Category Archive '“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)'

08 Dec 2016

“Old Man Potter Lived a Wonderful Life”

Tom Mullen defends Bedford Falls’ most misunderstood and slandered businessman.

December is upon us and that means plentiful opportunities to watch the enduring classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of viewers completely misinterpret Frank Capra’s dystopian nightmare as a heartwarming Christmas tale.

The emotional appeal of angels getting their wings is undeniable. Crying out for correction, however, are the vicious slanders regarding the film’s real hero, Henry Potter.

We first hear of Potter from George Bailey’s father, Peter Bailey, who badmouths Potter with the usual falsehoods about businessmen. But during Bailey’s envious rant, we learn something important: Henry Potter is a board member of the building and loan. We later learn Potter is, in fact, a stockholder.

That puts a somewhat different light on his subsequent motion to liquidate the business upon Peter Bailey’s death. Yes, we hear George Bailey repeating the familiar socialist tropes his father did: that Potter only wants to close the building and loan because he “can’t get his hands on it” and considers the little people cattle, etc.

But Potter responds with some rather inconvenient facts: the building and loan has been making bad business decisions, providing what we’d now call subprime loans to people who can’t pay them back.

The Baileys squander their investors’ money on a do-gooder, subprime loan scheme to make everyone a homeowner.We don’t know how Potter became a stockholder, but the Bailey Building and Loan does not appear to be a publicly traded company. The most likely explanation is Peter Bailey asked Potter for capital, just as George Bailey does later in the film, in between rounds of disparaging Potter as a greedy capitalist. That would be perfectly consistent with today’s “progressives,” who rail against capitalists out of one side of their mouths while sucking up to them for money out of the other.

But regardless of how Potter became a stockholder, Peter Bailey has a fiduciary duty to him to run the business for maximum profit, providing Potter and the other stockholders a return on their investments, something George Bailey confirms they never intended to do. Instead, the Baileys squander their investors’ money on a do-gooder, subprime loan scheme to make everyone a homeowner. It worked out in fictional Bedford Falls about as well as it did in early 2000s America.

Meanwhile, the Baileys constantly slander Potter’s rental houses as “overpriced slums.” These are the same Baileys whose housing opportunities are more expensive than Potter’s.

Their accusations constantly beg the question: If Potter’s houses are so bad, why do so many people choose to live in them? It’s constantly implied Potter’s customers have no other choice, but what exactly does that mean? Why has no one else, including any of the businessmen on the board of the Bailey Building and Loan, developed rental properties that are higher in quality, lower in price, or both?

The inescapable truth is Potter is wealthy because he provides a product that most satisfies his customers’ preferences for quality and price. If there were an opportunity to provide a higher quality product at a lower price than Potter was charging, a competitor would do so and take market share away from Potter, until Potter either raised his quality, lowered his price, or both.

The Baileys burn with resentment that so many residents of Bedford Falls prudently choose to live in Potter’s less expensive housing than buy a house they can’t afford, financed by the Baileys’ Ponzi scheme. Thus, even after shirking their fiduciary duty to run the business properly, the Baileys spend decades assaulting Potter’s character in a transparent attempt to lure away his customers.

Without Potter, a large portion of Bedford Falls would be unemployed.When the Depression hits and the Bailey Building and Loan is exposed for the fractional reserve fraud it is, Potter offers to come to the rescue with a generous offer to buy out its customers. It is noteworthy there is a run on the Bailey Building and Loan and the local bank, but Potter is financially secure enough to save them both, proving once again he is the only honorable businessman in the film.

Read the whole thing.

31 Aug 2014

These Days, Not Such a Wonderful Life

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pottersville

A Facebook friend of Glenn Reynolds recently argued that, life under the leadership of Barack Obama, is a lot like the vision of Pottersville George Bailey was shown by the angel Clarence.

Let’s accept, arguendo, that the outgoing DIA chief is right, and that we are now in an era of danger similar to the mid-1930s. How did we get here? It’s worth looking back into the mists of time — an entire year, to Labor Day weekend 2013. What had not happened then? It’s quite a list, actually: the Chinese ADIZ, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the rise of ISIS, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fall of Mosul, the end of Hungarian liberal democracy, the Central American refugee crisis, the Egyptian-UAE attacks on Libya, the extermination of Iraqi Christians, the Yazidi genocide, the scramble to revise NATO’s eastern-frontier defenses, the Kristallnacht-style pogroms in European cities, the reemergence of mainstream anti-Semitism, the third (or fourth, perhaps) American war in Iraq, racial riots in middle America, et cetera and ad nauseam.

All that was in the future just one year ago.

What is happening now is basically America’s version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The President of the United States — supported to an exceptional extent by an electorate both uncomprehending and untrusting of the outside world — is Clarence the Angel, and he’s showing us what the world would be like if we’d never been born, Unsurprisingly, Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, and it’s a terrible place. Unfortunately we do not get to revert to the tolerable if modest status quo at the end of the lesson: George Bailey will eventually have to shell the town and retake it street by street from Old Man Potter’s Spetsnaz.

But the larger point here is not what’s happening, because what’s happening is obvious. Things are falling apart. The point is how fast it’s come. It takes the blood and labor of generations to build a general peace, and that peace is sustained by two pillars: a common moral vision, and force majeure. We spent a quarter-century chipping away at the latter, and finally discarded the former, and now that peace is gone. All this was the work of decades.

Look back, again, to Labor Day weekend 2013, and understand one thing: its undoing was the work of mere months.

23 Dec 2009

“It’s a Wonderful Bill”

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Iowahawk turns his inimitable talents to a new version of the classic holiday movie updating it a bit.

George and Clarence walk by empty welfare centers and boarded-up ACORN offices

CLARENCE
You see George, Bedford Falls is a mighty different place without you in Washington.

GEORGE BAILEY
I guess what they say is right – one man can make a difference. Clarence, but what about the heath care bill? The health care bill, Clarence!

CLARENCE
You weren’t there to vote for cloture, George. It died in committee. America never got its healthcare bill, and Bedford Falls never got that Federal Snow Museum.

GEORGE BAILEY
Take me to Doc Bradford’s medical clinic Clarence! I wanna see what happened!

CLARENCE
But George, I don’t think you’ll want to see it, it’s just…

GEORGE BAILEY
Take me there Clarence! Take me, darn it! I wanna see it, see?

CLARENCE
Sigh. Alright, as you wish.

Inside Doc Bradford’s clinic

DOC BRADFORD
That was quite a nasty spill you took on the ice, Mrs. Foster. I’m scheduling you for an artificial hip replacement Tuesday. In the meantime, stay off your feet and fill this prescription for pain relievers.

GEORGE BAILEY
Just like that? What about getting approval from the hip procedure rationing board?

CLARENCE
There is no rationing board, George. It’s completely up to Doc and Mrs. Foster.

MRS. FOSTER
Oh, bother. How much is this going to cost me?

DOC BRADFORD
Medicare will pick up most of it, but looks like you’ll have a $200 deductible.

MRS. FOSTER
Well I guess I always can skip my AARP dues.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.


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