Guest column | ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’: pro- or anti-capitalist?
December 30, 2011 · 9:20 AM
By Lasse Lund
Director of Digital Outreach, Freedom Foundation
One of my all-time favorite things to do around the Christmas season is watch Christmas movies.
Being the holiday purist that I am, I deny myself the right to watch them 11 months out of the year and then, once Thanksgiving has passed, indulge in a spree that would rival a small film festival. I hit all the essentials: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Elf,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Story,” “Die Hard,” “White Christmas,” and of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“It’s A Wonderful Life” has always ranked near the top of my list of favorite Christmas movies. I love the journey you take through George Bailey’s life and watch as he sacrifices all of his life goals for the sake of others.
You’d have to be a robot to not get a warm feeling at the end as everyone George impacted gathers in his living room to get him out of his financial mess.
However, despite my appreciation for the human story the movie offers, as a fan of the free market, I can’t help but take note of the way that capitalists are portrayed in the film. Given the current attitude about corporate CEOs in America right now, I’m sure there are those who would point to Mr. Potter as their interpretation of an iconic capitalist — selfish, mean, and willing to break the law to get ahead.
Rather, Mr. Potter is the perfect example of crony capitalism, the real problem our country faces today. He leverages his financial and political power to crush his competition. Instead of improving his products and services to attract new consumers and retain his current ones, he simply makes certain they have no other choice.
When Clarence the Angel shows George what Pottersville (a manifestation of Potter’s ideal city) looks like, it is devoid of any wholesome qualities, riddled with casinos, bars, slums, and criminals. Potter doesn’t want to improve the world; he selfishly wants to improve his own financial kingdom.
George is a better representative of true capitalism. He is always portrayed as a creator, telling his dad that he wants to build things like bridges and skyscrapers.
When that dream fails to materialize, George ends up building something else—people’s lives. He provides the people of Bedford Falls with a competitive alternative to Mr. Potter’s banks, without breaking the law or cooking the books to gain an advantage. He simply provides his customers with a superior product and they turn out in droves.
As you celebrate Christmas with your family this year (and hopefully watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”), remember that the true representatives of capitalism are not big business cronies who take government subsidies and send high-paid lobbyists to Washington, D.C. to gain the upper hand. They are the business owners and entrepreneurs who put their time, energy and means on the line to provide their neighbors with something of value.