Likewise, America’s modern elite aren’t rooted in a single city, but a transglobal community, expanding their businesses in whatever country suits them. They’re focused on the globalized economy rather than the national one. If some countries experience a recession, perhaps another is lifted out of poverty, and so they feel no culpability for the travails of the American middle class. They hate taxes, not just because of frugalness, but because they’re so disconnected with their transcontinental flights and cosmopolitan lifestyle that they don’t understand why they owe the government for anything. After all, they don’t need the government to pay for parks, roads, public transportation, or security. They can buy all of these things for themselves. They don’t even need the government to distribute aid to the poor, sick, or disadvantaged—they have their own foundations, and they probably do a better job. Therefore, they really have little stake in the success or failure of the nation. Their only mandate is that it stays out of their way. One of the problems of this total self-sufficiency and often nomadic existence is that it isolates them from the rest of society. Withdrawn into their gated communities, unable to relate to anyone but fellow superrich, and networking at various conferences and banquets, it’s easy to see how one might lose perspective.
Likewise, in Life and Times, Scrooge becomes increasingly isolated and disillusioned with his fellow ducks. Following one of his first successful business ventures, the acquisition of a copper mine, he returns to a town full of bitter jealous assholes. “Hiya, Lem! Hiya, Joe!” he greets a couple former friends as he strolls into town. “Nuts to you!” shouts one. “Get lost, mister bigshot copper king!” shouts another. Scrooge turns to his new rich friend Howard Rockerduck and says, “They were my friends! What did I do?” Rockerduck looks down sadly and answers, “You got rich son. Best get used to it like I did.” Once again, we see the seeds of Scrooge’s alienation and, in response, his coldness toward others, issues he will never fully overcome. In order to engineer some semblance of a social life, he creates the Billionaire’s Club, a Duckburg version of the Bilderberg Group, a group made up of the only ducks he seems capable of relating to. Nevertheless, for decades of his life—after getting rich and before meeting Huey, Dewey, and Louie—Scrooge lives alone in his cavernous mansion, sinking into a deep, dark depression. His own sisters abandon him when they see how much of his soul has been frittered away in the pursuit of financial success.
In an article from The Atlantic, “The Rise of the Modern Elite” by Chrystia Freeland, many of America’s top 1% are downright hostile toward the notion that their rise was at the expense of others or that their success comes with some social responsibility. The general consensus is that the trials of the middle class—job loss, low pay, and a shrinking pension—are their own fault. Even the recession can’t possibly have anything to do with them, these financial pioneers, these captains of industry. It’s the fault of Joe Schmo with his three cars and a subprime mortgage he can’t afford. In the article, when asked about the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the disappearance of the middle class, one man said, “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world, so if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.” There’s a coldness toward the lower classes, a sense that they failed in some fundamental way, and that their failures have nothing to do with the rich. Another business owner said, “If a man is not an oligarch, something is not right with him. Everyone had the same starting conditions, everyone could have done it.” Another said, “I can get workers from anywhere. It’s a problem for America, but not American business.”
During Scrooge’s early hunt for jewels, he comes across a diamond mine in the Congo on land occupied by a native tribe. Unable to negotiate a deal with the witch doctor who represents the tribe, he pays a group of white men from a nearby trading post to burn the village to the ground. “Smash the huts! Destroy everything!” he shouts, dancing gleefully amid the destruction. The natives are chased off with baseball bats and torches. He then tricks the witch doctor into signing over his land by disguising himself as a sympathetic party. At this point in his life, Scrooge has become so alienated from society, that he’s become indifferent to the suffering of others. It might also be noted that this story could represent a stark vision of the “free market” when taken to its logical conclusion, that is to say, exploitation. Indeed, over the course of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, he becomes coldly aloof, exploitative, and egotistical to the point of megalomania.
Consider one of the earliest appearances of Scrooge as a character in an educational program explaining basic economics. After teaching Huey, Dewey, and Louie all about money, he offers to invest their piggy bank’s tiny pile of coins for them, but takes three cents for himself. “A three cent fee?” they ask. “For my time and consultation,” answers Scrooge. Then, after a very sinister facial expression, he says, “Nothing good is ever free.” What a terrible thing to say.
Scrooge, like America’s modern elite, is a complicated character. On the one hand, he can be cruel and indifferent to the suffering of others. In Ducktales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, he forces the genie (voiced by the late Rip Taylor) back into his lamp, saying, “A genie isn’t a person,” ignoring his nephews’ pleas. On the other hand, he’s brave, resourceful, and intelligent. His story is one of trying to balance the quest for financial rewards while retaining his humanity, his soul. As a fable for the moral perils of acquiring wealth in America, it seems pretty apt.