Cratchit is not Scrooge. That seems like a silly thing to write. The two main characters in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol are known well. Scrooge, of course, is the better known. He is the wealthy character that is dragged through a transformative journey. Cratchit represents poverty and compassion. Simple enough. Good story. I watch at least one version every year. (Muppet Christmas Carol is my favorite. “Light the lamp, not the rat!”) This year I also watched Scrooged, a more modern version that made me reflect on the more modern work world – and how some folks have a very different interpretation of the story.
Bob Cratchit works almost every day. He also has to work hard at getting some time off. Meanwhile, there’s also a house to keep, a family to support, while somehow maintaining a positive attitude. Health care is definitely an issue. Fortunately, somehow they manage to occasionally afford a bird to roast.
In Scrooged, Bob Crachit is replaced by a single mom in a multi-generational apartment trying just as hard – and usually only getting a bath towel for a bonus. They can’t even afford a tree.
Welcome to 2020. How many people do you know that are working as hard and as long as they can – and are grateful because there are others who don’t have jobs, or health care, or a ready supply of food? How many of them work for corporations that are more like Scrooge?
Stereotypes. Memes. Political talking points. Nothing new, except that 2020 emphasized and amplified the troubles felt by those that have too little. (For my improved situation, see my August post More Than Enough.)
Here’s the weird part. I know people who conflate the two characters. They know the story, but they read it differently than I do, or at least act on it differently. Scrooge was a workaholic by choice. Cratchit was a workaholic by necessity. Yet, I’ve heard criticisms that assume that anyone working that hard is greedy like Scrooge.
This strikes me every year. How could such a message get so mis-interpreted? America breeds workaholics. We have lots of examples around us. Considering the political word-wrangling of the last year or so, confusing and conflating seems to have become the norm – or at least accepted and not challenged.
Even now, as I type, I pause.
I think most corporations aren’t evil; they’re simply impersonal entities. They can have a transformative journey, but it requires many managers to agree, many shareholders to vote, and frequently a profit motive.
Private companies can be large, have many employees, and can have a culture that shifts overnight. Unless you believe in ghosts, the best chance is that the ones in charge watch the story and see a mirror instead of caricature.
There is a much larger and growing segment called the Gig Economy, the millions of people who would’ve been called employees, but who now are independent contractors who are also independent of steady income and benefits. If they’re workaholics by choice, they’re probably not affecting any other Cratchits. If they’re workaholics by necessity, well, that struggle has been going on for centuries.
Christmas messages, like this post, are expected to be uplifting, positive, and pleasant. I could re-write this to fit that stereotype, to fit cultural norms; but this blog is meant to represent my interpretation of personal finance. It saddens me to hear such criticisms, to hear advice given out as if work was not a necessity. “Your problem is that you work too hard. You wouldn’t be in this situation if you took some time off, like on a beach in Hawaii.” (paraphrased but real) There’s a phrase I append to such advice “As Long As You Can Pay Your Bills”, which is also the very inconvenient hashtag #ALAYCPYB.
Most problems aren’t fixed by someone finishing a transformative journey then delivering “the biggest goose in all of London.” I suspect in the real world the bigger gift was Cratchit’s raise.
As for the modern world and what we’ve witnessed during the pandemic, there is a gift that is so large that can only arrive in pieces. Imagine all, all, of the people we know now are truly essential workers: postal workers, firefighters, EMTs, nurses, drivers, delivery workers, grocery clerks, farmers, ranchers, teachers, people making less than a living wage, people who need community, and others easily overlooked getting a living income and essential benefits like housing, healthcare, food – and maybe even a day off.
Such a gift may not fit in Santa’s sleigh. Maybe that’s our first job, building something big enough to benefit all.