(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
This interview was first published on October 13, 2010
Editor’s Note: In yesterday’s Weekend Edition, Casey Research founder Doug Casey told us how he celebrates Christmas. Today, Doug explains why he admires Scrooge McDuck.
Louis James: So, you're not a Grinch. Reindeer and blinking lights are okay?
Doug: You can even find them in some predominantly Muslim countries, and that's fine. It's good wintertime fun.
L: I suppose societies need periodic celebrations, in one form or another.
Doug: Yes, but there's a dark side to what we call the holiday season in the West, at which time people are supposed to celebrate happiness. That's a problem for unhappy people.
L: Which is why there's said to be so much trouble with alcoholism, increased suicide rates, and such during the holidays.
Doug: Yes, and even generally happy people can feel increased stress from the increasing financial demands of the season. It's becoming like the potlatch tradition of the Northwestern Indians, where gift giving is a very strong social expectation. That can be problematic in hard times, when extra cash for buying nice presents for others can be tough to come by. In Dickens's days, there was no expectation that you'd buy presents for everyone you know if you were a Cratchit. Today, it's becoming an embarrassment to go see anyone during the holidays without a gift in hand.
L: Some people might rather stay home, not wanting to seem like a Scrooge.
Doug: Now there's something I do object to – Scrooge has become a powerfully destructive meme loose in society. Dickens was a social critic of the Victorian age, perhaps rightly so in many ways, but his attack on the creative power of wealth in the form of his caricature, Scrooge, is misleading and harmful.
L: There was great injustice in the Victorian era, and, to all accounts, much inhuman treatment of poor people by the wealthy, though that was hardly a Victorian invention. But the wealthy, back then, were also usually the aristocracy, with hereditary titles and power. I've long thought that the problem lay in the legal power – coercive power – the wealthy had over others, not their wealth, per se.
Since then, there have been changes, including a huge though incomplete separation between the non-coercive power of money and the coercive power of the state. But people still conflate wealth with coercion and various personality traits that have nothing to do with wealth.
Doug: Such as?
L: Many people believe stereotypes, reinforced by Hollywood and other cultural sources, that rich people are obsessed with money, care only about money, are greedy, and completely lacking in generosity. Nice people don't care about money. Rich people are mean – and being mean is how you get rich.
But it's not true. I've made a study of this. All the really wealthy people I know got that way by creating enormous value. I know one of the first guys to set up “sweatshops” in China, enabling people who had few choices other than prostitution and destitution to work in clean buildings, albeit for long hours, at better pay than they could get anywhere else. I know another fellow who saw a trading pattern and developed a system to take advantage of it and then sold it to Goldman Sachs for $125 million. And more, all were passionate about creating something of value, and that's what led to great wealth. Most started with nothing more than anyone else, and even the few that were born with silver spoons in their mouths took the money they started with and turned it into a lot more money. And none of them think the most fun thing to do on weekends is to evict poverty-stricken people from their homes.
I found that rich people do think about money; they understand it, invest it, put it to work for them. But it seems to me that poor people spend a lot more time thinking about money, precisely because they have so little of it; managing every penny is critically important. Poverty is not bliss, which is why people struggle so hard to escape it. They are not idiots fooled by Madison Avenue advertising executives: they're poor, and they know that's no fun.
Doug: That's right. As you know, I've pointed out in all my books that the key to accumulating wealth is to pay attention to these very things. Produce more than you consume, so you have money to invest in creating more wealth. Maybe the Calvinists were on to something, with their notion that visible wealth was a sign of inward grace; they figured God must think you're doing something right if he rewarded you with wealth.
That brings my mind back to Scrooge, not Dickens's Scrooge, but Uncle Scrooge, who, in my view, is a totally sound character.
L: I'm familiar with Scrooge McDuck, but not all of our readers might be, so perhaps you should fill them in on the Disney reference.
Doug: Donald Duck is better known, but he had three nephews and a phenomenally wealthy uncle of his own, named Scrooge McDuck. Uncle Scrooge is one of the great heroes of Western literature. He's a miser, but he's innovative and an adventurer, with a very good heart. That's shown in all of the stories about him – he didn't have to be transformed, as Dickens' Scrooge had to be; rather, it was an essential part of his character. I remember one story in which he took Donald and the boys on an adventure to Alaska – he was always taking Donald and the boys on fantastic adventures all around the world – and had to make a choice between saving his sled dog, Barko, and saving the sled, which had a treasure on it. He chose the dog, which was typical of him.
This is a positive image, one I wish were much more celebrated than Dickens's caricature.
L: And he created value. How many jobs did Scrooge McDuck create, feeding families all around the world? He had mines, as I recall, and factories and office buildings, always clean and modern.
Doug: That's exactly right. Scrooge McDuck embodies the true, creative, life-giving spirit of the holiday, if you ask me.
L: [Laughs] You don't have children; do you actually deck the halls?
Doug: Well, I'll be in Buenos Aires this time, and it's a bit odd to decorate a tree with tinsel or fake snow in the middle of South American summer, but sure, I'll get a tree; why not?
L: So, when people sneer at you for being a rich Scrooge, your reply, with pride, is: “Yes, but Scrooge McDuck!”
Doug: Right. The right Scrooge, the sound one, is my model.
Doug Casey is a multi-millionaire speculator and the founder of Casey Research. He literally wrote the book on profiting during economic turmoil. Doug’s book, Crisis Investing, spent multiple weeks as number one on The New York Times best sellers list and was the best-selling financial book of 1980. Doug has been a regular guest on national television, including spots on CNN, Merv Griffin, Charlie Rose, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, and NBC News.
Doug and his team of analysts write The Casey Report, one of the world’s most respected investment advisories. Each month, The Casey Report provides specific, actionable ideas to help subscribers make money in stocks, bonds, currencies, real estate, and commodities. You can try out The Casey Report risk-free by clicking here.