My wife and I always watch “A Christmas Carol” around this time, the classic version with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Before his redemption, Scrooge is the ultimate miser, a mean-spirited soul who refuses to give to charity since he’s already paying taxes to support prisons and workhouses. For his fellow man Scrooge has no concern, arguing that those who can’t support themselves had best die “to decrease the surplus population.”
By all accounts, including his own, Scrooge is a successful man of business, always keeping a positive balance on his ledger sheet, even if he has to pinch pennies to do so. Generous he is not; you might say he passes nickels around as if they were manhole covers.
His partner Jacob Marley, dead for seven years, restores Scrooge’s humanity with the help of three spirits. Perhaps Marley has the best line when he screams at Scrooge: “Business! Mankind was my business!” The Spirit of Christmas Present also has a powerful scene in which he reveals two slack-eyed and wretched children under his robe, “want” and “ignorance,” and tells Scrooge to be beware of both but especially of ignorance.
So, in this season of generosity of spirit, how are we doing in the USA? Does the skinflint Scrooge rule, or does the redeemed one? Well, just one factoid. Unemployment benefits are due to run out for 1.3 million Americans on December 28th. What are the options for those in want of a job? Are there no prisons, no workhouses? Perhaps they had best die to decrease the surplus population.
Extending unemployment benefits for another year would cost roughly $25 billion. A penurious America can’t afford that, right? But the USA can afford $633 billion for the new Pentagon budget and its “overseas contingency operations” (a great euphemism for war). We’ll spend roughly as much money on these “contingency ops” ($81 billion) as we will on federal funding of education. So much for the Spirit of Christmas Present and his warning about the price of ignorance
Heck, we can even afford $355 billion over the next ten years to modernize America’s nuclear arsenal (this money is separate from the budget for the Pentagon). At the same time, more of the unemployed will see their benefits cut. According to an article at Counterpunch, “Another 1.9 million who were projected to continue benefits in 2014 will also now lose them. Emergency benefits that up to now included extended benefits from 40-73 weeks, will now revert back to only 26 weeks. This occurs at a time when 4.1 million workers are considered long term unemployed, jobless for more than 26 weeks. Knocking millions off of benefits will likely result in 2014 in even more millions of workers leaving the labor force, which will technically also reduce the unemployment rate.”
That’s one way to reduce the official unemployment rate: Leave the unemployed so disillusioned with their plight that they give up looking for jobs. When the “long-term” unemployed stop looking, the government stops counting them. Did I hear someone bark “Humbug”?
The more our country follows the benighted Scrooge — the more ungenerous we are to the unemployed even as we ladle out benefits to the rich and powerful — the more we should fear a visit from that most horrifying ghost of all: The Spirit of Christmas Future.