for your business then you can forego the services of a consultant. If however the knowledge is crucial to your business then the potential benefits to the company make the costs of a consultant puny by comparison. A skilled consultant at his or her best speeds the transition from current knowledge to new knowledge, providing if you will a knowledge shortcut.

Let me give you a concrete example of what I mean. Back in the early 1990s, the executives of a major financial Company decided to transition from old technology to a state-of-the-art information management system. Their goal was vital to the future success of the company and was by no means a lark to install new technology for the sake of having the latest and greatest software. The new system was designed to provide company personnel with the flexibility to respond to customer inquiries, to streamline the financing process, to provide real-time updates to financial records and to make the company more competitive in a crowded marketplace. The requisite technical skills were available in-house. However, one important component was lacking: strategic skills to manage and implement a huge system consisting of hundreds of computer programs. This company tried twice to implement the new system, both of which failed miserably. Before the third attempt, company management decided that a fundamental knowledge gap existed that could not be filled by in-house expertise. Among others I was retained as a consultant to provide strategic advice. Additional outside help was brought in to manage the project. This third attempt, which lasted three years, proved successful.

Now the lesson is not to herald my skill as a consultant. Rather, I wish to emphasize that a project that should have taken three years and several million dollars instead cost the client seven years of effort and $20 million. Further, the four additional years required to recover from previous failures impacted the business in numerous ways in terms of customer service and lost revenue. Careers ended, turnover increased and instability flourished all because management failed to recognize early on its serious need for strategic knowledge.

Choosing a Knowledgeable Strategic Consultant

Having considered the factors to determine when a strategic technical consultant is necessary, let us now address the task of finding a knowledgeable strategic consultant. Once the decision is made to retain a consultant to fill a knowledge gap within an organization the task becomes one of locating such a consultant. As noted earlier, technical consultants, particularly those with knowledge outside your area of expertise, must be interviewed carefully.
Don’t feel bad. This dilemma occurs even if you operate a technical consulting company. Several years ago my company, I. T. Strategies, began a search for a strategic technical consultant for placement at a client. We believed we had found the perfect candidate. This consultant came to us with impeccable educational credentials and he seemed well versed at the technical topic under consideration. Further, he came to us recommended by one of our current employees. From a technical point of view we saw nothing amiss. Everything he said seemed to make sense. We ask for samples of his writing, a standard requirement for high-level positions. These were duly provided to us by the applicant. Yet despite the positive impression he made upon us something nagged at the back of my mind. I decided to turn to the Internet to research the technical aspects of this particular position. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the exact text of the candidate’s writing sample, authored by another person! There was no mistake: the candidate had plagiarized work stored on the Internet. Through experience and luck (mostly luck!) we were able to prevent a hiring mistake. As a side note the candidate was a Ph.D.

This example reveals a common problem within the consulting profession: fake credentials. When engaging a technical consultant, particularly one with knowledge difficult to verify, it is easy to imagine the client duped into believing the consultant processes the requisite knowledge to complete the assignment. The nature of our business makes this kind of deception not uncommon. Several reasons exist for this. First, all consultants in a technical field tend to speak technical language. Such a language becomes second nature to the consultant, becoming part and parcel of his lexicon at a subconscious level. I recall an assignment in Saudi Arabia where I had to explain what we were doing on a computer project with the owner of the company. The owner, a Sheik no less, had little previous exposure to computers. He spoke English wonderfully. Being the expert consultant that I was, I realized I had to use simple language in order to effectively communicate. While I cannot recall the conversation verbatim I tried to tell the Sheik that in order to use the system effectively he would have a personal computer on his desk and be able to use it to access his company's financial data. While this seemed the epitome of simplicity and conciseness regarding the use of the English language, the Sheik requested that I speak in less technical terms. In another situation, I was trying to demonstrate to my father how to use a personal computer. We got to the main screen of Windows and I told him to double-click an icon to start a program. The terms “Double-click” and “icon” caused no end of devilment and confusion.

These simple examples illustrate the point that it is extremely easy to confuse and, if one is so inclined, to purposefully mislead a non-technical person. Few will readily admit their ignorance of apparently simple skills. Playing on this human foible a slick “consultant” can sometimes win a consulting contract using the technical language ploy. Never be fearful of showing your ignorance; it can be liberating!

But even if you have a modicum of technical knowledge when you interview a strategic technical consultant, the consultants, even if skilled, don't always agree as to how strategic knowledge should be interpreted or implemented. Quality assurance within information technology is an excellent example. Suppose you were interviewing consultants for a contract to implement a quality assurance area within your computer department. Consultant A. arrives and you ask him about his quality assurance philosophy. The consultant speaks at length about how quality assurance ensures zero software defects, is primarily a function of software testing, and is a matter of code inspection. Consultant B. is next and you ask him the same general philosophy question. This consultant too speaks at length only he tells you that quality assurance is a name of a department, it is process oriented, reduces defects over time and absolutely, under no circumstances, is to be an inspection regimen. Now as the company representative performing the interviews you may have some knowledge of quality assurance in a general sense. How does one choose between consultants? Both consultants are adamant in their belief of quality assurance as they have expressed it. Yet the ramifications of choosing one vs. the other can be staggering to an organization. In one case you will achieve quality within information technology and in another you will merely catch defects-- maybe. Again, your level of knowledge as the client may not suffice to make the correct decision.

How then to engage a knowledgeable consultant. What I will present now is a quality control checklist that you can use that will reduce the likelihood of making a serious mistake. Let me quickly mention the hiring of a bits and bytes consultant for completeness sake. I mentioned earlier that this type of consultant is usually retained to augment in-house staff to perhaps write computer programs and the like. In this case you must rely solely on your technical staff to perform an in-depth technical interview. Also the reputation of the firm providing the consultant is relevant as a screening mechanism for the consultant.

It is the strategic consultant again that presents the serious interview challenge. Such a consultant is senior enough that it would be inappropriate to rely solely on members of your technical staff for the interview. Indeed, it may beyond the pale of their experience and knowledge to perform such an interview. The interview team for this type of consultant must be headed by a senior client manager. It may be appropriate to include members of your technical staff, legal department or other relevant department heads who will be affected by the consultant’s work. Indeed this interview technique has the advantage of several heads working together to combine individual knowledge in order to allow a more in-depth analysis of the potential consultant skills. Other tested techniques and suggestions follow.

1) Note the potential consultant’s use of language. As explained earlier, a torrent of technical terms should set off an alarm bell immediately. However, judicious use of terms may be unavoidable. In these cases do not hesitate to ask for definitions or further elaboration. Again, if you don’t understand the consultant say so.

2) Review the consultant's education credentials and previous job experience. It is appropriate to ask for client references along with phone numbers.

3) Review the credentials of the business supplying the consultant. If the firm can provide samples of previous consulting engagements where the same type of work was performed, so much the better. However, many firms only seek strategic consultants based upon a customer need. For example, we had a recent situation where a client required a consultant who possessed a combination of technical expertise and museum exhibit experience. Thus, although our firm was not able to show previous experience, we were able to recruit such an individual with satisfactory results. Remain flexible with a firm you have had good experience with in the past if your requirements are esoteric.

4) Ask the consultant for samples of written work. The samples do not have to reflect the assignment at hand. Rather, it is important to determine if the consultant can write in a style understandable to others. Remember an important objective for a strategic technical consultant is knowledge transfer to your staff.

5) Ask probing questions of the consultant regarding his ability to communicate "bad" news. Almost any assignment executed by a strategic consultant will involve change within your organization. The degree of change may vary depending upon the assignment. Change means organizational disruption. Members of your staff will cast a wary eye at the consultant, wondering what the person is looking for and how his recommendations may affect their job. Therefore you will require a consultant who presents a clear vision, who is firm in executing his assignment but who has the necessary finesse to minimize organization unease. The consultant must be able to communicate with you if he encounters resistance. More important, he must be able to give you the straight scoop even if you do not want to hear it.

6) Most strategic consulting assignments lend themselves to an upfront work plan. It is appropriate for you to ask for such a plan even if some detail is lacking. This plan demonstrates the potential consultant's knowledge and is performed gratis. However, under no circumstances is this plan cast in concrete at this early stage; be cognizant that the plan will change as the consultant becomes familiar with your organization.

7) Finally, when all the interviews are complete, you must begin to review the interview data. Remember, I am assuming that you lack full knowledge of the area which the consultant will study. As typical with any interview you will compare notes with your colleagues. Besides the obvious attributes as appearance, language skills and others, you must determine if this person really possesses the knowledge he claims. This can be accomplished through a variety of techniques and depending upon time constraints you may be able to perform research using the Internet or talking to other experts you may know. I would offer this advice as perhaps the surest means of building confidence: did the consultant tell you things during the interview that integrate with your general knowledge? As experienced businesspeople you possess a wealth of information in many areas. This information should be used to weigh the validity of the information provided to you by the consultant. For example, let's suppose you have specific knowledge regarding the manufacturing process. Further, you are interviewing a strategic technical consultant for your information technology department to help devise a quality assurance function. During the course of the interview the consultant explains that writing software is akin to the manufacturing process. By this he means that software is developed through stages, each stage subject to stringent quality control mechanisms. Now you have no knowledge of how software is written yet what he says integrates with your knowledge of the manufacturing process. You understand through experience that manufacturing processes are subject to statistical quality control methods. Using this knowledge you gain confidence that the consultant is on the right track.

One other point is important. I must stress that price is not necessarily a good indicator of the type of consultant you are hiring. Some of the highest priced consultants I have worked with turn into ogres at the client site. I hasten to add that a strategic consultant who charges $20 per hour is also suspect.

We have now reach reached the point where you have decided upon a consultant and work begins. It is very important that knowledge transfer occur. I recommend setting a knowledge objective with the consultant and with members of your staff. You will want to know at the outset what value the consultant brings your organization and what knowledge he will leave with you. In other words, he is bridging a knowledge gap, knowledge which you have decided is important to the future of your company. Unless you plan to retain the consultant indefinitely or to immediately file his work untouched once he leaves, a knowledge objective is crucial. For instance, if the strategic technical consultant is to create an information technology disaster recovery plan, state as the knowledge objective the plan itself, update procedures to the plan and the methods used to create the plan.

Next determine the consultant’s level of authority, lines of communication and the exact work plan he will follow. It is your job or the job of a subordinate to manage the consultant per the work plan. Some clients fail to provide this control, assuming that a high level consultant can take care of himself. This is a fundamental mistake and an abdication of responsibility. Projects that drag on forever never producing tangible results can be the unfortunate by-product of lax control. Demand regular status reports in clear concise language. By clear and concise I mean "truck driver English"; simple language avoids the muck of ornate, technical obfuscation. Of course if the consultant begins to address you as “good buddy” you may have a problem in the opposite direction.

Other action items include assignment of in-house staff to work with the consultant, review of consultant work products in detail, implementing mechanisms to capture consultant knowledge, and formal training so in-house staff can understand more fully the consultant’s work products and recommendations. Finally, provide a contractual obligation so that the consultant is available for follow-up questions after the assignment is over.


To summarize the points I have discussed today. A consultant is a purveyor of knowledge. The acquisition of knowledge comes with costs, both in terms of money and time. The cost of filling a knowledge gap today must be weighed against the expected benefits to the company tomorrow. It is possible for a client to find a trusted consultant, even in a technical field where the client possesses little or no first-hand knowledge. The client must actively manage consultant activities and set a knowledge objective. Finally, full and complete knowledge transfer to your staff is indispensable.

One final question: how do you know if the consultant fulfilled his assignment? The answer is quite simple. If the result of the consultant’s work produce an objectively verifiable impact on your organization in a manner consistent with the goal set at the beginning of the assignment then you can claim success. Reality is the final arbiter.

May 15, 2003
Michael Marriott

Scrooge Reconsidered
Michael Marriott, November, 2003

Of all the works written about Christmas, perhaps the most influential, save Clement Moore’s poem, The Night Before Christmas, is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Published in 1843, the story of the curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge has entertained millions with its altruistic message of Christmas giving by the rich to those unable to buy their Christmas goose. In Dickens’ time the holiday was undergoing a metamorphosis, from a day of benign neglect to one of family celebration, feasting, gift giving and guilt. In other words, Christmas was becoming a true religious experience. As a popular magazine of the time chided: “What have you done, this 'merry Christmas', for the happiness of those about, below you? Nothing? Do you dare, with those sirloin cheeks and that port-wine nose, to answer - Nothing?”

The growing Victorian awareness of the poor was made possible by the success of the Industrial Revolution begun one hundred years earlier. Back then society was emerging from a world of agrarianism and individual craftsmen; the poor were copious, the Scrooges few. By the mid-nineteenth century people were in general wealthy enough to notice the poor and feel guilty about them. Enter the first great writer to cash in on the new sensibility, Charles Dickens. His story was an immediate and overwhelming success.

The plot is a wondrous account of Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. His greatest desires are to make money and to be left alone. Dickens, who had a flair for characterization, played these traits to the hilt.

Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas

The Dickensian universe could not long tolerate a being as this. During the course of the night Scrooge is visited by three spirits, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present and of Christmas Yet To Come. These spirits transcend time and space to show Scrooge the error of his parsimonious ways. They know the key threads comprising what was, is and will be his life’s tapestry. Through the cunning use of regret, guilt and fear the ghostly trio bully Scrooge into loosening his tightly bound purse strings. By story’s end, after a night of continual fright and emotional body blows, Scrooge awakens on Christmas day, gleeful for his chance at redemption. He begins his penance by thankfully flinging guineas to any and everyone. The moral of the story: the primary value of Christmas is altruism. Those who have “more” than they “need” are expected to share their wealth in order to know true happiness.

How can one possibly fault such a message? Is it not clear that Scrooge is a better, happier person after his night time revelations? Is not Christmas about giving to others? Given the influence of A Christmas Carol over the past one hundred sixty years it is time to analyze this work to determine if Dickens’ view of the holiday is logically correct. A work of art, even one employing imagination to the degree this story does, must still be consistent within itself if we are to learn from it and apply its lessons. This is so as art results from individual human philosophies that are clothed as such by skillful construction of a story plot, a painting composition or whatever the medium happens to be. And it is philosophy, as demonstrated by Objectivism, that guides human action.

The metaphysical setting of A Christmas Carol is that of the Christian universe. Earth exists in reality as does an unseen heaven and hell. One source described the story as “... the one great Christmas myth of modern literature”. Given this metaphysical foundation one might expect contradictions galore. Dickens does not disappoint. Of numerous logical flaws the greatest is Scrooge’s transformation from selfish miser to cheerful altruist by the intervention of Christmas ghosts . A literal interpretation of this transformation is impossible to believe. The premises are hopelessly flawed. No proof(s) exist to verify Christian metaphysics. Likewise the notion of Christmas ghosts is logically challenged. Since this is true Scrooge has no reason to change his way of living. Without such an impetus the story is an artful contrivance, simply Dickens’ well written, albeit poorly reasoned, statement of personal ethics. With no coherent argument offered, the reader has no obligation to take Dickens’ conclusion seriously, let alone act on it.

Putting this fatal criticism aside, even those who believe such ghosts are possible cannot ignore the implications of the metaphysics that permit ghosts to exist. First the reader must believe that the spirit world is the exclusive province of representatives of the poor. Dickens seemed to recognize this objection in the following exchange between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present:

‘Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?’ asked Scrooge.
‘There is. My own.’
‘Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?’ asked Scrooge.
‘To any kindly given. To a poor one most.’
‘Why to a poor one most?’ asked Scrooge.
‘Because it needs it most.’

The universe is configured in such a manner that an all knowing, omnipresent being will meddle in human affairs using one’s material possessions as criteria to determine punishment or reward. Need is a crucial indicator. One can imagine Karl Marx reading this passage and running to the British Museum to write his famous tome.

Further, only Scrooge must account for his behavior while Cratchit and others are never responsible for what they do. Of course Cratchit is poor, apparently a key attribute if one wishes to avoid incessant nagging by disgruntled ghosts. Scrooge possesses means (i.e., money wealth) so he automatically shoulders responsibility for the actions of others. This view of man is twisted, unfair and evil.

Dickens does not stop there. His characterization of Scrooge as a heartless businessman, flawed in part because he is successful in business, created an archetype that survives to the present day. Scrooge is a gross caricature, a malevolent cartoon figure existing in the heart of Victorian London. Other than the author’s philosophical predilections there is no reason that he should have been portrayed in such a diabolical manner. No mention is made of his business (what is it that he does exactly?), his creation of wealth, his employment of others or any other positive aspect of his life. Further, those with less material wealth --- Scrooge’s nephew, Cratchit, et al — are happy while Scrooge himself wallows in misery. Again note that life is divided between rich and poor, the productive and those less so. Using this standard, we can now divine who may rightly expect happiness. A more Christian theme cannot be conjured.

As noted, altruism is the way to true happiness. Self sacrifice is good in the Dickensian universe. Dickens constantly harps on the niggardliness of Scrooge but then abruptly contradicts himself when the Ghost of Christmas Past examines Scrooge’s life. Scrooge has indeed sacrificed in his pursuit of self-sufficiency and business success. In a poignant scene Scrooge is reminded of the loss of his betrothed:

It matters little,’ she said softly. ‘To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and, if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.’
‘What Idol has displaced you?’ he rejoined.
‘A golden one.’
‘This is the evenhanded dealing of the world!’ he said. ‘There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!’
‘You fear the world too much,’ she answered gently. ‘All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?’
‘What then?’ he retorted. ‘Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you.’
She shook her head.
‘Am I?’
‘Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor, and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made you were another man.’
A heartbroken Scrooge sacrifices potential happiness to pursue a career. In his hierarchy of values self-sufficiency wins over poverty and, by implication, a family of his own. Clearly Dickens cannot stay coherent even concerning his most important theme.

Contrast the preceding point with the life of Bob Cratchit. Scrooge made a choice and chose self-sufficiency; Cratchit chose a wife and a family over the “pursuit of wealth”. Yet somehow Dickens twists these life choices as the responsibility solely of Scrooge. It is not enough that Scrooge is a grumpy, lonely bachelor; he is descended upon by cosmic forces to come to the aid of the Cratchits. His frugality is his downfall (had he spent every last farthing he made he too would be poor!). As Dickens might have phrased it: “Alas, poor Scrooge had the misfortune to pursue his nature by making a living! He compounded his crime by success. For all his business acumen, unbeknownst he lived in a world that disparaged and condemned those who create wealth for their own selfish ends”.

The ghosts keep a close eye on Scrooge as they did with another business miscreant, his late partner Jacob Marley. For his crime of making a living without giving alms, the dead Marley is cast in chains to forlornly wander spirit land until he atones for his sins. The question therefore arises why the spirits themselves do not take matters into hand and help the poor directly. Why do they require a middleman? Why do they waste effort doggedly pursuing and reproving businessmen? To do engage in these pointless actions only serve to punish unsuspecting people while the poor remain poor. Scrooge’s new found altruism will help only marginally in any case; Tiny Tim Cratchit, Scrooge’s nephew and a few charities will be the beneficiaries. Spirits that are capable of flying to-and-fro across time and space to interfere in the lives of men would surely be able to provide sustenance to a great many poor folks. Thus they are guilty of what they accuse Scrooge; they can make a difference but refuse to do so. Perhaps the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future need to be visited by higher ranking ghosts to illustrate their respective failings. These higher spirits, who possess the same or greater power as our original trio, must then submit to visits from higher ranking ghosts since they too are guilty of indifference to the poor. And so on ad infinitum.

There exist other flaws in this narrative. Why do these spirits appear when man’s prosperity is rising (did they appear when most men were poor as dirt, say in Charlemagne’s era)? Were the spirits working their magic in places like mid-nineteenth century Africa or was this strictly a capitalist country phenomenon? Did a rich person such as Queen Victoria receive a nocturnal visit urging her to open up a palace or two to the homeless? Why would a benevolent deity cripple Tiny Tim in the first place? How is justice served by divine punishment of those who employ others, create wealth, increase prosperity and reduce poverty through a true miracle, the free market? I think you get the idea. Those who accept Dickens’ metaphysics and subsequent conclusions do so at there own intellectual peril. Those who act upon them may end up with a ghost as their representative.

I end this essay with a brief dialogue that Dickens should have employed that is somewhat more consistent with reality. Rather than Scrooge being visited by ghosts Bob Cratchit receives the dubious honor. The Ghost of Christmas Past whisks him off and chastises him:

Bob Cratchit! Look how you spent the years of your youth! You who have assumed to sire a family yet wasted this precious time on idle amusements. Your training was not sufficient to provide you with adequate employment; your marriage I declare premature though based upon true affection. Your desire for a family did not equal your need to provide for them. Endless struggle was the result. A string of children increased your burdens. A sick child, Tiny Tim, must suffer needlessly due to your lack of foresight. Look, Bob Cratchit, look and see! You and others like you must beg your fellow man to come to your aid. You eye enviously the wealth of others when the eye of suspicion must focus only upon yourself. It is not Mr. Scrooge you must blame; if you desire more wealth you must prove yourself of more value to him. Or offer your talents to another employer more in need of your services. Use your mind to improve your condition. This Sir is the state of reality; this Sir is what you must comprehend and act upon! Make haste to correct the suffering you have created. Inflame your sense of self interest and prosper before life passes you and yours!

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