I received a holiday greeting card from the MinnPost staff last week that contained a list of writers’ “potential” seasonal posts. I learned that my topic was “Santa Claus — Socialist or Communist?”
Fortunately, despite the crush of the holiday season, I caught up with the right jolly old elf during a personal appearance at a strip mall in Fridley. I put the question to him directly.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Santa laughed, his belly shaking like a bowl full of jelly. “That is Minnesota diversity, ya sure you betcha.” He was about to light up his pipe when a security guard tapped him on the shoulder and reminded him there was no smoking in the mall.
“You can tell your readers, that Santa is a good capitalist,” he said, shaking his head while he tucked his pipe away.
“Look,” he explained, “I give out of my own production because I freely choose to give. I make the toys in ‘Santa’s Workshop.’ My name is above the door, and they are my toys. No agency of any government forces me to share what I produce. I make the toys; I decide who gets what. My choice is not arbitrary. I make a list. I check it twice. And then, once I determine who’s naughty or nice, I distribute my toys to good little girls and boys who deserve them.
(“Agents at the Department of Homeland Security are not the only ones who know when you are sleeping and know when you’re awake,” he said with wink and a grin.)
“What I don’t do,” Santa added, “is send a sleigh full of toys to the Department of Health and Human Services where some bureaucrat can distribute them according to a formula intended to ‘spread the toys around.’ I don’t want to see my toys in the hands of kids who cry and pout when they don’t get what they wish for — whether it’s a shiny light rail train set or ‘Let’s Play Hockey Arena Construction Kit.'”
“But Santa,” I said, “you’re not being fair.”
“Fair? What’s fair about rewarding naughty kids who take other children’s toys just the same as kids being good for goodness’ sake?” said Santa. “If a little girl takes care of her Barbie Dream House and keeps it in good shape, shouldn’t she find Barbie’s sports car under the tree the next year? And if another little girl doesn’t take good care of her Barbie Dream House, is it fair that she still gets a Barbie Sports Car — or a bigger and even more luxurious Dream House?”
“But Santa,” I said, “think about the children’s self-esteem. What is a little boy going to think of himself if he doesn’t have a ‘Hometown Team Ballpark Play Set’ like all the other little boys have? It’s cold in Minnesota, and the kids have to have some fun stuff.”
“What happens to the little boy’s self-esteem when he gets something he hasn’t earned and doesn’t deserve?” replied Santa.
“You know,” he added, “I could have taken some affirmative action and put Rudolph on the sleigh team anytime I wanted. But if I arbitrarily did that, all of the other reindeer would have still laughed at him and called him names. They still wouldn’t have let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. But then we had that foggy Christmas Eve. Rudolph’s nose so bright was the only way to guide my sleigh that night. Suddenly, all of the other reindeer realized what Rudolph had to offer. Their shouts of glee were genuine, and now they really love him. That’s the story that will go down in history.”
“I don’t know, Santa,” I said. “That doesn’t sound like a very merry kind of Christmas.”
“It’s the merriest kind of Christmas of all,” said Santa. “Joy doesn’t come from getting gifts; true joy comes from being worthy of getting gifts. A toy from Santa is a reward for being a good little girl or boy. The gift is a symbol of doing things worthy of admiration. What greater joy can one have than confidently knowing he or she is worthy of another person’s freely given gift of love?”
With that, Santa gave me a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, and I understood that a capitalistic Christmas is nothing to dread. Santa didn’t have to say another word. He laid his finger aside his nose, and the next thing I knew, up the escalator he rose.
But I heard him exclaim as he disappeared from my sight, “Happy Christmas to all, Milton Friedman was right!”