Government Isn’t Santa


Capitalism is the precondition of generosity

Kevin D. Williamson  writes:  There were three wise men, bearing gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Much has been written about the mystical connotations of those gifts, but it is rarely, if ever, asked: Where did they get them?

Presumably, Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar were not engaged in gold mining, frankincense farming, or myrrh cultivation. They had other things to do, other stars to follow. For Christians, and for men of goodwill categorically, this is an important question: Feed my sheep, saith the Lord — okay: Feed ’em what? Some of the Apostles were said to have the gift of healing through the laying on of hands; those without such gifts still have an obligation to heal the sick (if the ACLU will allow it), which means building hospitals and clinics, equipping doctors and nurses, etc. With what?

If ye had but faith in the measure of a mustard seed . . . and if the mustard-seed approach does not work, and the mountains we command to be uprooted remain stubbornly in place, then we are back to the old-fashioned problems of human existence: scarcity and production. That is what is so maddening about Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation — which is, as much as my fellow Catholics try to explain it away, a problematic document in many ways. The pope’s argument, fundamentally, is that we can have capitalism on the condition that we feed the poor. This is exactly backward: We can feed the poor if we have capitalism. To give away wealth presumes the existence of that wealth, whether it is an annual tithe or Jesus’ more radical stance of giving away all that one owns. Giving away all that you own does not do the poor an iota of good if you don’t have anything. You can’t spread the wealth without wealth.

Conservatives sometimes protest that the Left presents government as though it were Santa Claus, but Santa Claus, bless him, is a producer. He has a factory up there at the North Pole, full of highly skilled (and possibly undercompensated) labor. He has logistics problems — serious ones. He has production deadlines. The entire point of the Santa Claus myth — at least the animated Christmas-special God Bless America version of that myth — is that those toys aren’t going to make themselves, and they aren’t going to deliver themselves. Government cannot do the work of a captain of industry such as Santa Claus, because government creates nothing. More to the point, government cannot satisfy Jesus’ command that we feed the poor — it produces no food. It has no wealth of its own.

Government isn’t Santa. It’s the Grinch.

Think about it: The redistributionist impulse is driven by envy and bitterness. It is an economic position held, not accidentally, most strongly by people who cringe at the sight of a manger scene — by people who resent and suspect the very word “Christmas.” The redistributors are the people culturally inclined to abolishing Christmas from the public sphere, who will spend the solstice wailing in angst if a public-school choir should so much as hum “Away in a Manger,” never mind singing the verboten words “Little Lord Jesus.” And, in the Grinchiest fashion, they want to take your stuff.

Does anybody really need that many Christmas presents? Is it not the case that, at a certain point, you have enough in your stocking? And who among them has the honesty of Hillary Clinton, who once proclaims that it’s necessary to take things away from us in order to achieve her vision of a better world. If you strap reindeer antlers to your dog while sharing those sentiments, you’re a Seussian villain. Strap donkey ears to yourself while endorsing the same view and you’re the president of these United States.

There is little, if any, virtue in giving gifts to the people we love. Giving gifts to those we love is like giving gifts to ourselves. There is still less virtue in taking what’s under somebody else’s Christmas tree and distributing it to your friends and allies while congratulating yourself on your compassion. To do so is unseemly. Pope Francis is quite right to argue that economic growth alone does not ensure the humane treatment of the poor and the vulnerable — where he is mistaken is that he assumes that there is another side in that argument. Nowhere in the classical liberal tradition, and certainly not in the Anglo-American liberal tradition, has the idea taken root that capitalism is a substitute for generosity. Capitalism is the precondition of generosity. If you want to feed the Lord’s sheep, you must begin by planting the fields.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.

National Review Online

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