“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
So says the Ghost in Dicken’s Christmas Carol.
Writing during the period of the first flush of industrial capitalism, Dickens saw the inherent contradictions of the powerful economic system—one which could generate wealth and never has learned to distribute it, one which creates ersatz needs and overproduces them in staggering quantities yet is unable to meet real human needs; one which spins the lie that maximizing one’s advantage miraculously honours the common good.
Christmas however celebrates the birth of a different hope in the world.
Matthew the gospel writer has the kings bring traditional gifts from the east—gold, frankincense and myrrh to a homeless, refugee baby. It is a story of staggering importance—even the poor outside the inn are royalty. Christianity would insist on this and in the midst of the greatest empire in the world, an empire which sucked the lifeblood from the periphery to the centre of decadence, the Christian message caught on. It changed Western civilization.
Dickens captured this—the common welfare not the Market is God’s business.