A Christmas carol of tax cuts

You can tell how popular a piece of literature is by the number of film adaptations. By that measure, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” ranks high.

So which silver screen version is your favorite? Mine is “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” Don’t laugh; I was 8 years old when it was released, so it was part of my formative years. Watching it today, it holds up well. It certainly helps when Michael Caine holds the leading role.

The story is well-known. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly moneylender, is visited by three spirits of Christmas. They show him his past, with love lost and his upbringing in business. They carry him through the present, with his loyal clerk’s sick son taking joy in the good. And they offer a glimpse into the future, where Scrooge’s love of money leaves him with naught but a headstone.

Dickens was formed by his time, an industrializing Britain giving rise to an ethos of self interest above all. Upon Scrooge was projected all the negatives of his time, led astray by his deceased, greed-ridden former associate Jacob Marley. When told that some would rather die than go into debtors’ prisons, he replied that “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population!” As a man of “business,” he was following the lodestar of profit to the exclusion of all else seen in some during his day.

Ebenezer Scrooge in Portland Stage Company’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Of course, in any morality tale, there are characters reflecting other archetypes. Scrooge’s mentor and first employer — Mr. Fozziwig, in the Muppets’ telling — offered a model of a different type of businessman. He was a capitalist, unabashedly so. He needed to make a profit and maintain a margin; if he didn’t, the business would fail. Yet, from those profits, he was charitable to his community and employees alike. “The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

After Scrooge’s journey with the ghosts, he redeems himself. He gives back to his community, takes care of his employees, and embodies the Christian maxim contained in the book of Luke: “to whomever much is given, of him will much be required.”

While the novella may be approaching its 200th birthday, the lessons hold true. You can today find businesses — and businessmen and businesswomen — acting as Scrooge in both his forms.

With the tax bill passing — it is hard to call the legislation reform — several businesses announced new employee benefits. AT&T is paying out $200 million in bonuses to employees, $1,000 each. Two banks have increased their internal minimum wage to $15 per hour, the grail sought by progressive activists across the nation. And, prior to the bill passing, Costco and Kroger thought savings would go back into their teams.

You can find other businesses who appear to live as Scrooge before his epiphany. Martin Shkreli — the “pharma bro” — who profiteered on low cost malaria drugs comes to mind, as does Heather Bresch, who lobbied Congress (which conveniently included her dad) to encourage schools to buy EpiPens from her company while simultaneously increasing their price by 461 percent.

Yet that is the moral of “A Christmas Carol.” Everyone has both good and bad within themselves, and it is by our actions and our choices we decide what we want to be. The same applies to organizations made up of people — businesses.

As America enters into 2018, we need not fault businesses for finding ways to make a profit. Indeed, they have to do so in order to continue issuing paychecks, growing state pension funds or 401(k)s, and investing in equipment to continue to grow. But with profit too comes a duty to remain good citizens and neighbors. In short, to be Fozziwigs, not Marleys. Rather than preemptively accuse businesses of being good or bad, wait for their actions and respond accordingly.

Because we all have a choice on what we want to be. So in hope that we each choose correctly, in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, Everyone!”

And Merry Christmas.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.