Tom Mullen at the Foundation for Economic Education has an interesting (and quite supportable) perspective on Frank Capra’s enduring holiday public domain classic: George Bailey was a huckster running a socialist Ponzi scheme and playing his customers for chumps. (Bailey Building and Loan being sort of the Bedford Falls version of OneUnited Bank). The real hero of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was Old Man Potter.
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.