In these troubled times where free market values have come under such serious scrutiny, and the wealthy are no longer seen as “entrepreneurs” so much as “fat amoral parasitic leech-type creatures dripping pasty gray goo and devouring babies like popcorn,” I think the pop culture icon who can guide us best in our analysis of the modern elite we so deride is not Galt from Rand’s Atlas Shrugged or Gatsby from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but Scrooge McDuck from Ducktales.
Like America’s top 1%, most people know Scrooge McDuck as primarily a caricature of the wealthy, a miser, a greedy egoist whose only joy comes from the riches he’s accumulated. One thinks of his iconic dive into all the impossibidillions of coins hoarded away in his money bin like a pool. One thinks perhaps of the scene in Ducktales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, in which Scrooge snatches a tiara encrusted with gems away from his niece Webby and hands her a presumably worthless old oil lamp to enjoy instead. One thinks of the many times in the monthly comic Uncle Scooge, in which he exploits his own family and friends for back breaking physical tasks for ten cents an hour. However, to say Scrooge McDuck—or likewise America’s modern elite—is simply a miser would be overly reductive.
Scrooge, like four of the Forbes top ten wealthiest Americans (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, etc) is a self-made duck, starting his long road to success by shining shoes in his native Glasgow at the age of ten. In the comic The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa, as he sets out to begin his first job ever, his father schemes to teach his son a valuable lesson about trust. He pays a man with superfluously muddy boots to get his shoes shined by Scrooge, but to then pay for the service with an American dime, useless currency in Scotland. Needless to say, Scrooge is outraged. He says, “This should be a lesson! Life is filled with tough jobs, and there’ll always be sharpies to cheat me!” Then he proclaims his most famous motto: “Well I’ll be tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties—and I’ll make my money square!” He realizes that the world is filled with cheats, scoundrels, and human (er, duck) refuse, and the way to rise above them is via the accumulation of wealth. That dime, his number one dime, becomes his inspiration.
Although many people still have a picture of America’s top one percent as the kind of old wealth gentry from a Jane Austen novel, let’s be clear that whatever their faults, a growing number of them acquired their vast riches through their own ingenuity. As my cousin so eloquently put it, “People don’t get rich through magic or mysticism.” What’s fascinating is that money itself seems to work in magical ways. At some point in their ascent, the rich pull away from the rest of society and can never be pulled back down, no matter the failure. Borders’ “retention bonuses” for top executives while filing for bankruptcy. The BP oil spill. And of course, the big kahuna, the 2008 stock market crash and bailout. Yes, rich people are self-made now, they may even be genuinely hard working, but because—like a genie who grants a wish for a hundred wishes—wealth begets more wealth, the gap between the rich and the poor is only going to grow larger.
Look at Duckburg. Here’s a town founded on the industry and wealth creation of Scrooge McDuck. In theory, as the town grows and industrializes, other members of this socially mobile society would climb the economic ladder to take their place alongside Scrooge, albeit maybe a step or two down. In theory, his wealth should trickle down to everyone else. That’s not the case—Scrooge is and always will be the richest duck in Duckburg with his comically huge mansion and his towering money bin overlooking the city like a menacing sentinel, a sinister icon reminding citizens of their position in life. I think anyone with even a passing knowledge of the character can guess why. Number one is that Scrooge hoards his money in a gigantic money bin, sucking it out of the economy. Number two, he’s a globetrotting duck, without genuine roots in any country much less city, and so he invests his wealth on a global scale. Later in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Scrooge returns to Glasgow following his success mining for gold in Canada. There, he finds that his newfound riches alienate him from everyone around him. The Scottish have formed an angry mob with signs which read, “Robber baron!” and “The highlands were nae good enough fer ya, eh?” He’s spent so much time looking for financial opportunities around the world he’s lost touch with his heritage. After failing at all the various Scottish games like throwing logs and sheep sheering, he finally decides he no longer has a place in his former home.