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It's a Wonderful Economy: 3 Keys to George Bailey's Capitalism for the Common Good

December 29, 2018

We have a tradition of watching It's a Wonderful Life during the holidays. This year it inspired a reflection on economics.

Do you know the name Philip Van Doren Stern? He was an early 20th century Civil War historian who wrote over 40 books. But it was a book of fiction that has surely touched your life in someway. It was 10 years after the Great Depression when Stern wrote a 4,000 word short story, The Greatest Gift. The tale was the conjuring of a haunting dream he had endured years earlier and combined with the real life story of A.P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of America.


On the surface, The Greatest Gift is a story of a troubled, ambitious young businessman and father. But it's really about two different economic expressions of capitalism, two siblings from the common parents of free market commerce.  They are still with us today. They don't talk much or even text. But during the holidays they crash into one another, inevitably, like two stars pulled into each other's orbit.


Stern could not get any publishers interested in his story. Frustrated but vigilant, he decided to self-publish it and made 200 copies for friends and family in December 1943. As luck would have it, it ended up at RKO Pictures who purchased the movie rights. Frank Capra's production company bought the screenplay and the world got It's a Wonderful Life. And the world got Potter Economics and Bailey Economics.