The holidays are an excellent time for family discussion about philanthropy and its role in society, particularly with older children. Let’s start by considering the often misunderstood case of Santa Claus. Is Santa Claus really a socialist as labeled by casual observers? Some fervent critics even label him a communist. Are they correct?
Here are some key definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market
any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
a theory advocating elimination of private property; a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
Santa Claus does not work for the United States government, which rules out pure socialism. Nor does Santa advocate the elimination of private property. Toys are rewarded (by ownership) to good children but not to bad children, which sounds a lot like capitalist American values at work.
But Santa gives his toys away for free, doesn’t he? Does that fit with the idea of capitalism?
Philanthropy has always gone hand-in-hand with capitalism. The most visible sources of philanthropy, whether old-school Rockefellers or newcomer Zuckerbergs, derived their wealth through capitalism. Philanthrocapitalism (have your kids say that ten times very quickly) is a thing.
So Santa Claus fits the description of an independently wealthy philanthropist operating in a capitalist society, but hold on, can we really label Santa Claus a capitalist? How did he earn his wealth in the first place? In terms of governance, the North Pole sounds like a monarchy, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as:
undivided rule or absolute sovereignty by a single person
With power concentrated into a single pair of jolly hands, we can only speculate how Santa Claus really runs things at the North Pole behind the scenes.
From the perspective of well-behaved American children, Santa Claus is perhaps best viewed as a benevolent foreign monarch. Whether elves and reindeer have a different opinion is another issue entirely.
Points to discuss with your children
- Definitions of different systems of markets and governments.
- Understanding different viewpoints and foreign relations. How do Santa’s elves view him at home? How does the world view Santa?
- Role of philanthropy in society.