I am a miser. When I was in kindergarten, my Russian grandmother, Gasha, lived with us. Her husband had died in the first phase of Communist persecutions after WWII. She had lost several children and raised my father, Mitko, her only surviving son, alone. Her pension was the equivalent of US$30 and she saved almost all of it, subsisting mostly on a diet of Bulgarian yogurt and plain biscuits. I was her only grandchild and she used to give me a few pennies now and then.
Learning from Grandma Gasha’s thrifty ways, instead of buying candies and ice cream, I saved most of my allowance in my piggy bank. To this day I never spend a buck unless I think it’s absolutely necessary. I’ll give you just one example—instead of wasting money on Ziploc bags, I reuse plastic bags from shredded cheese (which I only buy when it’s on sale). In fact, if it weren’t for the influence of my wife, Sylvia, I’d probably move my family to live in a shoe.
Do I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge? I used to be mildly ashamed of my miserly tendencies until I read the reasons why economist Steven Landsburg likes this Charles Dickens character. So please don’t judge me too harshly—after reading this, my last column for WORLDmag.com, you may find it is in your best interest if more people were misers like me. Start by asking yourself: What happens with the things I do not buy and the money I do not spend on myself or on charity?
I do not use air conditioning in the summer unless the heat index goes into the triple digits and I keep our house thermostat at 63 degrees F during the winter. A Keynesian may accuse me of putting an oil-rig employee out of work, though what I do is leave more natural resources for you, decrease your gas and electric bill, and release that worker to make other things that you desire to buy. And what about my savings? I keep them in the bank, lowering interest rates for you and everyone else.
What if I had hidden my money under my mattress? Isn’t that kind of hoarding anti-social? Could I have fed the starving family of the former oil-rig employee with it? Not really. First of all, taking my money out of circulation increases the purchasing power of yours. Second: Keep in mind that my dollars have plenty of fiber but zero calories. Last but not least, since I do not overeat and do not spend on frivolous items, any food or other necessities I buy and donate will come out of not my mouth but of someone else’s—perhaps yours.
“The only difference,” says Landsburg, “between miserliness and philanthropy is that the philanthropist serves a favored few while the miser spreads his largesse far and wide.” Think of it for a minute: Ebenezer Scrooge is the opposite of Ben Bernanke. The central banker takes something useful (paper and ink) and transforms it into something harmful (inflation) while the miser works hard to retire some of that excess cash.
OK, so I have exaggerated a bit. I am not quite like Scrooge. I donate my time and money to things I care for. I like Christmas—I named both of my children after this holiday (Kristin and Noel), and if we ever have another girl I’ll name her Carol. In our home we keep our Christmas decorations up until Easter. Nevertheless, I’d like you to appreciate the economic role of the miser while you do your holiday shopping and cooking. It has been a pleasure writing for you during the last five years. God bless you and Merry Christmas!