Published 15 October 2002
(word count: 750)
I’ve never quite understood the psychology of capitalist bashers. I’ve seen the images of young WTO demonstrators shattering Starbucks windows while wearing Levis and Adidas, drinking Pepsi and coordinating their protests on cell phones. Who do they think will create their favorite goodies if not capitalists? Bureaucrats? Psychic channelers? The People’s Natural Altruistic Collective Manufacturing Co-op and Poetry Center of Berkeley, California?
And then there are those economic pundits with a tray of Scrabble tiles lined up behind their names who characterize the collapse of Enron as “a failure of capitalism.” But Enron is not capitalism and capitalism is not Enron.
Maybe all those people learned their economics by burrowing their heads deep into Karl Marx. Or John Maynard Keynes. Some people are just too intellectual for their own good. I learned about capitalism long before I’d ever heard of “the free market” or “libertarianism”. I learned everything I ever needed to know in my youth, with my head burrowed deep under the bedcovers, reading Scrooge McDuck comic books by flashlight. (That was before I discovered Playboy, of course, which would have made this a bunny tail rather than a Duck Tale.)
As faltering memory permits, it was the 1950s and the particular storyline in mind went something like this:
Donald and his nephews are hoeing weeds in a vegetable garden on Unka Scrooge’s farm. They look up to see a tornado wrap itself around their rich uncle’s money bin, towering above the skyline of Duckburg. In seconds, it lifts the building into the air, splits it asunder and rains old McDuck’s obsquamatillion (that’s right, obsquamatillion) dollars onto the citizens below.
(For non-McDuckians, the “Richest Duck in the World” doesn’t trust banks. He keeps all of his money – in the form of coins and bills – in a windowless three cubic acre money bin/skyscraper where he can dive, swim, and otherwise cavort in it, delighting in its tangible as well as its fungible attributes.)
“I’m rich,” people cry as the twister rains moola down upon them. “I’ll never have to work again!” Donald and his nephews, natch, abandon the vegetable patch to pursue their own share of the manna.
“Humbug,” mutters Scrooge, who keeps on hoeing. “They’ll be back.”
People abandon their jobs and rush off to spend their newfound fortunes. One dashes down to a showroom to buy a snazzy new car. “I don’t have to sell cars anymore,” cries the salesman. “I’m rich!”
Others line up at the train station to go on their dream vacations. (Well, it’s the 50s, remember.) But the trains aren’t running. And why should they be? The crews are rich. They don’t have to work.
“Humbug,” mutters Scrooge, who keeps on hoeing.
Soon the grocery stores are empty and people are wandering the streets with millions of McDuck bucks in their pockets and dazed looks on their faces. Donald and the boys stumble back to the farm, hungry and disillusioned, and take up their abandoned hoes.
Then a rumor races through the crowd. “There’s a farm on the edge of Duckburg that’s still growing food!”
“Get ready,” Scrooge warns his nephews.
Hundreds of people line up at the farm, money clenched in their three-fingered cartoon fists, standing in front of signs that proclaim (in 1950s dollars) “watermelons $100 ea,” “Carrots $75 per bunch,” “Eggs 1 dz. @ $50 ea.” (How many remember that’s what the @ symbol used to mean?)
Eventually, all returns to normal. The people of Duckburg go back to work and Scrooge’s money bin is rebuilt, stuffed once again with his obsquamatillion in cash.
And that, after all, is the moral of the Duck Tale. Value resides in productiveness, not in legal tender. Enron was not a failure of capitalism. Enron, as Duckburgians learned, was a failure of greed and corruption, and capitalism did precisely what capitalism is supposed to do – it succeeded admirably in punishing greed and corruption with bankruptcy.
Yes, it’s a shame that all the Enron worker-ducks were punished along with the big ducks in the big puddle, but that’s yet another lesson: don’t put all your retirement duck eggs in one corporate money bin. Even the irascible McDuck had a productive farm to fall back on.
For simple, readable, easy to understand examples of how the capitalist system actually works (as opposed to how Marx and Keynes claim it works) libertarians laud “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt. For my money, though, you can’t beat “Capitalism in One Comic Strip” by Scrooge McDuck.
- by Garry Reed