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What Cartoons Can Teach Us about Capitalism

The Freeman has an excellent article by FEE advisory board member Robert Anthony Peters on economic lessons in popular culture—in this case focusing on the wealthiest of Disney’s characters, Scrooge McDuck. It may seem odd to look for pro-capitalist storylines from a character named after literature’s most famous miser, but Peters explains how the character’s originator, Carl Banks, made Scrooge McDuck an exemplar of the virtues of hard work, honesty, and strategic thinking.

In a series of stories that highlighted economic concepts like subjective value, mutual gains from trade, and entrepreneurship, Banks sent Scrooge and his grand-nephews on a series of adventures in which they manage to escape peril and achieve success through quick thinking and smart financial decisions. He debunked utopianism a la Jonathan Swift when the gang visits “Tralla La,” a mystical land where greed is allegedly unknown, and showed the potential of free exchange in “Maharajah Donald,” a story in which Huey, Dewey, and Louie start off with an old pencil stub and end up, after a series of shrewd trades, with enough money to buy a steamboat ticket all the way to India.  

And Banks certainly didn’t stumble upon these pro-market parables by chance. When he was writing for Uncle Scrooge comics, he knew he was confronting the collectivist trends of the mid-20th Century, once saying “I’m sure the lesson I preached in this story of easy riches will get me in a cell in a Siberian gulag someday.” Fortunately Banks escaped the gulag, and generations of viewers have been enriched because of it. Scrooge McDuck’s persona as a frugal but talented and honorable person even persisted into the 1980s cartoon series DuckTales, in which Uncle Scrooge delights in a fortune made through wise investments and honest deals.

If you’ve got young children, you might want to brace yourself for 2017, when Disney will be launching a DuckTales re-boot to be broadcast on Disney XD. Let’s hope the spirit of Carl Banks will continue to guide the writers and producers in the 21st Century version.