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Volume 13, Number 12
A Capitalist Christmas
Halloween has a socialist tenor. Menacing figures arrive at your door uninvited, demand
property, and threaten to perform an unspecified "trick" if you don't fork over. That's the way the
government works in a nutshell.
Thanksgiving has been reinterpreted as the white man, after burning, raping, and pillaging
noble Indian, trying to make amends with a cheap turkey dinner. New Year's can be ruined as the
beginning of a new tax year, and the knowledge that the next five or six months will be spent
working for the government.
That's why I love Christmas. To this day it remains a celebration of liberty and private life, as
well as a much-needed break from the incessant politicization of modern life. It's the most
pro-capitalist of all holidays because its temporal joys are based on private property, voluntary
exchange, and mutual benefit.
In Christmas shopping, we find persistent reminders of charity programs that work and little
of those (welfare bureaucracies) that don't. The Salvation Army, Goodwill dispensers in parking
lots, and boxes filled with canned goods and toys are all elements of true charity. This giving is
based on volition rather than coercion, which is the key to its success.
People complain about "commercialism," but all the buying and selling is directed towards
meeting the needs of others. Even if the recipient doesn't give gifts in return, the giver still
receives satisfaction. Absent entirely is the zero or negative-sum political process that tilts
property in favor of one group or another.
Santa, unlike Halloween figures, comes to your home to bring gifts and goodwill, and never
anything except milk and cookies. You wouldn't think of hiding your silver from him. Unlike
government bureaucrats, Santa and his workers are entirely trustworthy, and even work overtime
by creating goods that are desired by millions of people.
If Labor Secretary Robert Reich ever gets around to investigating the North Pole, he'll
find all sorts of labor violations: safety and health (too cold), unemployment insurance (does he
pay it?), minimum wage (is there exploitation here?), overtime (Heaven knows they work long
hours), civil rights (any non-elves employed?), and disability (is Santa accommodating these tiny
men?). But the point is that everyone is there voluntarily, and no doubt considers it an honor and
Christmas trees are lovely to behold, and tree farms are the ultimate model for environmental
policy. The trees are harvested and the ground replanted for future holidays, a process driven
entirely by market demand. If this technique were transferred to our national parks and forests,
we could satisfy timber demand, lower the price of wood, and make sure trees are always valued.
Christmas cards are an outlet for attractive art, communicated to the masses in ways the
Endowment for the Arts would never support. Card makers must satisfy actual consumers, who
have better taste than NEA's program managers.
The downside of Christmas cards is that they have to travel to their destinations via the state
postal monopoly. Every year the postal monopoly angrily warns its captive customers to mail
their insignificant holiday letters two weeks in advance. If you're a postal bureaucrat, there's
nothing more irritating than consumers mistaking your operation for a competitive one.
What do we do when it's time to send our most precious packages? We use private postal
services, which provide services at a profit even though they are prohibited by law from mailing
letters. These companies welcome our business, and don't complain the rest of the year about the
At some point during Christmas, the official culture of government and the
Newt and Bill and the goings-on in Washington--fades from view and we can't help but recall
what's really important. It's family, community, home, tradition, and loved ones, and all the other
things that government succeeds in crowding out during the rest of the year.
This year, let's remember to appreciate the role capitalist institutions play in making our
even more special. Not even the government can take away that Christmas spirit.
Dale Steinreich is a graduate student in Economics at Auburn University